UMN Advanced Careers Initiative brings boomers back to campus

Helen Sabrowsky

The new University of Minnesota program aims to help Baby Boomers transition from career jobs into opportunities for meaningful work in the second half of life. 

In its inaugural year, the program welcomes ten fellows to campus for an academic semester. Phyllis Moen, UMAC Founding Director and professor with the University’s sociology department, said the first semester is designed to help fellows “learn fresh intellectual ideas, as well as about themselves.” During the second semester fellows intern with nonprofit organizations and apply their skills in new ways. 

Dr. Kate Schaefers, PhD, LP, said the program is less focused on teaching new skills but rather helping fellows use their skills in new ways applicable to nonprofit and volunteer work. 

Fellows are required to take one class for the program, but are encouraged to audit and enroll in other classes. Schaefers said that unlike similar programs at other universities, the UMAC program stresses the importance of multigenerational learning. “Multi-generational learning is a key to opening up opportunities and ideas for both the traditional aged undergraduates as well as older adults,” she said. 

Michele Eggenberger, a UMAC fellow, admitted that while she was apprehensive about being in classes with undergraduates, everyone has been welcoming. Eggenberger’s two daughters currently attend the University. She said “there are a lot of similarities between [her] experience and [her] daughters’.”  

Schaefers said that there is little difference between what Millennials and Baby Boomers are looking for in a career. Moen said that “when millennials see that future is not clear for older generation they see that work is a common issue. The concept of work is being revolutionized”

Harvard and Stanford have programs that bring older adults back to school. Encore.org, a nonprogit organization, also has programs that help older adults transition into different careers. Schaefers said the University of Minnesota looked to these programs for guidance, and melded the best aspects of them together into a nine month program. 

Moen said one goal of UMAC is to create a model that is easily replicable at other public universities. Schaefers said that the desire for meaningful work is a common feeling among boomers and that programs like UMAC are going to continue to gain popularity. While the program only accepted ten fellows into its cohort, Schaefers said UMAC hopes to expand in future years.

Unlike Harvard and Stanford, the University of Minnesota strived to make their program accessible. UMAC is significantly less expensive than other programs, and is a nine month long program compared to twelve month long programs at other universities. Schaefers said “people from many walks of life could [participate in UMAC].”

Moen said she hopes the program and others like it “challenge the typical clocks and calendars of when people are supposed to get an education.”