A Voice at the Table

A look inside one graduate gerontology course

By Ryan Shanley

Here at Miami, we create an environment that ensures that gerontology graduate students have a voice in the classroom—a chance to speak and interact in their own way with what they learn, using their own life experience and background.

This past fall, Master’s and PhD students sat around the oval table in 351 Upham Hall for a class titled The Demography and Epidemiology of Aging. The class covered an array of topics such as demographic projections, measures of population aging, the politics of population growth, global aging, and public health initiatives. “Not only were the course topics so interesting, so were the experiences and perspectives of every individual in the class,” explained Claire, a second year master’s student. “Rather than learning straight from a textbook, we were able to take a look at what was happening in different parts of the world by looking at demography in the news and by gaining international perspectives from peers.”

“It really was the spectacular level of energy and engagement that the students brought” that made the class so excellent, explained Dr. Suzanne Kunkel, who taught the course. “We could have used at least half our time on topics and questions that students had brought to class.”

The coursework challenged the students to use their own voices, both spoken and written, through discussions, writing assignments, and a final presentation. “The reason you do these calculations and gather these data is so that you can provide information for real world problems, questions, and solutions,” Dr. Kunkel explained. She encouraged the students to discover the real world problems and opportunities, discuss the questions, and develop the solutions.

Beyond the interactive nature of the courses, it’s this applied approach that many students come to appreciate as well. “The final paper that I produced in this class served as a basis for my paper that was accepted in the upcoming Ohio Association of Gerontology and Education conference,” explained Stephen, a first year Gerontology PhD student. “Taking this class has had a direct impact on the furthering of my career.”