Jeff Stokes named director of Aging Studies undergraduate program

Jeff Stokes may be as excited about returning to campus this fall as any student looking forward to a fresh new school year. Stokes, PhD, an assistant professor of gerontology at UMass Boston, begins the fall 2022 semester with a new title, Undergraduate Program Director, for a newly named major, Aging Studies. The program was renamed to increase its visibility among undergraduates, many of whom aren’t familiar with the term “gerontology,” and found its former name—Global Aging and Life Course Studies—a mouthful.

Stokes is taking over the position from his gerontology colleague Elizabeth Dugan, PhD, who has directed the undergraduate program since 2015.

“It’s a nice opportunity for someone like me, a junior faculty member, to take on a relatively young program and work to grow it,” Stokes says of his new role. “Our other gerontology programs change with the times, certainly, but for the most part they are pretty well-oiled machines, because we’ve been educating graduate students for decades.”

Stokes has taught both graduate and undergraduate students and says the two groups are very different. Most graduate students choose their classes out of a passion for the subject along with clear career goals, he says. Undergraduates may choose a class because it piques their interest or has good word-of-mouth reviews; often it’s because the class fits their schedule and meets their degree requirements. “Many undergraduates don’t know yet what their passions are, or will be,” he says, “until they’re exposed to new subjects.”

“You get to see the lightbulb switch on,” Stokes says of introducing undergraduates to a new field. “You get to see the beginning stages of students finding their passion, which makes it rewarding in a very different way from working with graduate students.”

The program’s wide range of courses are designed to give students greater insight into the challenges and opportunities posed by an aging population

“Our goal is to expose students to using age and aging as a lens for understanding the world,” Stokes says. “There are huge—and growing—opportunities in the aging field. But beyond that, every field will be affected by the growing population of older adults—from an aging workforce to an aging clientele. Nothing is untouched by these changes in demographics. More than anything, our undergraduate program can offer that gerontological perspective on everything.”

Read more: Meet a researcher: Jeff Stokes