Dr. Laura Donorfio, Assistant Professor at the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the UConn-Waterbury campus, has always been fascinated by family dynamics and older adults.
“I believe I was born a gerontologist,” she says with a laugh. “I come from a very large and extended Italian family, and over the years in a quiet sort of way I studied how it worked and functioned and what made it different from other families. My parents claim that I would sit three feet from any television program that featured older adults. My favorite doll was Mrs. Beasley (the grandmotherly doll popularized by the TV show Family Affair) and I particularly enjoyed talking to the older relatives in my family, specifically my grandmothers.”
Dr. Donorfio teaches a variety of courses that she feels passionate about, including adulthood and aging, public policy and the family, death and dying, and issues in human sexuality, as well as research methods at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Each and every course I teach has the potential to make a difference in the life of a person or a family and I try to get this across to the students,” she says. “I am constantly stressing applicability of content to real life and the world around them. I try to get the students fired up and make them see and believe that they can make a difference—it only takes one person.”
Getting students engaged in subjects like aging, and death and dying—topics that are often shoved under the rug—can be quite a challenge, especially in today’s youth-oriented society.
“I go to extreme efforts to bring the students face to face with whatever topic I am teaching,” Dr. Donorfio says. “I take them on field trips to a funeral home, bring in speakers, and if possible have students interview a person in the area we are studying. I make sure each class session has at least four different approaches or strategies to get the content across—lecture, discussion, speaker, video, field trip, reflection exercise, etc.— and convey to the students that these are important topics that impact all of us.”
To give students at the Hartford and Torrington campuses, as well as the Waterbury campus, access to her classes, Dr. Donorfio contacted Dr. Keith Barker and the staff at UConn’s Institute of Teaching and Learning. With their help, she was able to transform four of her traditionally taught classes to a mixed platform which is delivered via UConn’s iTV system to all three campuses. “I teach at least one course this way per semester and am able to offer classes to 80 students instead of just 30,” she says.
Dr. Donorfio enjoys the “inner drive” of BGS students that compels them to learn as much as they can and how to apply that knowledge to their lives and careers.
“BGS students are prized in my classrooms because they want to learn and truly value what they learn,” she says. “They see education as an enormous ‘gift.’ They all have so much going on outside of their school life that one wonders how school can become a priority among the mass of responsibility they have, but it does, and they somehow know/learn how to juggle it all, enjoying every minute of it.”
Dr. Donorfio values the impact that the enthusiasm, work experience, and life knowledge of BGS students has on the classroom experience.
“Adult students provide a bridge between course content and life application that the more traditional students appreciate and soak up like sponges,” she says. “They have been out in the real world and know what has worked and not worked for them and want to take their life to the next level via their education. They show up every week, pen in hand and smile on face, to learn as much as they possibly can. It is hard to explain the insatiable energy they possess and how this spills over to the rest of the class and to the instructor.”