Q&A with Steve Tarr: Developing the Institute for Senior Living at Washington State University


2015-WSU Inst Senior Living SHBM-1 RGB facebook 1200 x 630-1The senior living industry is constantly evolving, and it can be difficult to motivate younger generations to play active roles in this workforce. The Washington State University School of Hospitality Business Management recently established an Institute for Senior Living.The institute will focus on three major initiatives designed to help build the future senior living workforce: academic programs, industry partnerships and research.

We were given the opportunity to speak with Steve Tarr, Board Member, Washington State University National Board of Advisors and former Executive Vice President, Emeritus Senior Living, about the development and goals of the Institute for Senior Living. Check out the entire Q & A below! 

What inspired the creation of the Institute for Senior Living within the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University?

WSU has one of the top hospitality schools in the US and one of the oldest, established in 1932. As our population ages, senior living is a natural focus for hospitality, with both growing needs and growing opportunities. The Institute has been in our minds for many years and when industry pioneer Granger Cobb passed away at age 55, we jumped at the chance to honor and extend his legacy by forming the Institute. Mark Finkelstein, Melanie Werdel, and I worked closely with Granger at Emeritus Senior Living, which was the largest assisted living company in the United States. He was an incredible leader and a warm, compassionate person.

Can you provide a historical timeline of events that brought the vision to reality? 

Jerry Meyer and Rick Karnofski at Aegis Living talked about courses with WSU in 2010. The first course was offered in 2011. Over the next 6 years, industry partners contributed time and expertise to develop the program and funds to hire faculty. Granger Cobb was one of the many executives who traveled to campus to teach and the program was honored with the Argentum Best of the Best award for WSU-industry collaboration. With Granger’s passing in 2015, we focused on forming the Institute. Nancy Swanger is the school’s director and led the university’s internal team to the approval by the Faculty Senate in January 2018 and by the Board of Regents in May 2018. The process was long and required a lot of communications because the Institute is transdisciplinary. It includes Human Development, Nursing, Engineering and Computer Science, Psychology, and Business, making it unique in the world.

What is the overarching goal of the Institute for Senior Living?

It’s to provide transdisciplinary solutions globally, bringing together experts from industry and academia to focus on operations excellence. It has three areas of teaching, research, and service to facilitate world-class collaboration. While all the technology and science are foundational, we never forget we are doing this all for people – seniors, family members, caregivers – and everyone else united to bring the best to solve problems.

What distinguishes this institute from other programs?

It is uniquely focused on operations – what it really takes to deliver services to people’s satisfaction – yet draws broadly on the many areas of Human Development, Nursing, Engineering and Computer Science, Psychology, and Business. At the university level, Chip Hunter, Dean of the Carson College of Business, and Kirk Shultz, President of Washington State University, both see the Institute as key to integrating these academic disciplines, adding to WSU’s strengths as a top university.

Are there unique course requirements for this program?

The undergraduate course on Senior Living Management has a prerequisite of university-level accounting. There are required field trips so students get to see the real action. And the global online certificate program is open to everyone everywhere, as shown at the Senior Living Management Certificate Program.

The undergraduate major is Hospitality Business Management and the courses include Senior Living Management. Admission to the major is competitive and based on academic performance. There is also a work experience requirement.

What type of student typically enrolls in the program, or why do they select the program?

As undergraduates learn about the program, they talk about fulfilling careers from serving others and the immense career opportunities in the expanding industry. The educational programs have continuously improved with the faculty leadership of Scott Eckstein.

How many students are in attendance?

The for-credit undergraduate course has grown to around 40 students each term.

What career path do the students gravitate towards upon graduating?

Since this is senior living management, grads tend to seek such a role in a senior community or business. When they find a good match and have the right abilities, some have advanced very quickly. We have a grad running her own community within a few years whereas traditional hospitality careers take longer.

How do you see Senior Living Management evolving or changing?

The core of providing high quality daily living for seniors will remain constant, yet the way we deliver products and services will change, driven by the demographics of the new seniors as well as their adult children and family members. There was a time where social apps were targeted towards seniors and now many use Facebook and will use whatever replaces Facebook. While new technologies will help, it is the people to people connections that will grow stronger. There will be new disruptive economic models to make it more affordable for people to get what they need more readily. And the Institute will contribute on most fronts.

What are you most proud of in regards to the Institute for Senior Living?

I’m most proud that we are building an Institute to meet pressing needs of society modeled on the ideals and values of Granger Cobb. Following that is the power that comes from industry and academia people working together.

Want more info on the Institute for Senior Living?

Check out their booth at Enquire Summit, September 10-12, in Denver!

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