An Interdisciplinary Approach to Aging and the Built Environment

I-70 Corridor

I-70 Corridor Conference • November 7–8, 2013

Fifty-eight participants from nine institutions and seven business enterprises assembled in Lawrence, Kansas, on November 7–8, 2013, to discuss the development of an interdisciplinary network on aging research along the I-70 corridor from St. Louis to Manhattan and beyond as far as Denver. (I-70 Participant Bios) The conference was underwritten by a Research Investment Council grant from Research and Graduate Studies at the University of Kansas. Other participating institutions of higher education included Kansas State University; Washburn University; University of Kansas Medical Center; University of Missouri, Kansas City; Rockhurst University; University of Missouri, Columbia; Washington University; University of St. Louis; and University of Missouri, St. Louis. Professionals from Telecare Global, Keystone IT Consulting, Proactive Sense, Action Pact, ARI, and Frank Zilm & Associates were also involved along with staff from the Mid-America Regional Council.

I-70 Corridor Aging Network Logo

These people, institutions, and organizations represent only some of thousands of individuals in America’s heartland who have significant expertise in aging. The impetus for the creation of this network, however, is based on the fact that major institutions of higher education in the middle of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains have an astounding breadth and depth of university faculty from many disciplines who focus on various aspects of aging, yet these faculty are not organized across universities to strengthen their prospects of receiving grants in an increasingly competitive research environment. If organized differently, faculty not only could build stronger, interdisciplinary research teams across universities, but they could also increase the size and diversity of their participant registry pools across urban and rural settings, racial and ethnic origin, and socio-economic class.

The I-70 participants participated in one of two workshops. Workshop 1, led by Drs. Marilyn Rantz and Marge Skubic of the University of Missouri, Columbia, focused on “Community-based Nursing and Eldercare Technology.” Workshop 2, led by Drs. David Ekerdt and Susan Kemper, focused on “Learning with Elders Where They Live.”

After about twenty-four hours of conferencing, people had become acquainted with each other and each other’s work. This was one of the goals of the conference. The main questions in Workshop 1 were: How do we develop an interdisciplinary network linking researchers, retirement communities, assisted-living centers, medical centers, and other private entities to facilitate data collection, data sharing, and technological innovations? How do we create or expand programs for community-based nursing, telemedicine, and telecaregiving to enable aging in place? How do we design and use eldercare technology to support aging in place?

The main questions in Workshop 2 were: How do we increase the number of participants in research projects and research sites? How do we create educational networking that strengthens training opportunities for students at all levels, provides opportunity for summer programs and exchange programs, and creates new funding mechanisms?

As a result of our coming together for what we hope is the beginning of robust and successful collaboration, we know that we must undertake much foundational work to achieve our goals over the long term.

The conferees were clear about what must be done and recommended the following action items to be undertaken within the larger goal of helping to fix our healthcare system:

  1. Write a vision statement;
  2. Form an executive board or steering committee composed of people from the nine institutions;
  3. Profile the participants according to their skill sets;
  4. Survey the current participants about what they already know or have—potential technologies for the network, test data sets, model partnerships;
  5. Request that proposals be sent to the executive board for future workshops;
  6. Consider a monthly Saturday lecture series that might include a webinar for a fee; Identify key people who were not at the conference and invite them to join our network;
  7. Establish an agreement among the universities and industrial partners to create a mechanism that will address intellectual property rights;
  8. Build a website that features a syllabus bank, certificate programs, degree programs, best practices, links to other sites, and peer mentoring to facilitate cross-fertilization;
  9. Develop a summer workshop or institute that brings together faculty, agency staff, industrial experts, and community college partners and is open to students at all levels;
  10. Develop a set of resources that support research efforts, such as participant registries, research sites, videos, texts, and other instruments that encourage research; and
  11. Work to bring community partners into the network.

Many of our participants responded to this conference with very positive remarks. We hope that Rick Moody’s response represents their views: “Great conference–truly inspirational and ground-breaking!” Now there is a lot of work to do.

I-70 Corridor Discussions

Break time discussions. Left to right: Russell Waitman, Dennis Domer, Susanne Siepl-Coates, Marge Skubic, Bob Honea

Provost enews

The following is an excerpt from the Office of the Provost enews.

Building healthy communities through collaboration

November 18, 2013

A unique component of our strategic planning process three years ago was the call for proposals to address grand challenges where KU brings unique strengths and capabilities. The most compelling of these proposals were distilled into the four strategic initiative themes in our strategic plan Bold Aspirations.They all address societal issues that require multidisciplinary collaboration across campus and with external partners, because no one discipline has all the answers.

The I-70 Corridor Conference on Interdisciplinary Aging Research held earlier this month is one example of how KU is addressing the third strategic initiative theme — Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities — through collaboration across disciplines and with other universities. The conference attracted nearly 60 researchers from nine universities along I-70 from locations ranging from St. Louis, Missouri to Manhattan, Kansas.

The conference was supported by a Level II Strategic Initiative Grant awarded to organizer Dennis Domer, director of the New Cities Project, and his colleagues David Ekerdt, professor of sociology, and Susan Kemper, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Psychology.

We are continuing to provide similar seed funding to several other groups of KU faculty and staff in order to propel their efforts toward the strategic initiatives. Creating new research opportunities on our campus and at partner institutions will help us fulfill our mission of educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.


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