Members of the University of Utah Professors Emeriti Club sat at a table in the Student Union Building on Jan. 11 smiling and waving to passing students.
“Hello! How are you?” called out Ken Jameson, club president, as people walked by. Some returned the greeting and continued on their way, but others took advantage of the invitation on the table’s sign—“Grandparents are in, giving advice,” it read. “The advice may be BAD, but at least it’s FREE.”
Inspired by the “Old Coots Giving Advice” booth at the Salt Lake City Farmer’s Market, the campus version of the event began last semester as a way for the Emeriti Club to make intergenerational connections. While not a replacement for formal mental health services, Jameson’s hope is the effort will provide support to students who need a friendly face or some kind words.
“I don’t think any of us kid ourselves and think we are solving their problems,” Jameson said. “But giving them someone to bounce their ideas off of seems to have been helpful. They are figuring out so much at this point in their lives.”
Some of the questions students have are lighthearted—Jameson was asked by one group of men how he’d preserved his hair over the years. Others want guidance on choosing a career, finding friends or navigating romantic relationships. According to club members, many students note it’s nice to be able to talk to a stranger who, while caring, does not have the same stake in their life as a family member or friend might.
“The kinds of conversations we have with them, we don’t have with our grandkids,” Jameson said. “We have expectations of our grandkids that we don’t have of students we meet in passing.”
Lou Borgenicht, an Emeriti Club member and retired pediatrician, has given advice at the farmer’s market for years and is now bringing his expertise to the university. He said the activity provides a unique opportunity for students to gain perspective from people with more life experience and for club members to learn about the concerns young adults have.
“The questions that I find the most interesting are not about what students want to do, but the more personal ones—the questions about relationships or adjusting to life in Utah,” Borgenicht said.
Maddi Bergman and Jessi Swearingen are two first-year students who stopped to talk to the club members.
“They are really good listeners, which is always nice,” Bergman said. “They have really good tips for whatever you talk about and have wisdom on whatever you could bring up.”
“It didn’t feel forced,” Swearingen added. “The conversations just kept rolling and you could ask them questions about their life experience and their college experience and you can relate it to what you are choosing now.”
Club members will be giving advice at Kahlert Village and the Honors dorm later this month and want to continue the event throughout the spring semester.