UMass Boston Gerontology professors Jeffrey Burr and Jan Mutchler delivered presentations at a conference hosted by China’s Remin University and other organizations early in December. That was not especially big news.
But their speeches, as well as social events organized around the visit to China, were important just the same. Their trip was the latest of many small steps the Gerontology Department at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School has taken to build academic relationships in a country with one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing elder populations.
“This initiative is part of our effort to ‘look outward’ beyond the boundaries of the United States when it comes to gerontology research, teaching and service,” said Burr, the Gerontology Department chair. “Countries in East Asia, like China, provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about the aging process through different cultural, social, and economic lenses.”
There are also more specific objectives behind the efforts to forge relationships with Chinese gerontologists.“Our goals are to create student and faculty exchange programs, joint faculty research projects, and jointly sponsored conferences that advance the field,” said Burr.
Early efforts to connect with gerontologists in China were assisted by Bei Wu, a distinguished UMass Boston alumna now director of Global Health & Aging Research at New York University. She put Burr in contact with professor Du Peng, who was director of Renmin’s Institute of Gerontology at the time.
Establishing relationships with Renmin’s institute was the UMass Boston department’s first important step. In March, Du Peng came to Boston during a visit to the United States and spoke to a McCormack Graduate School audience on China’s rapidly growing senior population. Over the summer, the department made efforts to broaden its relationship with Chinese gerontologists. During the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress in San Francisco, the department hosted a reception exclusively for Chinese guests.
But by then, events were already taking place or in development in both Boston and China. In May, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan spoke at Renmin during a visit to Bejing. UMass Boston PhD student Zhang Kunyu spent a summer internship at Peking University. In the fall, Peking University professors Lu Jiehua and Li Jianxin visited UMass Boston and made presentations to the Gerontology Department.
“Our efforts to internationalize our programs in Gerontology at UMass Boston are moving along nicely,” said Burr. “We are hoping for a lot more to come in the next 12 months.”