The CEO Series: Don Bishop, SRI Management
School starts in just a few short weeks for students—back-to-school shopping is well underway!—but learning isn’t just for the young. There’s this concept of lifelong learning, which is the voluntary pursuit of knowledge, no matter your age.
SRI Management was striving to embody that concept with SRI University. The goal is to encourage residents to stay mentally fit and provide them with a sense of purpose and belonging. Senior Living News interviewed SRI Management’s CEO Don Bishop to learn more about SRI University.
Senior Living News: What was the reason for and inspiration behind developing SRI University?
Don Bishop: One benefit of being in seniors housing for over 20 years is watching how our industry has evolved, while also seeing how much has remained the same. The impetus of choosing seniors housing as a career began with an interaction with a family member and her need for assisted living. She had physical needs for her health and safety as she aged, but those needs certainly didn’t detract from her creativity and desire to enjoy life.
I wanted to be part of [an] organization that was committed to more than just caring for physical and health needs, but also one that provided fresh ways for residents to engage and interact. As I see it, learning something new—or a refresher on a subject one has some background knowledge of—is a way to provide purpose and joy. SRI University grew out of the desire for our team members to give this purpose and joy to our residents in a structured way, ultimately delivering a better living experience.
SLN: SRI Management talks a lot about mental fitness and lifelong learning. Can you talk about those two concepts and how they relate to SRI University?
DB: For those of us that have experienced trying to get back in shape after some time off, we know that it is not an easy task. Likewise, there are similarities to mental fitness—one needs to keep exercising their brain to keep it active and fit. Being creative, learning, interacting and trying new things can help the mind stay in shape, resulting in a more enjoyable life.
SRI University takes a concept recognized by educational research—that learning is more than memorization and information recall. True learning and absorbing takes understanding, relating ideas and making connections. Research also suggests that classroom experiences are better when they can be enjoyable and relevant to students’ (in this case, residents’) lives, their interests and their experiences.
SLN: Can you talk about how the program works? I understand that residents can be both students and teachers—can you talk about that, too? And I understand that each month has an educational theme and there’s a new course each week—can you talk about how the themes and courses are decided on? And can you list some of the upcoming themes and courses?
DB: While there are several factors at play for a successful program, the subject matter needs to be interesting and appropriate. Classes are weekly, so if one subject doesn’t necessarily interest a resident, there is always another class the following week. The classes last about an hour and a half and allow students to provide feedback on the subject and presentation.
The program is overseen by the director of activities at each community. Of course, not everyone is a natural teacher, so we utilize a fitting technology platform to help with the flow of each class. This allows us to use staff, outside guests and even residents to teach, dependent upon the subject. We encourage continued follow-up and real-life application of the learned materials as well. For example, after a class on flowers and gardens of the world, resident students at a few of our communities launched their own garden club, continuing the education and interaction.
In July, our theme was Summertime in America, so we had four classes related to summer:
- Baseball: The Great American Pastime
- The Great Outdoors
- Hot Air Balloons & Carnivals
- Candy in America
For August, the theme is Heavy Metal with these classes:
- Big Rigs
- Earth Movers
- Unbelievable Transport Trucks
- Ice Road Trucking
SLN: What have been the best, most rewarding and most beneficial parts of SRI University?
DB: Our residents’ reactions to the program have been overwhelmingly positive, and the popularity and attendance continues to grow. It’s something that everyone can enjoy! I heard that at the conclusion of a class featuring the music of George Gershwin, the residents in one community gave a standing ovation. Others were left in tears after Liberace played a medley of Gershwin songs. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing people moved to the raw emotions of joy and awe! This is what true learning is all about.
SLN: What are your hopes for the future of SRI University?
DB: SRI University is not just a passing initiative. It is part of our commitment to improve the experience for our residents. First and foremost, we are striving for consistency in the program—consistency in offering engaging classes and quality presentations, and above all, creating a fun learning environment.
We also would love to see SRI University available not only to seniors in our communities, but also to the community at large. We have some residents that have invited guests and friends to specific classes with regards to the topic—and so far, this has been very well received.
Finally, as we look at educational topics for 2023, we want to see how we can challenge our residents to be a better version of themselves, getting back to their “quintessential self.” Authentic self-discovery takes courage and tenacity and can happen at any age. Our goal is to help each resident unlock their hidden potential—something we tend to lose or forget about as we age. One thing is for sure: SRI University 2023 will be an exciting time for all!
Caroline Chan is the Editor of Senior Living News, an online trade publication featuring curated news and exclusive feature stories on healthcare industry changes, trends, thought leaders and innovations. In this position, she is responsible for creating editorial content, writing regular feature articles and publishing news to SeniorLivingNews.com and distributing its e-newsletter. She is also involved in putting together the educational programs and moderating panels for the company’s HEALTHTAC events. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a focus in Journalism.