When Justin Cobe was approaching his last year as a graduate student in Marquette’s International Affairs program, his college experience up to that point was conventional in many ways: he loved learning, building lifelong friendships and attending parties. But despite enjoying everything, Cobe was still searching for an opportunity that would make his final year at Marquette truly unforgettable.
In 2022, he applied for an experience that would place him in the daily presence of individuals several decades older than him. That fall, he moved his personal belongings into a retirement community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, settling in for a year filled with more than what he could learn in a classroom.
The Students in Resident Program offers an intergenerational living opportunity, pairing Marquette students with the St. Camillus Life Plan Community. St. Camillus provides off-campus housing to select Marquette students in exchange for weekly volunteer work.
“It was the chance to get out of my comfort zone and experience something not many other individuals could say they have done,” Cobe says.
While connecting with a new generation, Cobe makes the most of his time by coordinating watch parties for sporting events as well as discussions of historical videos and TED Talks. He also looks forward to enjoying lunch and dinner time with the residents.
“I have really developed some special relationships with a lot of the residents that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” Cobe says.
He says his decision to live intergenerationally was beneficial for him and the residents as he embraced learning about their life experiences.
“I don’t know if words can encapsulate my learning experience here,” Cobe says. “I have gained valuable insights and perspective on life that I don’t know I could have learned elsewhere.”
Home to nearly 600 older adults, including 55 retired Jesuit priests, St. Camillus is the largest life plan community in the state. It offers a variety of resources for residents, including independent living apartments, assisted living, specialized memory care, skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation.
Dr. Stacy Barnes, director of the Wisconsin Geriatric Education Center and an associate professor of practice in Marquette’s College of Nursing, directs the program. She was the principal investigator for a 2018 Community Engaged Research Partnership Development Grant awarded to the college and St. Camillus to launch a new community-based research project that ultimately led to the residency program.
To live in the St. Camillus apartments, students are required to volunteer at least eight hours per week. They develop and host a wide variety of life enrichment activities for the older residents, such as walking clubs, small group discussions, game nights, Marquette watch parties and cooking classes.
“The program has been more successful than I hoped,” Barnes says. “Students and older residents have developed close relationships with measurable benefits for both generations. One example of an unanticipated benefit is with the older men at St. Camillus, who are often reluctant to participate in social activities. They have been more engaged due to the young male students planning and facilitating some of the events.”
For the 2023-24 academic year, the program will expand to include seven Marquette students. The students’ volunteer opportunities will also broaden to include memory care and assisted living.