As a result of a growing national and local emphasis on aging issues, WSU recognized the importance of doing more for older adults and of providing training in Gerontology for students. An academic program in Gerontology and the Gerontology Center were created through the work of Dr. William Hays, a faculty member in the Department of Sociology. In 1975-76, a Gerontology program began in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a Gerontology Interdisciplinary Field Major (BA) and an Associate of Arts degree in Gerontology. Dr. Hays then wrote the original grant application to establish the WSU Gerontology Center, which was approved and created in 1977. Board of Regents approval for the masters degree in gerontology was received in Spring 1978. From 1988 to 1994, a BA/BS in Gerontology was offered by the College of Health Professions while the the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences continued its BA Field Major in Gerontology.
In the mid 1990s, the Gerontology Center closed for lack of funding. The BS in Gerontology was offered through 2003, when the formal major was suspended. Since that time, the BA Field Major in Gerontology and the Bachelor of General Studies degree with a Gerontology focus have been available. More recently, the Gerontology Program launched an online masters degree program under the leadership of Dr. Mary Corrigan. Dr. Nicole Rogers joined the Gerontology Program in the summer 2007.
In the fall of 2011 the Gerontology program moved to the College of Health Professions and now resides in the Department of Public Health Sciences. The program received a major revamp and emerged as the Aging Studies program. As a result of the move, The College of Health Professions now confers the Master degree in Aging Studies with three tracts: public health, administration, and social science. The social science degree is offered fully online, while the other tracks are 50% online with 50% classroom experience. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences continues to offer a BA Field Major in Aging Studies and the Bachelor of General Studies degree with an Aging Studies focus. Dr. Nicole Rogers serves as the Director of the Aging Studies Program. For more information please visit the Aging Studies website.
Larksfield Place Retirement Community opened in 1988, and has served as a training site for WSU students from the beginning. Larksfield Place leaders advocating for aging research included Drs. Cramer Reed and Ernest Crow. An important milestone was the opening of a research center in 1995 directed by Dr. Laszlo Stumpfhauser. In 1996, a fall prevention program was introduced in the Fitness Club, which was expanded to provide more room for services and research in 1998. A computerized driving assessment was developed in 1999 in cooperation with Dr. Alex Chaparro, Wichita State University. In 2003, it was noted that 18 WSU faculty members were involved in research, student projects, student internships, and clinical training at Larksfield Place, mainly through its Cramer Reed Center for Successful Aging. In fact, Larksfield Place has partnered with WSU faculty members working on aging research since its doors opened. Under the leadership of President and CEO Valerie McGhee, the partnership with the university was finally formalized through the Regional Institute on Aging.
The Larksfield Place Retirement Community provided gifts in 2007 and 2008 to help launch the Regional Institute on Aging. We are indebted to Ms. Valerie McGhee, President and CEO during that period, and the Board of Directors for their generous support.
WSU has a rich history of research and service in the field of aging involving multiple academic departments and colleges. In 2003-04, a group of scholars and partners from the community explored the desirability of folding the activities into a more formal framework that would expand, coordinate, and further develop these activities. Dr.James Rhatigan led this initiative, in partnership with Drs. Philip Gaunt and Charles Fox. Faculty members involved in the early discussions of an institute on aging at WSU included: Drs. Mary Corrigan, Louis Medvene, Michael Jorgensen, Steven Peters, Ruth Bohlken, Alex Chaparro, Michael Rogers, Matthew Shepherd, Ray Hull, Barbara Chaparro, and Laszlo Stumpfhauser. In a presentation on January 25, 2005 to the university administration, 12 investigators (from Gerontology, Psychology, Engineering, Performing Arts, Exercise Physiology, Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Communications, and the Center for Physical Activity and Aging) spoke about their work in a broad range of areas related to prevention and lifestyle improvement for older adults. Also presenting was WSU-LINK, which seeks to facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the community it serves.
While these activities were impressive, it was agreed that a new organizational model providing better coordination for aging research activities was required. As a result, both Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research Dr. John Hutchinson, and President Donald Beggs gave their authorization for the creation of the new Regional Institute on Aging. In 2006, the newly appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research Gary L. Miller, Ph.D. and Associate Vice President for Research J. David McDonald, Ph.D. joined the efforts and provided the support, along with Larksfield Place Retirement Community, to establish the Regional Institute on Aging. Teresa S. Radebaugh, Sc.D., was named the first Director, and the Institute was officially launched on April 4, 2007 at a formal ceremony held at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Speakers included WSU President Donald Beggs, Kansas Department on Aging Secretary Kathy Greenlee, WSU Vice President for Academic Affairs Gary L. Miller, Larksfield Place Retirement Community President and CEO Valerie McGhee, and RIA Director Teresa S. Radebaugh.