Campus & Community

Denver retirement community partners with University of Denver for unique senior learning experience

Loretta DeWitt, known as “Lori” to her fellow students, has a cheerful demeanor and has been praised by her professors as “engaged and determined.”

So determined, in fact, that when her graduation day came, DeWitt had amassed more than 100 credits when only 30 were required. It’s a number that earned her the honor of class valedictorian.

But the 81-year-old is not finished with the Clermont College of Creative Life. “I loved the curriculum,” she says, “and I’m ready to learn more.”

Nestled in Denver’s University Hills neighborhood, Clermont Park Retirement Community launched an ambitious educational program two years ago that involves the community’s residents and staff members and that resulted in a partnership with the University of Denver.

According to Moriah Bernhardt, Clermont Park’s director of community life, the Clermont College of Creative Life was founded after 92-year-old Elsa Wycisk, a resident at the community, suggested the idea.

“Two years ago, Elsa came to me and said, ‘With all the amazing people living here, and all the classes and experiences springing into life at Clermont Park, why don’t we start a university?’ Those words, that notion, inspired us to launch a unique and engaging academic and experiential curriculum known as the Clermont College of Creative Life,” Bernhardt says.

Students, whose average age is 85, are not given tests nor are they graded. Residents must earn a total of 20 credits by receiving five “core” credits based on the areas of social, intellectual, physical and spiritual engagement. An additional 10 elective credits are required in the area of “lifelong learning and self-exploration” for a grand total of 30 credits. Faculty members consist of fellow residents, staff members, family members of residents and staff, and guest educators.

Andrew Steward (BA ’12, MSW ’14), Masterpiece Living lifestyle coordinator for Clermont Park, was instrumental in getting the University of Denver involved in Clermont College — by providing guest educators and participants. Steward brought Clermont College to the attention of Michael Talamantes, clinical associate professor at DU’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW).

Talamantes added to his syllabus an assignment on “aging trends” and required his students to teach and/or attend a Clermont College class.

“This was the favorite assignment of the quarter for my students, who learned much more than they anticipated,” says Talamantes, who plans to require his students to participate at Clermont College in the future. “For those students who did not have the knowledge of working with older adults, it opened their eyes to the wisdom, experience and pleasure brought through intergenerational engagement. It inspired many of them to consider working with the elder population in the future.”

In fall 2015, Clermont College caught the attention of the University of Denver’s soon-to-open Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging and Leslie Hasche, an associate professor at GSSW. Hasche became a guest instructor at the retirement community and co-led a course on stress-resilience techniques with Steward, her former student.

“The developing partnership with the University of Denver is a win-win for both DU and Clermont Park,” Steward says. “It gives our residents the opportunity to be taught by external educators, like Professor Hasche and DU graduate students, and it will provide DU measureable data to enhance their studies on aging.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *