On Tuesday December 12th, Dr. Justine McGovern hosted a poster presentation session, where her Social Work with Older Adults‘ class gave poster presentations to assembled guests. This poster presentation session was a place where students could showcase their work and present their findings from semester-long research projects that they completed in Dr. McGovern’s class.
All the students in Dr. McGovern’s class were presenting projects that explored the topic of facilitators and barriers to aging in place. Students collected and analyzed verbal and visual data from interviews and photographs, adopting a PhotoVoice approach to research and advocacy..
Dr. McGovern has been guiding her classes through this research project for the past few years. It started with a grant, that extends through December 31st of 2017, that provided funds for Dr. McGovern to collaborate with a Professor from Lehman’s Art Department, David Schwittek. The grant provided the resources necessary to complete the research assignment and to incorporate guidance from Mr. Schwittek, who is a Professor of Media and Digital Art, on how to use visual metaphors and other visual tools on the posters themselves, to strength the presentation of the data collected. That first year, the students presented their posters in a gallery space, which also contained artifacts of the process – in the gallery, notes from the research stages and other mementos were on display, so the audience could see the process, visually, as they heard the final results of presentations from students.
This year’s students are still conducting valuable research. All the students get their research proposals IRB certified and learn how to conduct research by the books. Dr. McGovern incorporates time into each class period for students to work on their projects, so that the task doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming. Dr. McGovern explained that, “students use visual and verbal data, analyze the data thematically, design the posters themselves and finally present the findings in the classroom before presenting their posters to the larger audience.”
The students each interviewed a senior, as their qualitative method of gathering data. Some students chose to interview an older family member whereas others interviewed someone they had not previously met.
The groups, and even group members within groups, came away from their interviews with different findings. Some groups spoke with seniors who felt content, fulfilled and like all their needs were met. Other groups spoke with seniors who felt isolated, depressed, and unsupported. Most interviewees fell somewhere in between. Almost everyone reported that staying in their home environment was of the utmost importance to them, but that they wanted to be able to stay home in a way that was safe and supported. Some barriers included things like poor physical health, limited mobility, lack of transportation, lack of social interaction, or declining mental or intellectual health. On the flip side, things like spirituality/religion, family, or living at home in a supported way were elements that facilitated aging in place/at home in a supported way.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this student showcase was that the students presented their findings but they also presented their perspective on the experience, which allowed the viewer to learn about the research findings and the research process. One student told me that through this research project, and his internship placement at nursing home, he gained a new understanding of ageism and realized that increasing interactions between generations, even for something as simple as a conversation, breaks down barriers.
One group spoke about a shared reflection that they had after completing this project. Working with the seniors, and seeing the resources they had access to or were lacking got the group members thinking about their future, when they themselves will be seniors. This reflection prompted the group members to feel even closer to the seniors, because they saw this connection between their two stages of life in a new light.
Aging In Place: Living Independently in Familiar Surroundings
Justine McGovern, Desmy Williams, Fernando Villimar, Sara Diane and Eva Daniels (Renee Serrano also worked on this poster but is not pictured)
Another student shared that they found the interview process challenging. This student interviewed a stranger, who they connected with through a coworker. On the day of the interview, the student showed up to the nursing home during nap time, which got the meeting off to a rocky start. From the outset, the interviewee was disgruntled and irritated. However, by the end of their conversation, the interviewee didn’t want the student to leave – the student has been back to visit the senior a couple times since their initial interaction.
One student started thinking about policy after doing this project. After learning what was important to the senior that she interviewed, which was cleanliness and spirituality, among other things, the student realized that policy should be based on the stated priorities of the seniors, instead of being based off of what we think they want – we should just listen to what they tell us!
One student ended up feeling closer to her father, who shared with her via interview that all he wanted was more visits from his daughters. The student said she already speaks with him on the phone every day but now tries to make more of an effort to visit in person as well.
Everyone seemed to like the process of working with seniors and seemed pleasantly surprised it had gone so well. Many students mentioned that we need to increase the amount of intergenerational contact we have so that these conversations don’t feel as intimidating, we can learn from each other and we can create meaningful bonds, or at the very least meaningful conversations.
The Glory Days: Reviewing Memories Through the Strengths Perspective
Group members: Antoinette Bailey, Sherescia Wilson, Elena Sekyi Obempong, Tess-Marie Davis & Sybil Palm
Home Sweet Home
Group members: Cavrille O’Garro, Humayra Khatun, Mara Taormina, Scott Diaz, Tenisha Urena
The other two group posters (not pictured) were entitled:
Multicultural Approach to Aging in Place
Cylotte St-Fleur, Adelina Isenaj, Leopoldina Giron, Linda Lei, Marlon Agustin-Mendez
No Place Like Home: Our Warriors
Sulemay Huerta, Maribel Pantoja, Melissa Dandin, Dionaly, Emily Dejimenez
In terms of process, some groups had challenging experiences working together whereas others formed meaningful social bonds. Every group reported feeling proud of their work and their poster, and excited about the prospect of presenting the poster again at upcoming presentation opportunities. Also, students really liked the way Dr. McGovern structured class time to include time for working on these projects. Leopoldina said that she first thought the project was going to be way too hard but after getting to work on it during class time, she found it really manageable to get all the coursework done.
Congratulations to Dr. McGovern and all the social work students who presented!