First cohort of Change Makers completes semester to plan meaningful retirement
Change Makers: How CU Denver is reimagining higher education as a place for people at the end of their primary working yearsAnne Button | Division for Teaching Innovation & Program Strategy Jul 17, 2023
Most people think of college as a place to go at the beginning of your career. In keeping with our strategic goal of being a university for life, CU Denver is reimagining higher education as a place for people at the end of their primary working years as well.
A new CU Denver program called Change Makers brings experienced professionals who are approaching or already in retirement back to college for a semester to explore possibilities, retool, and renew their purpose.
Ready for change
Changing careers can be tumultuous, especially for those at midlife and beyond. It helps not to go it alone.
That’s what the participants in the inaugural Change Makers cohort found as they learned and collaborated to explore their next chapters over the course of four months together on campus.
With professional backgrounds ranging from accounting, engineering, and law to journalism, teaching, art, and nonprofit management, these 17 Change Maker fellows had built successful careers and honed a range of skills and talents. They came to the program ready for a change — to use those hard-earned skills in new ways, for new jobs or meaningful volunteering.
And they left at the end of the semester with new perspectives, friends, and ideas for envisioning and plotting their next step.
On campus, again
The group met twice a week, in person and virtually, from January to April. Drawing on readings, group discussions, and guest-speaker presentations, the fellows looked at what’s worked and hasn’t in their lives, what’s made the encore years meaningful for others, and the pathways and obstacles they face in designing a meaningful next chapter.
The program provided participants with a sense of community and a framework through which to examine past experiences and reflect on where they want to go next, benefitting from the experiences and perspectives of peers and others through the process.
“Part of the power of the program is the collective connections that participants offer each other,” said fellow Todd Matuszewicz.
Fellows engaged with guest speakers on topics ranging from personal storytelling to combating ageism to the power of intergenerational connection.
“I appreciated the speakers’ enthusiasm for their work and topic and their openness to connecting to people outside the class,” said fellow Elizabeth Goodrich. “It was nice to have different perspectives that gave me things to ponder.”
The beginnings of a movement
CU Denver’s program is one of a growing number of similar programs nationwide that have been established in response to a growing number of people who are living longer and don’t want to spend their last chapter sitting isolated on the porch or doing work that’s not fulfilling.
Like the students in other so-called encore programs, CU Denver’s Change Maker fellows were also encouraged to audit classes at CU Denver, immersing themselves into undergraduate life.
Four of the Change Maker fellows enrolled in classes — ranging from modernist art to human-centered design — and said they were inspired by interesting professors and the diversity of thought that comes from learning with a mixed-age group.
“I enjoyed trading stories with the younger people in my classes,” said fellow Margie Yevara. They have different outlooks on life and I have actually lived most of a life!”
Faculty enjoyed having the fellows in their classes. Professor of Art History Maria Buszek said of the Change Maker fellow who audited her Art Survey class, “She was an amazing contributor all semester.”
Fellows said they valued how the program helped spark ideas and new ways of thinking about their next chapter. They’ve continued to meet monthly, as the first Change Makers alumni, to keep the conversation going and check in on their progress implementing the plans they developed in the program.
Change Makers is now gearing up for its second cohort in the fall semester.
Providing participants with the time, space, and supports to think about what they want next is something universities have traditionally done for people at the start of their careers. Why not in the second half of life as well?