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Graduate students gain experience, free rent while living on the job

Jan. 24, 2001

Volunteer hours breathe life into students' studies



Not very often do students find living conditions in a place that will enable them to do something in their area of study. Graduate students in Gerontology and museum studies, however, have the opportunity to live in places that cater to their needs both as students and as tenants.

Jack Henson, a museum studies graduate student, moved into the Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village this semester.

The museum gives tours to students and gives the nostalgic feeling of being in a historic village, complete with outhouses, and clothes drying on the line.

Tours through the historic village include a walk through the bottom level of the two-story hotel, complete with employees dressed in period clothing and an antique music box visitors may play for only 5 cents.

A church and barn are also main attractions of the museum.

Henson, although a resident at the museum, was not required to dry his own clothes on the line, and made sure there was modern plumbing inside the hotel where he would live.

He walked up the stairs to his room on the second floor of the hotel, where it is clearly marked private.

He is actually not new to the historic village.

Henson helped to build the very stairs he ascends each day, when he worked there a few years ago as a carpenter.

His duties to the facility are now in exchange for boarding.

'My first act as resident was to scare off a wild dog that was threatening the livestock at the village,' Henson said. 'I take care of the donkey, sheep, chickens and the goat, but the cat doesn't give me too much trouble.'

Because the buildings at the historic village are valued at several million dollars, a caretaker must be present 24 hours a day to ensure safekeeping. Henson opens the historic village in the morning and closes it at night.

'It is perfect for me, because I am working on my thesis,' Henson said. 'It is so quiet.'

Living in an environment relating to the students' major, just as Henson does at the museum, allows for a hands-on experience.

Gerontology students looking for direct contact with the elderly 24 hours a day are given the option of living at a nursing home.

Students at the Christus Regis St. Elizabeth nursing home ensure the well-being of the residents that also live there. Natalee Oliver, a master's candidate in gerontology, rooms next door to an 88-year-old man.

'He helped me to hang a wreath on my door around Christmas. The residents take such an avid interest in our lives,' Oliver said. 'It is like having tons of grandparents around you at all times.'

The elderly and the students live together in a quiet multilevel hotel atmosphere. The nursing home is located in an old Hilton hotel where a working mail slot drops from the top floor to the mailroom at the bottom.

'It is my favorite part of the building,' Oliver said. 'It is the first thing that I noticed because you wouldn't find that in other places.'

The students are required to participate in 15 hours of volunteer work per week to obtain free rent and a reduced faculty meal price. There is a cafeteria where the students eat with the residents. The students relay messages to patients from visitors and take the burden off the nurses after 5 p.m. each day.

'It is in a perfect location in comparison to campus,' Oliver said. 'My job and my friends are all in one place, which makes it so convenient.'

Oliver lives on the 11th floor and has a great view of downtown Waco. She said she likes the downtown feeling, but feels safe in the nursing home because visitors must sign in before going upstairs to the rooms.

Heather Dyer, also a graduate student, is another one of the six graduate students that lives in the nursing home. She feels that the experience was great because she found that she may not necessarily want to pursue nursing home administration, but would rather advocate for the rights of the elderly.

'It is great experience to work in an environment that you know you will continue to in the future,' Oliver said. 'I feel that my calling is to work with people over the age of 65.'