A new interdisciplinary Center on Aging at The University of Southern Mississippi will leverage the university’s expertise to help service providers, policy makers and researchers better understand and serve an aging populace.
The center’s mission is to respond creatively to the myriad instructional, research and service challenges posed by the aging phenomenon in an inclusive and interdisciplinary manner, with special emphasis on local and regional needs for reliable information and skilled workforce development. It will be located in the university’s College of Health.
“Of key importance is better preparing a workforce – including nurses, social workers and other health care and human service providers – to deal with the issues unique to this population,” said Dr. Michael Forster, dean of the College of Health.
Forster envisions the center providing opportunities for collaborative research and funding pursuits, with positive implications for university curriculum development and practitioner service delivery; offering education, training and consultation services to medical and senior service entities; and developing and maintaining a community senior services directory.
“The center provides an excellent opportunity for the university to employ its expertise in varying areas of research on this critical social issue for the benefit of the citizenry of Mississippi,” said Southern Miss Provost Dr. Robert Lyman.
Forster concurs. “It seems such a natural to have a center like this at a university,” he said. ”With the aging population growing, there is a major need.”
Another prominent issue Forster sees the center addressing is the increasing number of seniors in the workforce, either because they continue to enjoy their work, or remain or re-enter out of necessity because of the unstable national economy and its impact on retirement savings and investments.
“Right now, there’s not enough people capable of working with this population, and through the center we can look at how we can better equip medical, social service, career training and policy professionals to do that,” Forster said.
Recognition of the potential value of a center emerged from the work of the College of Health’s gerontology certificate committee, headed by co-chairs Dr. Susan Hrostowski, assistant professor of social work, and Dr. Susan Hubble-Burchell, associate dean of the College of Health and an associate professor of recreation.
In addition to research, Hrostowski sees the center as another way that the university can partner with the local community to develop, provide, and evaluate programs and services for older residents.
“I like to emphasize the strengths perspective and remind people that most folks over 65 are active and productive, so our efforts will include education, recreation and civic engagement with older folks as well as interventions for those facing challenges,” she said.
The work of the center can also help senior adults achieve what Forster calls “successful aging” in a designated retirement community like the Hattiesburg area.
Dr. Susan Bone, associate professor human performance and director of the university’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, believes the Center will offer many opportunities for students and faculty to impact the lives of seniors in the Hattiesburg area, including in collaboration with OLLI.
“Our board and members look forward to providing hands-on learning experiences for the Southern Miss students interested in the aging population. The ability to apply classroom learning to real life experiences will further enhance their academic experience,” she said. “And the potential funding opportunities through the center for new initiatives in this field can create and build new relationships.”
For more information about the Center on Aging, contact Dr. Susan Hubble-Burchell at 601.266.5367 Dr. Michael Forster
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.