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Nazareth, St. John’s collaboration gives gerontology students a different perspective of elder care

Nazareth students Sarah Daddonna and Samantha Catholdi enjoy a warm evening's chat with a few St. John's residents. (Photo provided)

Nazareth students Sarah Daddonna and Samantha Catholdi enjoy a warm evening's chat with a few St. John's residents. (Photo provided)

Nazareth, St. John’s collaboration gives gerontology students a different perspective of elder care

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A new collaboration between Nazareth University and St. John’s Meadows provides Nazareth students with a fully immersive senior living experience that program leaders believe will help them as they enter the workplace and start their careers.

The newly launched independent study project, called Student in Residence, offers eligible students in the university’s gerontology program the opportunity to live in an apartment at the independent senior living facility for three weeks.


“Learning should not only take place within the walls of a traditional classroom space,” said David Steitz, Nazareth professor in psychology and director of gerontology. “Students in these multigenerational courses learn from, and with, the elders to gain perspectives and knowledge that cannot be delivered by a professor or textbook.”

St. John’s and Nazareth University have been partnering for the past 14 years as part of the university’s St. John’s Collaborative for Intergenerational Learning, with students and St. John’s elders participating in intergenerational classes that meet at St. John’s Meadows one night a week, Steitz said.

The Student in Residence program is an added feature of the gerontology offerings at the university, he added. Students wishing to participate will have had to successfully complete courses at St. John’s prior to being eligible for the program.

The Student in Residence program was a natural extension of the partnership, said Tony Zaccaglino, vice president of senior housing at St. John’s Meadows and Brickstone by St. John’s.

Additionally, the program helps train what could be a future local workforce and gives college students a chance to see the variety of positions available in the field, he added.

For the three weeks they are living there, students participate in recreational activities such as wellness programming and art classes and dine with residents on campus. They are partnered with a St. John’s resident who acts as a resident advisor.

Sarah Daddona (left) and Samantha Catholdi (right). (Photo provided)

As part of the experience, students will present their work at conferences and help recruit additional Student in Residence candidates.

The pilot program started on Sept. 3 with two students minoring in gerontology and there are plans to offer more Student in Residence opportunities in upcoming semesters.

The first two students who took part in the Students in Residence program were Nazareth seniors Samantha Catholdi and Sarah Daddona. The two – who shared a two-bedroom apartment at St. John’s – also had to attend their other classes at Nazareth while taking part.

Catholdi, who wants to be a senior living administrator,  said the experience gave her the opportunity to connect with the residents as well as executives there.

Dadonna, who also wants to pursue a career in gerontology, was intrigued by the idea of taking part in the program and was supported by her mother, who told her it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

The two interviewed several residents and took part in daily activities there. Catholdi participated in arts and crafts and attended some evening concerts at the community; while Dadonna joined in the many recreational activities, including water volleyball.

Dadonna said the experience was uplifting and eye opening.

“It really gives you a new perspective,” she said.

David Day, a resident at the senior living community, encouraged Catholdi and Dadonna to take part in as many activities and exchanges as they could while living at the senior community, noting the importance of intergenerational interactions.

Young woman swimming in an indoor pool with elder residents.
Sarah Daddonna participates with St. John’s residents at an aquatic fitness class. (Photo provided)

In addition to taking part in the activities and events, Day said the students interviewed a resident in his 90s, spoke with a couple who lived in the community – one of whom has dementia – and regularly chatted with residents in the dining room.

“It was a valuable experience for them,” he said.

Day agreed that the inaugural Student in Residence program helped to dispel any misconceptions that senior citizens are helpless.

“They saw that was not the case here,” he said.

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