Community Collaborations are the Key to Successful Gerontological Education


by Drs. Cynthia Hancock and Louise Murray 

The Undergraduate Minor in the Gerontology Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte strives to connect students with community partners in various and mutually beneficial ways. The Undergraduate Minor curriculum requires 18 credit hours encompassing six classes. Students come from various and multiple majors across the University creating a very diverse group of interests and goals. The two required courses that every Gerontology Minor must take are Aging and the Lifecourse and Senior Seminar with a field placement. Additionally, students must choose two of four primary elective course options. One of these options is Aging Programs and Services. All three of these courses work to link student learning to community partners across the greater Charlotte area.

Aging and the Lifecourse has a ten hour service-learning component whereby students participate in the life of one of our long-term partnering assisted living communities and develop a relationship with an older adult living with cognitive impairment. The goals of this experience are for the student to gain some exposure to assisted living communities, to learn that cognitive impairment is not normal aging, and to develop a conversational relationship with a particular older adult living with some level of cognitive decline. Students come away from this experience with a newfound appreciation for the challenges in the long-term care industry as well as a personal connection to an older adult they have never before met. Students typically comment that they have made a “new friend” and also express surprise at the discovery of commonalities with their conversation partner. This course provides an initial opportunity to step foot into the world of long-term care for a short period of time.

Students are also required to take the Senior Seminar capstone field placement course during their senior year. In this course, each student is placed in one of our many partnering organizations, agencies, or communities for a very individualized 90 hour field placement experience under the guidance of a designated site supervisor. Students develop a contract with their site supervisor based on learning, skill, and task goals to be accomplished over the course of the semester. Additionally, students learn critical skills necessary to become part of a work-force of gerontology professionals. Having completed both required courses in the minor, students emerge with 100 hours of experiential learning that is essential for job placement and possible continued studies in graduate level programming.

Students must also select two of four primary elective courses during their studies. One of these options is Aging Programs and Services. This is an upper level course that exposes students to the vast array of services for older adults within the continuum of care. These services range from leisure, employment, volunteer opportunities, and educational programs to services for older adults with extensive medical and social needs. Each semester guest speakers are invited to spend time in the classroom educating our students about programs and services in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area from the legislative, organizational, and service provider perspectives. These community partners offer an invaluable and informative opportunity for our students. To hear first-hand accounts of the opportunities and challenges of providing services for older adults in our area brings a real world perspective into the class, broadens their knowledge, and provides application for the theoretical perspectives introduced in the classroom. Students regularly comment that this aspect of the class is what they appreciate the most.

If you are interested in learning more about the Gerontology Minor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte or have an interest in partnering with us as we educate the next generation of gerontology professionals, please contact Dr. Cynthia Hancock, Undergraduate and Service-Learning Coordinator for the Gerontology Program at Our students come with widely varying interests. To that end, we seek a diverse array of community partnerships.