The Makings of a Mentor – Meet Ellen Birchander

This article originally appeared on the UMass Boston News web page.

We all take different paths in life and, if we’re lucky, we have mentors guiding us along the way. As an undergraduate psychology major, 20-year-old Ellen Birchander was on track to fail her journalism class unless she completed an upcoming article assignment. She was directed by her professor to open the yellow pages and interview someone listed as a contact in the first advertisement she saw, which happened to be Greater Lynn Senior Services. Her assignment not only received an A but led to the first job she’d have in the field of aging.

Out of this serendipity came a passion for the work of aging that developed and evolved over the next 40 years. Birchander went on to lead the development of programs and delivery of services for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, where she served as Assistant Secretary for Programs. Now, after making a career transition from public affairs to public education, she is teaching, mentoring, and co-directing the Management of Aging Services (MAS) Graduate Program in the Department of Gerontology. Continue reading

Through UMass Gerontology program, Advocate for Rhode Island Seniors Finds Her Voice

By Taryn Hojlo

Where can I get help?

Older adults and caretakers sometimes struggle with that question, unsure how to find aging services and other kinds of assistance they need. Deborah Burton realized there was a thriving demand for those services but information about them in her home state of Rhode Island did not exist in any centralized resource that was easy to find and use.

Burton, a 2013 graduate of UMass Boston Gerontology’s Management of Aging Services program, was a long-term care ombudsman and founder of Senior Choice Consulting. In her professional roles, she developed extensive knowledge of the resources available to her state’s senior community. Burton often met with clients who no longer lived in their homes but could have remained there if they had been connected with the appropriate services. “That really weighed on my heart,” she said.

“I was hearing over and over again that the state needed a comprehensive website to get this information out there. I had all this information, and in good conscience I couldn’t sit on it and let people suffer,” said Burton.

So Burton developed her own website, a place to publicize every statewide and national resource that she knew about online. Together with Englund Studios, Deborah designed a site that offered straightforward guidance on an easy-to-use, open access platform. By October 2016, RIElderInfo.com went live and has been gaining popularity among both the public and professionals in the field. Continue reading

Chae Man Lee is One of Gerontology Department’s First Two Postdoc Fellows

Chae Man Lee, a 2017 graduate of the UMass Boston Gerontology PhD program, is one of the department’s first two postdoctoral fellows. He recently talked with Saadia Ahmad of the McCormack Graduate School about his experience. This article first appeared on the McCormack Speaks blog.

SA: What was your research focus as a student?

CML: My research was focused on senior transportation, older driver safety, and healthy aging data reporting for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. My doctoral dissertation entitled, “Understanding the role of driver, vehicle, environment, and policy factors in crash injury severity among older adults in the United States” investigated how individual characteristics, vehicle elements, environmental elements, and driving licensing policy were associated with level of injury severity, from no injury to fatal injury resulting from car crashes. Continue reading

Wendy Wang is One of First Two UMass Boston Gerontology Postdocs

Wendy Wang, a recent graduate of the UMass Boston Gerontology PhD program, is one of the department’s first two postdoctoral fellows. She recently talked with Saadia Ahmad of the McCormack Graduate School about her experience. This article first appeared on the McCormack Speaks blog.

SA: What year and program did you graduate from? What was your research focus as a student?
WW: I graduated in May 2018 from the Gerontology PhD program. My research focused on marital relations, intergenerational relations, and health in later life. For my dissertation, I examined how providing grandchild care affect grandparents’ marital quality.

SA: What is the main focus of your postdoc fellowship?
WW: I focus on two main areas. The first area is healthy aging and senior transportation. I work with Dr. Elizabeth Dugan and her research team. Our team creates Healthy Aging Data Reports that report indicators of healthy aging for every community in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. We also do research on transportation options available for older people in Massachusetts, safety of older pedestrians for MassDOT, and the Governor’s Council to Address Aging Issues in Massachusetts to improve transportation safety. Continue reading

News Flash: UMass Boston Gerontology Makes Headlines in 2018

By Taryn Hojlo

UMass Boston’s gerontology faculty and students produced exciting new research findings and achieved remarkable public service achievements in 2018. The news media took notice.

Associate professor Beth Dugan and her Gerontology Institute colleagues published the 2018 edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report in December.The comprehensive report examined a vast array of health indicators on a community-by-community basis, creating an essential resource for policymakers and local leaders to better serve Massachusetts seniors. News coverage by WBUR in Boston looked at seven key takeaways from the report. The Boston Globe dove into the healthy aging data and produced a front-page story examining the impact of depression among elders. Dugan and her team ended the year at work on a similar report profiling the health status of seniors in New Hampshire. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology Grad’s Journey From MAS Student to Assisted Living Executive

By Taryn Hojlo

After years working in management and hospitality, Catherine Williamson was confident she knew how to serve people. For a decade, she had overseen the care of hotel patrons and spa-goers at The Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. She had also held positions in financial and property management.

Williamson thought she had experienced every managerial role the field had to offer. But when she took an assistant executive director position at Emeritus in 2013, a senior living facility in South Windsor, Conn., Williamson realized her career was only beginning.

“I loved the feeling I got from comforting families throughout the process of this challenging journey,” she said. “But I realized I needed more competency in the field.”

That discovery led Williamson to enroll in a Management of Aging Services course at UMass Boston to get a better idea of what the program had to offer before she matriculated. Once the course had ended, she made the decision to enroll as a full-time student. Thanks to her professional experience and education, Williamson was recently named the new executive director of Orchard Valley, a Benchmark Senior Living assisted living and memory care community in Wilbraham. Continue reading

How Gerontology Grad Used MAS Capstone Project to Help Launch New Service Organization

By Taryn Hojlo

Erin Kopecki didn’t consider much beyond the grading rubric when she drafted a business plan for her gerontology capstone project at UMass Boston. Her professor told students they could satisfy the project’s requirements with either a research paper or a business plan. As someone with an interest in management, Kopecki was quick to declare her choice.

Like most of her Management of Aging Services assignments, she had written the capstone in piecemeal during lunch breaks and the rare bits of downtime that her full-time job as a home care scheduling coordinator allowed. But that project would later become the plan to launch TUCKed-In Eldercare, a geriatric management organization she co-founded on Nantucket. Continue reading

Dr. Shuangshuang Wang, Gerontology Graduate, Thanks Her Village at McCormack

By Saadia Ahmad

The first time that Dr. Shuangshuang Wang learned of the gerontology field was from a professor in college who mentioned that while there are many researchers interested in child development, far fewer are focused on the development of older adults. She enrolled in a class on human aging and discovered an interest in care-giving and marital relationships in the later stages of life. From that point forward, she began thinking about how to improve life quality at the larger stage of human development and found the Gerontology PhD program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

That was seven years ago. Last month, Wang graduated with a doctoral degree in gerontology and with the Gerontology Book Award, presented to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence across both coursework and dissertation work. Continue reading