UHD STAR Lab Shines For Houston’s Senior Community
Students And Older Adults Benefit From Service Learning
By Laura Wagner
With age comes wisdom, so they say. But age can also bring health issues, food and housing insecurity, social isolation, and in some tragic cases, abuse. Houston communities, where the over-65 population makes up more than 10% of residents, need innovative solutions to help seniors manage the challenges of aging.
At UHD, the Service, Teaching, Aging, and Research (STAR) Lab is working hard to provide those solutions.
Based in the UHD College of Public Service (CPS), STAR Lab focuses exclusively on issues and policies affecting older adults. The lab’s purpose is to create a better trained senior-services workforce through service, teaching, research, connection, consultation, training, and advocacy.
“The over-65 population is growing faster than any other segment in the U.S. They need help and their caregivers need help. We take a multi-faceted approach to providing that help, beginning with our students,” said STAR Lab founder and Director Dr. Angela Goins, Assistant Professor of Social Work. “We incorporate service opportunities into our classes to ensure students get real-world experience with the senior community, and in return, seniors get much-needed assistance.”
One longstanding service-learning option is the Adopt a Grandparent program, coordinated by CARE (a community-based partner formerly housed at UHD) and STAR Lab and offered in CPS as well as in the Marilyn Davies College of Business. “That initiative was especially helpful during the pandemic, when the elderly were more isolated than usual,” said Goins. “But it’s always a beneficial effort for both students and seniors.”
In Spring 2022, again in conjunction with CARE, STAR lab partnered with the Region 6 Adult Protective Services Board to build a comprehensive database of up-to-date resources to provide to APS case managers.
“We’re trying to relieve some of the pressures on the senior community and their caregivers when they’re looking for help,” said Goins. “Our goal was to collect the best information possible about resources so that case managers could pass those along. Students earned service-learning hours for verifying available services for elders.” In the process, students built knowledge of the kinds of resources the senior community needs, Goins explained.
Upcoming Fall opportunities include collaborations with the WellMed Charity Foundation, in which students will connect via phone with seniors who need groceries delivered to their homes, and the outreach program Change Happens–STAIRS 2.0 (Service to Aid in Retaining Shelter), which will allow UHD students to work with older adults who are homeless/unsheltered.
Service-learning partnerships often result from the STAR Lab faculty’s reputation and networking. Because of Goins’ expertise in addressing elder abuse, an opportunity recently arose for UHD students to participate with nursing students from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Cizik School of Nursing and medical students from Baylor College of Medicine in an elder abuse simulation.
“Our students worked with medical professionals to learn how to treat a patient who’s a victim of elder abuse,” said Goins. “We are collaborating with the largest medical center in the world, and our students are getting timely, relevant information on a critical issue among our senior population. What could be more beneficial to their learning and future careers?”
Beyond UHD student service learning, STAR Lab is leveraging partnerships to offer a robust series of education opportunities for the Greater Houston area. “In September, we’re partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to bring the 2022 Latino Forum to campus, where Houston-area residents of all ages can come together to ask questions, share their personal experiences, learn about available resources, and discover volunteer opportunities to support families affected by the disease,” said Goins.
Goins was also recently invited to join the Southeast Texas Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (SETxGWEP), a healthcare workforce training and education consortium that promotes healthy aging and competent interprofessional geriatric care. “Through SETxGWEP, I’ll be able to engage with colleagues to exchange knowledge and best practices,” said Goins. “And of course, what I learn will get shared and passed along to other UHD faculty and students.”
Goins believes strongly in sharing learnings and information with anyone interested in supporting the elder community. She, along with Steven Villano, Director of UHD’s Center for Public Service and Community Research, will be presenting on STAR Lab’s collaborative efforts at the Aging in Texas Conference in El Paso in the Fall. “We make ourselves and our data available to researchers, educators, and anyone seeking to create senior-services programs,” Goins said.
These programs will be needed more than ever in the coming decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four Americans will be 65 and older by 2030, and a large percentage of the elderly will be childless—so they may not have family members to care for them.
“At STAR Lab, we’re trying to deal with the needs of seniors and caregivers today as well as to educate a future workforce of geriatric-focused social workers who can hit the ground running when they graduate,” Goins explained. “All of us will be old someday, if we’re lucky. Our hope is to create a world where growing old is a privilege, not a punishment.”
Photo (top): Igor Alecsander/iStock
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.