It is no secret that with age comes knowledge. But instead of those pearls of wisdom being cast away, the Sixty Plus organization at SF State aids senior citizens in becoming a part of the campus community.
Founded in 1975, Sixty Plus is a self-governing group organized under the gerontology program and created in order to close the generational gap between college students and those two to three generations apart by reducing stigma against aging citizens.
Eileen Ward, gerontology professor and coordinator for the organization, said its goal is to help the members of Sixty Plus continue learning, even if not in a classroom.
“The whole premise is lifelong learning and staying active,” Ward said. “They like the idea of being part of a vibrant campus community and being among students while grabbing a coffee at the student center, and just being here makes them a valuable part of the school.”
Members of Sixty Plus aren’t necessarily students, but being affiliated with the program entitles them to student services such as a student ID card, use of the library, access to recreational fitness facilities and student discounts at SF State sponsored events.
These seniors used to be able to audit undergraduate classes at SF State when space was available and with permission of the instructor, but that ended approximately six years ago due to budget cuts, according to Ward.
According to 2010 enrollment numbers, there were only 41 individuals more than 60 years of age going for a bachelor’s degree and 108 seniors going for their graduate degrees, making these two groups a combined 0.5 percent of the total campus population. But according to Ward, just because the majority of the Sixty Plus members aren’t students, they are still a vital part of the campus community and in large numbers.
“Back in its heyday, the numbers used to be well over 600 seniors enrolled and now we are operating at a little bit over 200 members,” Ward said. “Like the saying goes, ‘use it or lose it’ and I think it is important for people of all ages to continue learning new things but also being around people or a different generation enriches everyone and fosters a stronger inter-generational conversation and relationship.”
Gerontology professor Anabel Pelham was a founding member of Sixty Plus and said it is a huge resource for current students.
“It all started when a small group of seniors, who were also alumni, came to us and said that they were interested to still be a part of the University community. They had a passionate concern for students and to this day we are still here because of their passion and concern,” Pelham said. “Current students can learn from these people who are a tremendous resource on how a career looks like and they provide an emotional support for students that can feel overwhelmed or burdened. You can’t buy that kind of help or service.”
Another aspect of Sixty Plus is that they provide scholarships to graduate students in the gerontology program. This year they awarded three $1,000 scholarships. The last time this opportunity was granted was in 2005.
The three recipients were honored with a luncheon May 11 at the Seven Hills Conference Center.
Laura Guluzzy, 57-year-old graduate student, received her bachelor’s degree in human services with a minor in psychology in May 2011 from the University of Notre Dame and said that age should never be a factor in deciding to pursue an education.
“Age is just a number and being old is a rite of passage. I’ve earned every single one of my gray hairs, but even though I am older I have a lot to offer still and that shouldn’t ever deter me from doing what I do now,” Guluzzy said.
But even as an enrolled student, she still experiences stigmatization at her age.
“I’m a student here but many times I’m never perceived as one because of my age. Students handing out fliers often skip me because they think I’m faculty and think that I might not be interested in the events or causes they are promoting,” Guluzzy said. “I think there needs to be a more conscious effort here to be accepting of all people, even white women that are over 50 and students and in need of a job.”