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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2022 Creating Pathways to Excellence

Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living Pilots New Corporate Scholars Program

By Sue McMurray

Murano Senior Living in Seattle hosted the WSU GCISL Corporate Scholars for a three-day immersive internship.
Photos by Sue McMurray

Everyone gets old. Dealing with this universal truth is no picnic, but the WSU Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living (GCISL) is helping shed the stigma of aging by giving students a firsthand look at the rewards and opportunities to be had in the senior living industry.

Working with Carson College staff and leadership, the institute created GCISL Corporate Scholars, a pilot program challenging students across WSU majors to address problems related to senior living. All WSU juniors expecting to graduate in 2023 were eligible to apply. Scholars received $1,000 and completed an immersive internship experience. As seniors, they’ll receive $3,000 and develop projects to solve a problem in the senior living industry.

GCISL Corporate Scholars, along with the Boeing Scholars program, falls under Carson’s overarching Corporate Scholars program that builds students’ professional skills needed for the modern workforce. Scholars work in interdisciplinary teams on projects for their sponsoring organizations.

“This program raises the bar for students who are already excelling,” says Lynne Cooper, the program’s founding faculty lead. “Corporate scholars can compete academically with any university in the nation.”

An inside look at senior living inspires career paths, innovation for change

Professor Cooper and Nancy Swanger, founder and director of the Granger Cobb Institute, worked intensely with senior living industry partners in Seattle to create the immersive internship experience in March. The current GCISL scholars cohort lived among senior living residents for three days at Murano Senior Living, a luxury retirement community, and also toured Aegis Living, a luxury community specializing in memory care, and Truewood by Merrill, a senior community for middle income residents.

Students interacted with CEOs and executive leadership of all three firms, learning insights about the range of services at each location, operations, and the types of careers available.

“It’s a rare opportunity in other majors to have access to the CEO and top leadership of a firm,” says Swanger. “This has been part of our senior living program from day one.”

CJ Hilgaertner, who studies business management and criminal justice, says the scholars program spoke to him because he’d watched his grandparents suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. While working as a police cadet in his hometown of Tigard, Oregon, he participated in calls for missing elderly people. As he plans for a career in law enforcement, he says the internship experience will help guide his reactions when dealing with seniors.

Bioengineering student Uma Vangapaty became a GCISL scholar to learn about senior living because it’s not as popular in India, her native country, as it is in the United States. “I’d like to use my bioengineering degree to make an impact on senior living,” she says, “for example, by creating medical instruments.”

Similarly, Tracy Dao, an international business and finance major from Vietnam, joined the program to learn about the potential for senior living development in southeast Asia. During the trip, she gained perspective from Tana Gall, Merrill Gardens president, who is involved in Merrill’s plans to expand into China. “It’s important to embrace the culture of the place before building,” advised Gall.

During the trip, business majors Alexander Stuart (accounting/management information systems) and Diego Bante Rivera (accounting/finance) noticed how prohibitive cost can be for middle class seniors. Both of them desire to develop ideas to bring a higher level of service to a middle market.

Mackenzie Brinton, who studies psychology and human development, and Flor Trinidad, a bioengineering student, say the experience strengthened their interest in careers related to senior living. “Working in senior care is the perfect application for what I want to do with my education,” reflects Brinton. “It would be fulfilling to design programs that make things easier for residents.”

Josilyn Watson, an environmental and ecosystems sciences major, also studies philosophy. She’s considering using her interdisciplinary skills to create a project that combats seniors’ isolation and promotes intergenerational engagement.

After the internship experience, students brainstormed over 30 concepts ranging from apps and other technology to physical and emotional tools supporting seniors. They selected final projects this fall and will work with industry mentors before final presentations to the GCISL Advisory Board and at WSU’s showcase for undergraduate research in spring 2023.

Scholars’ success hinges on strong corporate relationships

The cornerstone of the program is its connection with corporations, the Carson College, and students. It’s mutually beneficial in that students receive mentoring, internships, and career opportunities, and industry partners obtain fresh ideas on relevant problems and a potential pipeline of new hires.

“I’m very proud of our rigorous selection process that allows us to help students with tremendous potential get to the point of polished professionalism,” says Cooper. “Our vision is to raise awareness across campus about the program and connect students to senior living professionals in this growing industry.”

The sustainability of GCISL scholars and the entire Corporate Scholars program depends on building corporate relationships. To learn more about these opportunities, please contact Mark Hansen (’84 Mktg), senior director of corporate engagement, at

Our vision is to raise awareness across campus about the program and connect students to senior living professionals in this growing industry.
– Lynne Cooper


GCISL Corporate Scholars gained real-world career experience through interactions with Murano residents and staff.