A group of North Central College students recently engaged in a round of "speed dating" conversations. They talked about their interests and majors while making new friends.
The twist is they weren't talking with potential suitors, but rather with senior residents of Monarch Landing, a Naperville retirement community. Roughly 20 students have been establishing relationships for sharing advice, gaining historical perspectives and building friendships.
"It's been delightful," says Bob Bullock, a retired vice president of engineering, about his friendship with junior Susan Piotrowski, an accounting major.
Piotrowski feels the same.
"He did a lot of work abroad and I want to study abroad," she says. "We have a lot in common talking about the business world."
Over the past two years, a partnership has been building between North Central and Monarch Landing that has included attendance by residents at campus fine arts events and visits by professors to speak on their areas of expertise. The residents wanted to take the program further and meet students to build mentoring relationships and friendships.
One of the initial organizers was Luke Franks, assistant professor in North Central's history department and East Asian Studies program. Moving to Naperville in fall 2011 to begin his position at the college, he purchased a home from Duane Mevis, a 1956 North Central alumnus, who was moving to Monarch Landing with his wife, Carol.
"We began a relationship that continues today," Franks says. "Duane suggested the speaker series last winter after I returned from a term teaching in China/Japan. Then we started talking about opportunities for students to get new perspectives from residents and that such a program would make sense for both sides."
Franks recruited a student from North Central's History Association, junior Anthony Schullo, who began collaborating with Bob Rickert, a Monarch Landing resident.
Together, they have organized several events, like "speed dating," to help students and residents meet and perhaps form ongoing relationships.
"We set the foundation and let them explore," Schullo says.
Rickert has been providing leadership for the program at Monarch Landing.
"I spend time recruiting participants," he says. "Sometimes people don't feel like they have anything to contribute. But all they have to do is share their experiences."
Abbi Van Hook, a sophomore, met several residents at a recent meeting and is now paired up with John Spoor, a former vice president of an international division of a large medical corporation.
"John has lived in several different European countries and has traveled extensively," says Van Hook, a global studies major.
"I really love to travel, so it was very interesting to hear his stories. I'm planning on studying abroad in Ghana and John had spent some time there. He gave me tips for traveling. It was very helpful."
The connection with Monarch Landing also has provided opportunities for internships. Mark Jarosz, a senior who's majoring in exercise science, completed a fitness internship at Monarch Landing that included a wellness series for residents.
Plans for the future include another group session in April, a year-end barbecue, a panel discussion by retired educators and an event with World War II veterans living at Monarch.