At the fall 2013 academic year "kick-off," President Walter Harrison recognized exceptional faculty and staff members. Claudia Oakes, director of health sciences in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions, was one of five University faculty members acknowledged for Innovations in Teaching and Learning.
Oakes teaches Introduction to Gerontology to aspiring health professionals. A major objective of the course is to dispel the stereotype that older adults are frail, ill, and dependent. At the same time, it is important for students to become aware of the challenges associated with aging. To meet these goals, Oakes created experiences outside the classroom.
At the West Hartford Senior Center or Summerwood Assisted Living, students conducted in-depth interviews with older adults.
They expressed surprise upon learning that many of the people whom they interviewed were active, vibrant, and independent, even though many were living with chronic health conditions. To help students learn more about how the physical environment affects older adults, Oakes developed the Walkability Assessment. In this exercise, students use the AARP Livable Communities Checklist as a guide in assessing how easy a particular area is for older adults to navigate. By walking in defined areas of West Hartford, they monitored the amount of time available at crosswalks, determined if sidewalks could cause difficulty for someone with impaired vision or balance, and assessed whether there were adequate resting spots along the way.
Oakes feels these experiences helped her students connect factual information about aging with the realities, challenges, and opportunities that aging presents.
The Awards for Innovations in Teaching and Learning were created to recognize the remarkable teaching that sets the University of Hartford apart from other institutions. In honor of faculty members who have shown exceptional dedication, innovation, and effectiveness in their teaching, as well as extensive interaction with students, the awards are given in recognition of recent and specific achievements in teaching. These awards are sponsored and funded by the Harry Jack Gray/National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching Enhancement Grants. As a result of the award, Oakes will receive faculty development funding to use throughout the academic year.