Although Elizabeth McCabe’s ’18 weekly visits with Geneva Living Center resident Mary Nolan ’43, P’88 began as part of a service-learning course, the experience resulted in a meaningful friendship that McCabe is excited to continue long after the course requirement ends. Throughout the semester, the visits provided McCabe with a window into life at HWS more than 70 years ago, while allowing her to build a new friendship with a counterpart nearly five times her age.
“I came out of the experience with something completely different than I expected,” reflects McCabe, an architectural studies major. “I started to really care about her and I looked forward to our visits each week – she’s become my close friend. Not only did I enjoy spending time with her, but I got to learn about her life and tell her about mine. I got a lot out of my experience visiting with her, and it’s made a positive effect not only on the other relationships in my life, but on my life as a whole.”
As the service-learning component for Associate Professor of Religious Studies John Krummel’s “Death and Dying” course, students are required to make weekly, hour-long visits with a resident at Geneva General Hospital’s adjunct Living Center. The course examines the inevitable fact of death and the meaning of life through coursework and service learning, which Krummel says provides students with an “alternative lens” through which to view the issues discussed in the reading material of the class. Students also were required to complete reflective journals on each of their visits throughout the semester.
“Living Center visits are meant to provide students with a concrete example of what it might be like to be near death or dying or to be living in proximity to death,” Krummel explains. “It is supposed to help the student become aware of the developmental aspects of growing old and dying.”
For McCabe, her weekly visits provided a “realistic connection” to the class material, and made the information learned in class “seem more valuable,” as she was able to simultaneously reflect on the concurrent experiences.
This is the first time Krummel can remember a student ever being paired with an alumna, and McCabe’s and Nolan’s shared experiences allowed them to connect on a deeper level. From the start, McCabe says this helped them build a closer bond as Nolan enjoyed discussing topics like Comstock Hall, where she lived as a student, and the changes made on campus.
“We talk about anything and everything,” Nolan says. “We know each other quite well, right from the start we just stuck. She’s a great girl.”
During one of their visits this semester, Nolan gave McCabe the pendant she received at her 50th William Smith Reunion. In return, McCabe promised to wear it at her own 50th Reunion.
“She told me that she wanted me to have it so I had something to remember her by,” McCabe says. “I found it so touching because it validated that I was actually making a difference. My visits with her meant something to me, but the pendant showed that it meant something to her as well.”
Although McCabe is no longer required to volunteer at the Living Center, she says she plans to continue visiting with Nolan next semester. The impact of her and her classmates’ service learning, McCabe believes, goes far beyond the personal relationships they’ve fostered to create a positive difference across the entire community.
“I think that our class coming here to visit with residents each week made a difference in the residents’ day-to-day lives,” McCabe says. “But it also has a domino effect on the entire community because each person that we affect in turn passes it on and makes another positive difference in the community. The experience lets us get out into the community and get to know new people, and that opens up your world a little bit.”
Krummel agrees, adding that based on his students’ statements in their journals and reflective essays, the course is contributing to the community.
“Every time I teach this course there are several students who say they would like to continue visiting with their resident,” he says. “So I believe this means that people are forming meaningful relationships through these visits. That certainly makes me happy and proud of my students.”