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WIU Student, Professor Collaborate for Journal Article

March 10, 2017


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MACOMB, IL – For Western Illinois University senior Maria Kurth, her interest America's aging population developed from a close relationship with her grandparents and childhood visits to a nursing home near her elementary school.

The senior psychology major and aging studies minor, from Davenport, IA, has turned that love for her grandparents into an academic mission to combat stereotypical reactions to aging, particularly in college students.

For the past six months, Kurth has conducted a research study on ageism and beliefs about aging among college students with the guidance of WIU Psychology Professor Robert C. Intrieri. The study specifically surveyed students in WIU's departments of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA) and Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA).

Kurth and Intrieri learned in January that the journal article they collaborated on, to report the results of their research, will be published in an upcoming edition of the academic journal "Educational Gerontology." The journal article was born from Kurth's Honors thesis.

"I started this project in the fall of my junior year as an independent readings course," said Kurth. "I read between 20 and 30 journal articles and developed a hypothesis. Then in the Summer 2016 semester, I received approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to collect data."

The data collection portion of Kurth's project involved visiting WIU's LEJA and RPTA classrooms to survey students.

"We were measuring attitudes, perception and knowledge," said Kurth. "We found that the more knowledge the student had, related to aging, the more positive their attitudes were."

Intrieri said the survey evaluated more than 400 people and required Kurth to give presentations about her proposed research to faculty from the LEJA and RPTA departments.

"We chose those two majors because the research related to ageism indicated that not much work had been done with those two majors," said Kurth. "Professionals in law enforcement and recreation will have decidedly greater contact with older adults because the population dynamics are changing. By 2030, nearly one out of every five people will be 65 or older."

Kurth said her original hypothesis was that recreation students would have greater knowledge and more positive attitudes toward aging and older people in general because recreation has a concerted emphasis on leisure activities throughout the life span. But when she analyzed the data, the results showed LEJA students had greater knowledge of aging and, in some respects, a more positive attitude toward older adults.

Intrieri said the growing number of Baby Boomers are turning 65 and are requiring a "massive change in the way we treat and handle age-related issues."

"The Baby Boomers are more affluent than past generations, and with greater wealth, they have more money and time to spend on recreation and leisure activities." Kurth added that in terms of law enforcement, a large "cohort of prisoners are aging in place" in the country's prisons, impacting current LEJA majors and creating a need for law enforcement professionals to have more information about normal and abnormal aging processes.

"Older adults are also at a greater risk of identity theft, violence and discrimination," said Kurth.

Intrieri said the aging topic interested him as well because his grandparents were immigrants who could not speak English.

"When I was 6 years old, my grandmother suffered a stroke and that was a vivid memory in my life," he said. "I have an interest in working with older people and helping students develop a compassionate view of older people."

Kurth is currently interviewing at graduate schools to study life span development after her May graduation from Western.

"I would eventually like to work in developing public policy for aging programs," said Kurth.

Intrieri said it is impressive that Kurth's undergraduate research was accepted for a peer-reviewed publication.

"It says something about the quality of work she has done," he said. "She is an outstanding student in a variety of different ways. She is a person who is willing to go that extra mile, enabling her to improve, and that's going to take her a long way. We need good people like her to be involved in the areas of public policy and aging.

Intrieri said WIU offers undergraduate students an opportunity to get involved in the research process in a variety of ways, including collaborating with faculty members.

In addition to this research, Kurth will present another research paper about racial differences and attitudes toward aging at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) in San Francisco, CA, in July.

For more information about WIU's Department of Psychology, visit wiu.edu/psychology. For more about the University's Centennial Honors College, visit wiu.edu/honors.

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (JK-Pospeschil@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations