Assistant Professor Qian Song Joins UMass Boston Gerontology Faculty

By Martin Hansen-Verma

Qian Jasmine Song, a demographer and sociologist with broad research interests relating to the health of an aging population, has joined the UMass Boston’s Gerontology department faculty as an assistant professor.

Song, who most recently was a NIH/NIA postdoctoral fellow at the RAND Corporation, comes to the McCormack Graduate School from Santa Monica, Calif., with her husband and three-year-old son. After living in a variety of places across the U.S. over the past 12 years, she said had been looking forward to the move to Boston.

“It’s a very beautiful city,” she said. “The ethnic and intellectual diversity, and the whole Boston intellectual community are really attractive to me, as well.”

Song sees Boston as an ideal place to pursue her research interests, examining the effects of migration on physical and mental health outcomes of older adults. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Carl V. Hill on the NIA and Health Disparity Research

Carl V. Hill is director of the Office of Special Populations at the National Institute on Aging, which leads the federal government in conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. Hill recently visited the UMass Boston campus, where he was the featured speaker at the first annual Gerontology Institute Fellows Dinner. Earlier that day, Hill talked with Institute Director Len Fishman about his career, how he promotes funding for health disparity research and current priorities for the institute’s $3.1 billion research budget. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Len Fishman: How did you first become interested in a career in public health and health disparity research in particular?

Carl V. Hill: I was in the first class of the Masters of Public Health program at the Morehouse School of Medicine. The founder of that program was Dr. Bill Jenkins, who passed away this year. He was one of the first whistle-blowers on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. He was also a mentor to many African-Americans in public health and he started this program that allowed many of us to have a start. Later, I had a chance to study for my PhD at the University of Michigan. I worked with people like Woody Neighbors and James S. Jackson, who both worked on the Survey of American Life. They also worked on the Survey on Black Americans, the first data collection on the lives and health of African-Americans in this country. Continue reading

Expert Advice for Institute Fellows: How to Secure Research Funding at National Institute on Aging

Len Fishman, Carl Hill, Lauri Nsiah-Jefferson and Shayla Turnipseed.

Left to right, Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, NIA Office of Special Populations Director Carl Hill, Gerontology Institute fellow Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson and guest Shayla Turnipseed.

Carl Hill got right to the point when he brought up the subject of research funding priorities at the National Institute on Aging.

“The ‘A’ in NIA stands for aging but it’s leaning toward Alzheimer’s,” Hill told more than 40 researchers and guests attending the first annual Gerontology Institute Fellows dinner at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Hill, director of the NIA Office of Special Populations, spent a full day on the UMass Boston campus discussing funding opportunities within his institute and its $3.1 billion research budget. He pointed to the NIA’s $425 million funding increase specifically dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research this year (by comparison, the NIA’s general appropriation for the year increased $84 million).

“We’re really part of the race for a cure,” he told the June 10 dinner audience. “We also want to understand the important determinants and factors that will help us slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.” Continue reading

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