Gerontology students at the University of Massachusetts Boston are returning to school, greeted by some familiar faces in new leadership roles.
Professor Edward Alan Miller is the new chair of the UMass Boston Gerontology Department, succeeding professor Jeffrey Burr. Professor Jan Mutchler has become the new director of the Gerontology Institute, taking over for the retiring Len Fishman.
Professor Kathrin Boerner is the new Graduate Program Director for the PhD Program in Gerontology and the MS in Gerontology Research/Policy, a position Miller had held for eight years.
Miller is beginning his role as department chair by welcoming about 50 PhD students and more than 100 master’s and certificate students in the Management of Aging Services program to a new school year. Six new PhD students in the program come to UMass Boston from Ghana, Kenya, China, South Korea, California and New Hampshire.
“I’m honored that my colleagues chose me as the new chair of the Gerontology Department,” said Miller. “I’m excited by the opportunity to further elevate UMass Boston as a leading institution addressing the challenges and opportunities posed by an aging population.”
Miller will continue to teach during the fall semester and serve as a member of dissertation committees. He will also stay on as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Aging & Social Policy, which has quadrupled its submissions over the past five years under his leadership.
Burr, who has twice led the department as its chair, served most recently in that role since 2011. During that time the department built up its faculty by hiring four new assistant professors. Burr also helped the department complete two highly successful Academic Quality Assessment and Development reviews.
Burr led the department through two difficult periods: the university’s fiscal crisis that began in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic that followed and closed the physical campus for more than a year. Earlier this year, the department celebrated the 100th successful defense of a gerontology PhD dissertation.
“Jeff Burr has been an outstanding leader who helped build our program and recruit top-notch students and faculty,” Miller said. “He helped us grow our global reputation and successfully navigate through challenging times. I join my colleagues in wishing Jeff all the best on a well-earned sabbatical.”
Mutchler comes to the Gerontology Institute as a long-time faculty member and founding director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging (CSDRA), one of four centers overseen by the institute.
The institute also oversees the LeadingAge LTSS Center @ UMass Boston, the Pension Action Center and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston. It also provides grant assistance and support for faculty research.
“These are times of great opportunity for the Gerontology program at UMass Boston and the institute plays a critical role in its mission,” said Mutchler. “Recently, Chancellor Marcello Suarez-Orozco identified population aging as one of the three greatest challenges facing humanity. The issues we study and the public service we provide have never been more important. Our ability to make an impact has never been greater.”
Under Mutchler’s direction, the CSDRA became the leading research partner for Massachusetts cities and towns in their efforts to become more age-friendly communities, providing needs-assessment analysis and recommendations. The center also produces the Elder Index, a widely used online resource that measures the realistic cost of living for older adults in every county and state in America.
Fishman was a nationally recognized leader in the field of aging policy when he came to UMass Boston as the institute’s director in 2014. During his tenure, external funding for gerontology research grew at an unprecedented rate, roughly tripling to reach new records.
He also led the effort to create the LTSS Center in 2017, reaching out beyond the campus to the national healthcare advocacy organization Community Catalyst and LeadingAge, the association that represents more than 5,000 non-profits in the field of aging services, to create a unique partnership focused on long-term services and supports.
“Len has been an inspirational leader who made an enormous impact on the institute and the entire Gerontology program,” said Mutchler. “He elevated our stature and increased our opportunities to do new and important work. We’re grateful for all his contributions over the past seven years.”