CHHS Conducts Inaugural Intergenerational Design Challenge

Students and older adults brainstorm ideas to solve the housing crisis.December 6, 2022 - The College of Health and Human Services has developed and conducted its first Intergenerational Design Challenge that focused on the affordable housing crisis and how it impacts older adults in the Wilmington area. An Intergenerational Design Challenge is a gathering of people for the purpose of tackling an issue related to just about any topic or issue.

Created and led by School of Social Work Assistant Professor Alicia Sellon and with the help of Matthew Peterson, associate professor of clinical research and Interim Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity Leah Mayo, the Interdimensional Design Challenge involved ten older adults from the New Hanover County Senior Resource Center and seven UNCW students. Participants were placed in intergenerational teams. The older adults were not only participants, but also partners. They spent the morning getting to know each other and learning about the problem. Then, with feedback from subject matter experts, they completed a design sprint and developed innovative and feasible solutions for the community partners.

Sellon explained that the mission was to mentor and encourage undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in health sciences research. “We wanted students to be engaged in the event. We thought the best way to do this was to bring the students and older adults together to design solutions to affordable housing problems. These are two very different views of the world, complete with different experiences and perspectives. Once they formed teams, each of those teams developed a solution – or a design if you will – that they felt would tackle a little piece of the problem we were addressing. We found great success,” she said.

Matthew Peterson said of the exercise, “One of the guiding principles when planning one of these events is to engage with the community and have the community tell you what the issues or problems are. In this case, affordable housing is a particularly pressing concern for older adults in the Wilmington area, particularly those in lower income brackets. They are facing a serious issue with having a roof over their heads,” he said.

Data acquired from New Hanover County indicates that since 2018, a significant increase of older adults are permanently moving to the county from other states. Ten percent of NHC older adults are living below poverty and 16.6% of adults 65+ are living between 100-199% poverty level. (1) Additionally, 29% of older adults in NHC live alone, as compared to 25% across North Carolina. (2) 

Peterson was pleased with the success of the challenge. “'I thought it was going to be an uphill climb and there was going to be a lot of silence. But it was fun to see the enthusiasm and smiles on the faces of both the students and the older adults. I had students come up to me after the event and explain how cool it was to have these conversations with their new best friends,” he said.

(1) New Hanover County Master Aging Plan. New Hanover County - Senior Resource Center. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from 

(2) NCDHHS. (n.d.). North Carolina's Aging Population. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from