The Grand Vision Becomes a Reality

It was about 10 years ago when Dr. Mike Sharratt, then dean of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, first shared a conversation with Ron Schlegel about the possibility of a Research Institute focused entirely on issues related to aging.

Opening the doors to the RIA, University Gates and the new Living Classrooms

Kristian Partington, Research Matters, October 2015

It was about 10 years ago when Dr. Mike Sharratt, then dean of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, first shared a conversation with Ron Schlegel about the possibility of a Research Institute focused entirely on issues related to aging. The idea always centred on a three-way convergence of research, education and practice housed in one location, and though there was no shortage of hurdles and obstacles to overcome, it is with great joy that Mike now sits in his office at the new RIA headquarters, discussing the vision that became a reality.

As he speaks, a group of Conestoga College practical nursing students are working their way through their second day of classes in the living classrooms below, while the team next door at Schlegel Villages’ newest 192-bed village, University Gates, prepares to welcome an additional six residents to their new home. Each day brings more.

“The magic of this is bringing the students together with researchers and with the residents,” Mike says. “Just the fact that they’re in this environment with all of these intersections changes the way they think about their education; it’s the togetherness that’s important to all of us.”

These future caregivers are immersed in an environment that few others will ever fully experience and that, says Mike, will hopefully inspire them to consider a career serving older adults in our communities. Their classrooms are fully equipped with simulation labs that offer a first glimpse of what their futures may bring and as their training progresses, they’ll have the opportunity to witness firsthand how the team next door at University Gates approaches the care of those they serve.

In addition, the wide variety of research projects currently underway at the RIA – dealing with everything from falls prevention and pain management to nutrition and vascular health – will have a direct impact on both the curriculum future caregivers are offered and the care practices used to support older adults. Many of these projects will take place in the state-of-the-art research labs located on the second floor; that this is all offered under one roof is the realization of a grand vision, and excitement seems to vibrate throughout the building.

“The partnerships, with University Gates next door and the Research Institute for Aging, that’s the big plus,” says Sharon Clark, the PSW and PN coordinator for Conestoga College’s programs at The Village at University Gates. When she imagines the possibilities she envisions a reciprocal connection between the students she serves and the RIA researchers upstairs.

The students, Sharon says, “will hear about some of the newest things that are being looked at in the RIA . . . but I’m also hoping it will go a little bit the other way as we get more intertwined and some of the students’ questions may tweak the researchers’ interest.”

Mike agrees that this proximity among students, educators, practitioners and researchers offers huge potential payoffs.

“One of the most significant things about this is, we talk about research to practice but people don’t really talk much about practice to research,” he says. “When you’re together and there’s more face-to-face I think there’s going to be a little more balance between research to practice and the practice to research.”