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With help from UT students, Grundy County in southeastern Tennessee may soon be a better place for senior citizens to live and thrive.

Cristina Barroso’s public health course is a part of this year’s Smart Communities Initiative (SCI), which partners faculty and students across campus with communities or municipal groups to engage in real-world problem solving to help improve economic, environmental and social conditions in the region. Overseen by the Office of the Provost’s service-learning staff, SCI is a key component of UT’s new Experience Learning initiative.

About 400 students and seventeen faculty members from seven colleges and twelve departments are working on projects as part of this year’s SCI partnership with the Southeast Tennessee Development District (SETDD).

Graduate students in Barroso’s course are working with SETDD and the city of Gruetli-Laager to better understand the social and health needs of older adults in Grundy County. The goal is to enable seniors to live in their own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.

Following several discussions with SETDD and the director of the senior center in Gruetli-Laager, the students in the course came up with two short surveys. Their goal is to determine the demographic and health characteristics of the Gruetli-Laager Senior Center users and nonusers, to measure attendance and satisfaction among current Gruetli-Laager Senior Center users, and to learn what prevents seniors from using the center.

“It was wonderful to get involved with the seniors of Grundy County and use that to help make services provided for them better,” said student Michelle Wright. “I know this is applicable to my career as I currently am seeking jobs where I can work directly with communities using applied research skills to inform policies, funding, and community cohesion.”

The students have collected data and are now beginning to analyze it. By the end of the semester, they will provide SETDD and the Gruetli-Laager Senior Center with a report and executive summary and will present their findings to community members in Gruetli-Laager.

“I’ve received great feedback about the students’ work on the surveys from the senior center, as well as from SETDD,” said Barroso. “This plan is meant to aid in the development of a future aging-in-place best practices plan for the Southeast Tennessee Regional Aging Consortium.”

“Many of my students will hold various public health leadership positions, and this experience is providing them with personal and professional development,” Barroso said.



Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,

Cristina Barroso (865-974-5350,