Aging Incubator Connects Occupational Therapy and Nutrition Students

In the spirit of interdisciplinary learning, NYU’s Aging Incubator pairs students from different graduate programs to devise solutions for older adults to age in place

“The idea is to bring people together across the university who have an interest in research in aging,” said Dr. Tracy Chippendale, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at NYU Steinhardt, “to promote research and interdisciplinary teaching and form connections across the university.” 

In September 2017, the Aging Incubator launched its first Innovators in Aging Awards. Anthonia Seriki, an OT@NYU doctoral student, is part of a duo that received the award for graduate students. The award comes with a research grant that Seriki is using to create an interactive health and mobility program that will include a series of videos on nutrition and exercise for older adults. Her partner for the project was Anna Brown, a student earning a master of science degree in clinical nutrition.

“I was interested in the idea of looking at older adults and thinking about once they retire or move on to another stage of their life,” said Seriki, who is an occupational therapist for the New York City Department of Education. “How do we continue to incorporate them and include them in occupational therapy? To continue to allow their activities of daily living to be truly fulfilling?”

Chippendale is Seriki’s mentor, guiding her as the project evolves. In the following Q&A, they discuss the project, their research, and the OT@NYU program.

What was the inspiration for the Aging Incubator project, and what will it entail?

Chippendale: The idea behind the Aging Incubator is to really encourage students to work with each other across disciplines, given that we don’t work in isolation in clinical practice. You really work as a team, and often some great ideas can come out of not one person thinking about an issue through one lens but really having people work together with different clinical and academic backgrounds to come up with innovative ideas and solutions.

That’s why this [graduate student award] is about promoting an interest among our students in aging research and promoting aging initiatives, and it is also about encouraging students to work with people from outside their practice area. This is what’s exciting about what Anthonia [Seriki] and Anna have done. It’s a project that incorporates both occupational therapy and nutrition. It’s a really nice partnership between the two professions.

Seriki: The Aging Incubator project is an opportunity to include older adults and show that just because you’re older, that doesn’t mean life stops. For the project, we will be working to generate films to put on YouTube. The films will include nutritional videos where Anna will provide cooking tips and cook meals, and she will teach adults how to properly read food labels. Interactive videos will have a model showing exercises older adults can do that will allow them to remain physically active. When we were initially brainstorming how to go about this project, we were thinking, “How can we encourage older adults to remain active once they retire?”

The way we see it, as you get older and you retire, you may not want to be as active or you may just get into routine habits. Most adults and older adults are pretty savvy with technology, and we figured this was something that they could utilize from their cellphones, from their iPads, or from some other device that could allow them to track their health and activity.

What was it like working so closely with each other as faculty and student?

Chippendale: It’s been great. The idea came from the students. This is not something that we told them to do. They generated their own creative ideas about what would be an appropriate project. My role, in the beginning, was to form connections. When Anthonia [Seriki] approached me about her interest in applying for the grant, I encouraged her to really think about who she wanted to work with, what other profession, and then I was able to help her make those connections within the university.

What have you enjoyed most about studying at NYU thus far, and what sets the program apart?

Seriki: This is my second semester as an online student at NYU, and I absolutely love the program. The professors are amazing. Going back to school after being out of school for seven years and being thrown right back in was a little nerve-wracking. But having faculty who are so supportive helps me begin to see where it is exactly that I want to direct my professional career.

Chippendale: We have a lot of experienced educators and the curriculum is driven by research, so knowing the most current and innovative ways to address concerns that our clients face is something that we offer. We are strong in terms of our teaching being informed by the research that we’re doing and that other people in the profession are doing.

What drew you to occupational therapy as a field of study? Which areas of research are of particular interest to you?

Seriki: My older sister was the one who suggested occupational therapy to me because I had no clue that it even existed. I volunteered for a summer at Harlem Hospital in New York City, where I met a wide array of patients, and I just loved the creativity of it. I was always aware that we would be following a particular scope of practice and thinking about different domains of practice, but I realized that we were able to be creative in our treatment planning. I immediately fell in love with it, and that just fast forwarded me to here.

Chippendale: In the early part of my career, I was a clinician and then a manager of a rehab department. Now, I still do a little bit of clinical work, but my role is primarily teaching and research, and the overarching theme of what I do is healthy aging. It’s really a good fit for the Aging Incubator.

Healthy aging is an important area of research and practice. We have a growing older adult population, and people want to age in place. They want to remain in their own homes and communities and be active and engaged. People don’t want to go to a facility or move in with their family if they don’t have to. So, it is important that we, as health care professionals, promote this ability for people to age well and maintain their independence and their ability to function.

What are your hopes for the project moving forward?

Seriki: Overall, I’m really excited about the opportunity to showcase occupational therapy as a profession that is very creative and always open and always adapting. I’m looking forward to being a part of a project that helps bring modern times to some older adults.

Citation for this content: OT@NYU, the online OT doctoral program from NYU Steinhardt.