Gero-Punk Praxis: Dispatch from the AGHE conference

Hello from partly-sunny Long Beach California! I’m here for the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) annual conference.

I’ve been here since Wednesday and will be heading back to the fairest city of them all, Portland, OR, on Sunday. In the meanwhile, in addition to attending the conference, I’ve been doing what any proper Gero-Punk does when visiting a new land: observing, asking questions, making notes, and taking a lot of photos; walking for miles; finding cool shops; eating beautiful food; and connecting with fine creatures of all sorts (I’ve seen: cormorants; pelicans; Western sandpipers; marbled godwits; Western grebes; loons)….

…you know, Gero-Punk Praxis!

But how about I give you a little update on what I’ve been doing so far at the conference?

Yesterday afternoon, March 3, 2016, I had the pleasure of serving as the Honorary Gero-Punk on a workshop presentation with colleagues from Portland Community College: Jan Abushakrah, Roger Anunsen, and Michael Faber. The panel, Designing Programs for Encore Learners and Encore Earners: Sharing Today’s Innovations, Exchanging Tomorrow’s Ideas, focused on the many special features of the innovative PCC gerontology program.


If you want to know more about the PCC gerontology program, take a look here: PCC Gerontology Program

Jan Abushakrah and I have been long-time colleagues and have collaborated on many projects and initiatives. In fact, Jan and her crew from PCC are exemplars when it comes to what true collegiality and collaboration looks like. Over the years, we’ve freely exchanged ideas, resources, even faculty and students (in fact, there’s a strong contingent of PCC gerontology students who participate in the Gero-Punk Project, and when I was still faculty at Marylhurst University, Jan would send students my way so they could complete their undergraduate degrees. Reciprocally, over the past 15 years, I have served on the steering committee for the PCC Gerontology program, helped Jan and others at PCC write a report on Boomers returning to college, and participated in a multi-year PCC-system wide initiative to increasing aging awareness). For further evidence of Jan’s excellence, I’m proud to report that she’s receiving the Hiram J Friedsam Mentorship Award for 2016. As well, she’s being inducted into AGHE as a Fellow.  Bravo, friend!

Roger and I have known each other for a decade or so, long before he joined Jan’s faculty. You may know Roger because of his cutting-edge work, with Michael Patterson, on the gifts of the grown-up brain (and mind!). I brought Michael and Roger to the Marylhurst campus several years ago to facilitate a day-long workshop on brain health and aging. They incorporated into their workshop many techniques and practices such as meditation, exercise, eating beautiful food and other holistic interventions. If you haven’t done so yet, check out their work at Mindramp. In their honor, I just enjoyed: a square of bitter-sweet dark chocolate, five walnut halves, and a wee bit of red wine.

Michael Faber and I just met for the first time yesterday though our professional lives have been traveling in parallel paths over the years. He just joined the PCC Gerontology faculty this past Fall. He’s co-author, with Judith Sugar, Robert Riekse, and Henry Holstege, of the text Introduction to Aging: A Positive, Interdisciplinary Approach, published by Springer. And he has a ton of community-based and direct service experience working with older adults. He’d be a great person to talk to if you are sussing how to enter into the complex and multi-faceted field of aging.

So, that’s a bit about my awesome colleagues. Let me tell you a bit more about our awesome workshop.

By intent and design, in our workshop we focused on the following questions:

  • What are examples of best practices and model programs based on research and a proven track record of supporting encore learners to reach their academic goals, and to acquire knowledge and skills to secure meaningful jobs in the field and progress on their chosen career path?
  • What are powerful tools and resources for designing practices and programs to support encore learners and to connect them with their local network of community partners providing internship, job, and entrepreneurial opportunities to realize their encore career?
  • What are creative ways to go about connecting with a vibrant network of gerontology programs and encore organizations, both public and private, which are dedicated to promoting the unique and creative contributions of encore pioneers?

Jan, Roger and Michael focused on the many special feature of the innovative PCC Gerontology program, which is designed around the special gifts and needs of mature adult learners, especially adults who are undertaking life-wide changes in their full-on adulthoods. (I’m using “full-on adulthood” rather than “mid-life” as who the hell knows when mid-life actually is? You only know when the middle was when you get to the end! As well, the students in the PCC program range widely in age – the most experientially- precocious student is in her 80s!)

My role in the workshop was to serve as a provocateur, to be the person who made sure that the many special features of the innovative PCC program were surfaced and made visible to audience members. Also — between you and me – I had an ulterior motive as a member of the facilitation team: I wanted to highlight how Jan and her people, faculty and students alike, embody and enact true collaboration, not only in the context of PCC, but beyond and throughout the community (local, statewide and national).

They didn’t have to include me as a member of their facilitation team, but they did. And they didn’t have to feature and give props to the Gero-Punk Project, but they did. Thanks, comrades!

Next up for me? Tomorrow morning, March 5th, my fantastic colleague and friend (and former graduate student) Cynthia McKee and I will be co-facilitating a workshop, No longer invisible: Co-creating a “Gerontology: The basics” course with housekeeping staff at a university-based retirement community.

The timing of our presentation, which is about creating the causes and conditions for service staff to empower themselves through education, couldn’t be better or more ironically timed. I discovered only this morning that the hotel where the conference is being held and in which we are staying is in a protracted labor dispute with their workers, who are being prevented from organizing and unionizing.

Stay-tuned for more juicy tales of Gero-Punk Praxis….

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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