(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been accepted for membership in the Age-Friendly University Global Network – a collection of more than 100 universities across five continents that have committed to age diversity and intergenerational interactions on their campuses and in their communities.
“This is a timely and impactful distinction for SOU,” President Rick Bailey said. “It meshes with some initiatives that we’re already very excited about. Our acceptance into this distinguished network really highlights our dedication to students of all ages and backgrounds, and our utmost respect for the knowledge, expertise and capabilities of older adults.”
The membership underlines SOU’s commitment to serving mid-career and older students and welcoming the contributions of older employees. It will also place the university on lists of age-friendly institutions that are maintained by organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Gerontological Society of America.
SOU, Portland State University and Western Oregon University are the only Oregon institutions to gain AFUGN membership. Member colleges and universities commit to AFUGN’s list of 10 Age-Friendly University Principles, which touch on second careers, intergenerational learning, online educational opportunities, engagement with retired communities and other key topics.
“Your institution’s demonstrated commitment to this cause and its ongoing efforts to promote age-friendly policies, research, services and initiatives are to be lauded,” said Aaron Guest, Ph.D., an Arizona State University faculty member who serves as secretariat of AFUGN.
“We are thrilled to embark on this journey together and look forward to a fruitful and collaborative relationship,” he said. “Together, we can significantly impact older adults’ lives and create societies where everyone can age with dignity, respect and fulfillment.”
The new membership meshes with SOU’s plans to build a senior living center on campus and with the existing Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. OLLI at SOU leaders collaborated on the AFUGN membership application with Noriko Toyokawa, an associate professor of psychology at SOU whose research focuses on intergenerational relationships and health in later life.
“Age diversity on campus is a resource for learning and community building,” Toyokawa said.
SOU has been awarded state funding to raze its outdated and largely unused Cascade Housing Complex, and university leaders have begun conversations with potential private partners for development of a senior living facility in its place. The goal is to create a living community that creates a unique synergy between the center’s residents, SOU students, OLLI at SOU and the university. A list of seniors who are interested in moving into the facility has already been generated.
SOU’s is among the largest of 125 OLLI programs on college and university campuses across the U.S., with close to 1,700 members at the university’s Ashland and Medford campuses. The SOU program, like others around the country, provides a variety of in-person and online noncredit courses and outdoor activities geared toward adults 50 or better who seek “learning for the joy of learning.” OLLI at SOU invites adults to come for the classes and stay for the connections.
OLLI at SOU members collaborate with staff to govern their organization, and teach and take classes in subjects ranging from art and music to science and technology to health and recreation. The local program began with 100 members in 1993 as Southern Oregon Learning in Retirement (SOLIR) before being incorporated into the nationwide OLLI network that is part of the Bernard Osher Foundation.
The AFUGN was initiated in 2012 at Ireland’s Dublin City University and has grown into a network of institutions that promote positive, healthy aging by offering age-friendly educational programs, research, curriculum, online education, health and wellness activities, arts and culture programs and opportunities for civic engagement.