New ASU academy to pair partners of different generations for service projects

Participants to learn from each other as they collaborate on common goals


Younger woman and older woman working together on a laptop.

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Generational knowledge-swapping has become common in many workplaces as younger workers enter the workforce alongside older employees who are pushing back retirement.

Seasoned, longtime employees share their wisdom with less-tenured workers, who in turn help their veteran counterparts learn the latest computer-related technology.

That mindset of generations collaborating in detailed ways toward a common goal is the theme of the newly created ASU CoGen Service Academy, offered by the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

The public service program brings together passionate, enthusiastic partners from different generations to design a solutions-oriented service project. By spanning the distances often found between people born at least a few decades apart, participants learn from each other, “fail forward” and celebrate their successes together, said Robert Ashcraft, director of the Lodestar Center.

Ashcraft, who is also a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said it’s easiest to understand what the academy is by first identifying what it isn’t.

“Holding a day of service, such as the annual Watts College event, is a terrific expression of service when several generations engage together to accomplish something like responding to a call to clean up a park. But that isn’t the CoGen model,” Ashcraft said. “The model we’re exploring considers what enduring results are possible when multiple generations align on a mutually agreed-upon issue of concern and then design service solutions together that may never have been conceived before.”

Of course, the ideas people care about may vary, spanning from environmental sustainability and youth development to arts in education, Ashcraft said.

Robert Ashcraft, ASU, Lodestar Center, School of Community Resources and Development. Watts College

Professor Robert Ashcraft, director, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

“We are asking individuals to come up with issues they care about and consider ideas for how best to solve for ‘x,’ whatever that may be. What makes this revolutionary is that with typical service-year experiences found in VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), AmeriCorps, etc., it’s rare to have multiple generations come together in the same space to co-produce solutions through service. That’s the experiment here,” he said.

The academy is a pilot AmeriCorps project that received $25,000 in funding through cogenerate.org and its federal AmeriCorps grant to support the innovation, Ashcraft said.

The initial cohort will involve up to 10 people of older and younger generations who will spend 35 to 40 hours collaborating in pairs over five months, including an estimated 10 hours of in-person meetings with the rest of the cohort. Each participant receives a $500 stipend; additional funds may be available for resources and tools.

Anyone interested should fill out this form and submit it before Jan. 9, 2023.

“It’s a perfect marriage of the smarts, energy and passion of young folks with the wisdom, expertise and experience of older folks,” Ashcraft said. “One can be young and bright as all get out but that’s not the same as having wisdom. Bring the wisdom of the ages to that energy and you can really have the potential for profound results.”

The academy intersects well with the “service and solutions” framework at Watts College, Ashcraft said.