When LeadingAge and the University of Massachusetts Boston established the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston last spring, researchers in Washington eagerly anticipated one partnership benefit: incorporating UMass Boston graduate students into their applied research projects.

That anticipation ended in November, when PhD Candidate Molly Evans arrived at LeadingAge for a 6-week fellowship. Evans, who is pursuing her doctorate in gerontology, has been working part-time in the LTSS Center’s Washington office ever since.

“Attracting promising young people to the field of applied research was a top priority for us when we first envisioned our partnership with UMass Boston,” says LTSS Center Co-director Robyn Stone, who is senior vice president of research at LeadingAge. “We’ve really benefitted from Molly’s enthusiasm and hard work on an important research project. In return, we know she’s learned a lot about applied research, and about the important work our members do each day.”

Exploring Financing Models for Housing Plus Services

Since arriving at LeadingAge, Evans has spent most of her time helping LTSS Center researchers with a 1-year project to explore financing mechanisms that can support the development and implementation of housing plus services models. The work is being funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Grant work has included an initial literature review to identify precedents for financing housing-based services; interviews with key informants about their experiences with and recommendations for potential financing strategies; and preparations for a convening that will bring those informants to Washington, DC this spring. Evans has assisted with all 3 activities and expects to help researchers with the project’s final report.

Experiencing the Applied Research Difference

Research has always been an academic interest for Evans. While completing her undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis, she conducted research on aging in several university labs. After graduation, she became manager of the Schacter Memory Lab at Harvard University before deciding to pursue graduate studies in UMass Boston’s Department of Gerontology.

“I just found this aging work to be incredibly exciting,” says Evans. “My parents had me later in life, so I was exposed to the aging process from a young age through my parents, my grandparents, and family friends. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for older adults, but also an understanding of the challenges that come with the aging process.”

Evans hopes to continue working part-time at the LTSS Center while she completes her doctoral dissertation at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. In the meantime, she’s perfectly happy to continue the learning process that she began when she arrived at LeadingAge last fall.

“This job has been a dream for me,” she says. “The model of linking research, policy, and practice is so important. You’re doing research that is informed by the insights of the people who are delivering and receiving care. That makes applied research feel much more rooted in what older adults actually need, and much more likely to make a difference. I think that is really remarkable.”

While Evans’ LTSS Center work has been professionally satisfying, her move from Boston also yielded an important personal benefit: it allowed Evans to join her husband, who is attending medical school in the nation’s capital.

“We had already done a few years of long distance, so as soon as I finished my coursework it was time to move to DC,” she says. “That happened just around the time LeadingAge and UMass Boston formed the new LTSS Center. That was an incredible coincidence and opportunity. I really lucked out.”