Institute Talk: A Conversation About Retirement Insecurity with Katherine Newman

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, has devoted much of her career to documenting conditions facing poor and working-class Americans. Her new book, Downhill From Here, Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality, examines the perilous state of retirement in the United States. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Newman about the dangers facing the pension system, Social Security and other forms of economic support for Americans as they grow older. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

 Len Fishman: Your book reads in part like a post-mortem of the defined benefit pension system. Defined benefits provide a fixed pre-established benefit for employees at retirement, usually based on length of service and salary. They hit their high-water mark in 1980 and then plummeted. What happened?

Katherine Newman: Union density began to decline sharply at the same point. The defined benefit pension system is very much a creature of the collective bargaining power of unions. That’s why defined benefit systems tended to exist mainly where there were unionized workers. And as union density slipped — in part because of deregulation and industry competition – the strength behind the defined benefits began to shrink. Today, a very small minority of Americans have what we would call true pensions – 401(k) plans are definitely not pensions in terms of security and employer responsibility for investment. Continue reading

Gerontology’s Kathrin Boerner to Represent Boston Campus at UMass Faculty Speaker Series

Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner will represent the UMass Boston campus this week at the annual University of Massachusetts Faculty Speaker Series in Florida, describing her ongoing research into the relationship between children and their surviving parents later in life.

The events, hosted by the University of Massachusetts Foundation, will feature presentations by one faculty member from each UMass campus. The speakers will be appear March 13 in Palm Beach and in Naples the following day.

Boerner, who teaches at the McCormack Graduate School, was selected as the UMass Boston speaker to discuss her research analyzing relationships between children age 65 or older and a parent who is at least 90 years old. In many individual cases, that became a study of mothers and daughters late in life. Continue reading

In the Depths of Winter, a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student Starts Planning For Summer

This is another in an occasional series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

One semester down, many more to go. Looking ahead, I need to make an important decision about the best way to spend my summer. This is a question that students are faced with throughout their academic career.

There are many options rattling around in my mind and the choice between them feels hazy. Like most students, I have lots of interests and concerns that pull me in different directions. Do I follow my wanderlust and spend time traveling or do I help plant my roots here in Boston? I would like to gain research experience but how do I go about doing that? Should I spend time productively or give myself a little break after a strenuous academic year? How do I continue paying my bills? Are workshops and conferences worth the investment of money and time?

I reached out to some faculty and more experienced students to ask them for advice about how to determine a path I should take. 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

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

Gerontology PhD Students Show Off Their Research at GSA Scientific Meeting

Celeste Beaulieu, a second-year PhD student, presenting her poster.

By Caitlin Connelly

That’s a lot of research.

UMass Boston’s gerontology faculty and students made 50 paper and poster presentations at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) held recently in Boston. The Gerontology Institute Blog asked students about their experiences as presenters at the important national conference.

Advice from PhD candidate Sae Hwang Han: Do the best science you can.

Sae Hwang Han, a PhD candidate at UMass Boston, already had a handful of presentations under his belt. This year, he presented at the poster sessions and also gave a talk at a symposium.

He found there were advantages to both poster and paper presentations. With the poster, he found, “you actually get to talk to people a lot, they ask good questions and you learn from the interactions.” Continue reading

UMass Boston Shows Progress in Audit of Age-Friendly University Initiative

By Taryn Hojlo

The first audit of the UMass Boston age-friendly university initiative shows the campus is making progress embracing its pledge to become more inviting to older students, staff, faculty and other members of the community. The audit, led by gerontology professor Nina Silverstein, reviewed the university’s age-friendly strengths as well as areas in need of additional attention. The volunteer research team included representatives from across campus departments and constituencies.

“Beyond simply endorsing principles, we needed to understand what age-friendliness means for our campus and what steps need to be taken to achieve it,” said Silverstein. “The audit is a step in the right direction.” Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Students Switch Roles as OLLI Scholars Leading Classes

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

By Caitlin Connelly

Think of it as academic role reversal.

In these classes, students become the teachers. The classes are offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston, the state’s largest lifelong learning program for older adults. The instructors are PhD students studying gerontology at UMass Boston, known in these particular classrooms as OLLI Scholars.

Grad students have served as OLLI teachers for more than five years. This semester, UMass Boston Gerontology PhD students Emily Lim and Cindy Bui are the instructors of Popular Media, Apps and Communication, a course providing hands-on, interactive instruction on everything from hashtags to key phrases. Continue reading