New York Educator Wins Asa's 2004 Cavanaugh Award

Article excerpt

When Barbara Ginsberg was 10 years old, she turned in a class assignment that called on students to describe a sciencefiction world. "I remember being very enthusiastic," she told an audience during her special lecture at the recent Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging (ASA) and the National Council on the Aging in San Francisco. "I wrote a story about a world in which people had small heads and very long and strong legs. The best jumper was considered the most important individual in the community." Although her parents complimented her inventiveness, her fifth-grade teacher evidently lacked the imagination of, say, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, who might have seen the potential of developing her idea into a metaphor, perhaps about a society too focused on getting ahead. Ginsberg's grammarschool teacher dismissed his student's paper as "silly."

Fortunately, that fifth grader was more upset than discouraged-and she grew up to bring her imagination to the realm of education. At the Joint Conference, she received the 2004 Gloria Cavanaugh Award, named by the association's board of directors for the group's longtime president and CEO and presented annually by ASA to a member who has demonstrated continued excellence in training and education in the field of aging.

Today, Ginsberg is a professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Therapeutic Recreation at Kingsborough Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), in Brooklyn. The groundbreaking My Turn program, which she directs, is geared for students ages 65 and older, and offers older adults multidimensional activities ranging from college courses for credit to opportunities to mentor and volunteer in a variety of settings.


When Ginsberg was asked to start My Turn in 1981, little information was available about developing and sustaining an older-adult education program. "There was some theory about how older adults wanted to learn, but beyond that there was no clear concept of what should or should not be included in a program for older learners," she recalled.

On starting the My Turn program, Ginsberg tried to identify other programs for older learners in New York City and ended up creating a directory of older adult programs within the City University. "In developing the directory, I became aware of the total lack of a plan or communication between the 18 branches of CUNY," she said. Not only did she learn that each college had its own method of offering courses to older people, but she discovered "that there was poor or no communication even within a school about how or where to find a program. I did find several other hardy souls who were committed to older adult education, and together we founded COQL-City University Options for Older Learners. In the years that I took on the leadership, we did make some headway into having some awareness about what was actually offered in CUNY."

Ginsberg also sought out conferences with the word aging in the title, in hopes of meeting others doing similar work. Her strategy led her to network with colleagues at New York City Technical Community College and the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. The markedly different approaches of each school 's programs-with one enrolling older students in existing courses for college credit, another allowing teachers to offer courses at senior centers and other sites, and a third inviting retired professionals to research a paper and present a course or lecture to other retired professionals-reflected what Ginsberg called the big jigsaw puzzle of older adult education that she said has emerged today. …