Laura Kraft is loud and boisterous. Her daughter, Julie Coelho, is quiet and reserved. What the pair have in common is that they both graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in human services.
Likening their relationship to the “Gilmore Girls,” Kraft and Coelho decorated their graduation caps that year with lines from the TV show’s theme song: “Where You Lead” and “I Will Follow.”
Three years later, Kraft is joining CSUF’s Class of 2020 with a second degree — a master’s in gerontology — with Coelho as her biggest cheerleader.
If not for her daughter joining her as a student years ago, Kraft says she might not have continued her education. “I felt so alone and lost my first semester,” said Kraft. “She saved me from dropping out.”
For Coelho, attending college with her mom was “exactly how you’d imagine.”
“She would remind me to complete my homework the moment it was assigned, tell me to raise my hand in the loudest whisper during class and force me to sign up for clubs on campus,” recalled Coelho, laughing.
“In the moment, I was a little annoyed and embarrassed. Now looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about having classes with my mom. Thanks to her, I was an A student and I fell in love with the clubs I joined,” said Coelho, who now serves as a lead preschool teacher at Stepping Stones in Fullerton.
Though they have different personalities and study habits — Coelho choosing to work with children and Kraft choosing to work with seniors — their bond deepened as they dove into educational experiences together.
“We had many general education classes together and were able to help each other navigate campus life,” said Kraft. “Walking with her, for our bachelor’s degrees, was one of the best days of my life.”
Inspired by her strong relationship with her daughter, Kraft decided to pursue advanced studies in gerontology to research the importance of intergenerational connections.
Why Study Aging
What can older adults and college students learn from each other? A lot, says Kraft.
In fact, she is working with several community partners to pilot a program that would match older adults in Orange County, who have an extra room, with college students. Other universities, like UC Berkeley and New York University, have implemented similar home sharing programs.
Laura Kraft ’17, ’20 (B.S. human services, M.S. gerontology)
“In these difficult times with higher housing costs, there is an increase in college students who need housing stability and food security,” explained Kraft. “At the same time, older adults experience social isolation and are at higher risk of adverse health impacts due to isolation and loneliness.
“This partnership may ultimately result in older adults and students experiencing better health and social connection, and decreased depression and isolation,” she said, citing that according to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than a quarter of the households in this country were one-person households — meaning a total of 31.2 million people were living alone.
Barbara Cherry, professor emeritus of psychology and Kraft’s mentor, says the program could be important in changing the bias that exists about older adults.
“A program like this could help young people understand the discrimination that exists for older adults,” said Cherry, adding that in 10 years, one fifth of the population will be 65 years of age and older. “That kind of wakes you up to thinking that we better get smarter about how we address aging issues.”
Cal State Fullerton, which offers both a minor in aging studies and a master’s degree in gerontology, aims to prepare students to meet the needs of the aging population.
“It doesn’t matter what your major is,” said Cherry. “Economics, marketing, engineering, biology — all of them have some aspect of aging in their disciplines. So even if students just want to minor in aging studies, it can make them more marketable to future employers.”
Contact: Lynn Juliano, firstname.lastname@example.org