Congratulations to the five gerontology doctoral students who successfully defended their dissertations this year. We will celebrate them May 24, 2023, at UMass Boston’s graduate commencement ceremony and doctoral hooding.

“We are very proud of these graduates,” says Kathrin Boerner, PhD, director of the gerontology doctoral program. “They each took a unique path of scholarly development and succeeded in carving out an inspiring area of research, with dissertations topics and findings highly relevant to the field of aging. We wish them all the best for their future endeavors and look forward to staying connected with them as colleagues.

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” I appreciated the collaboration with the other students. Working on projects with each other and going to each other for help with anything was extremely valuable and helpful to overall learning.”

Celeste Beaulieu

South Hadley, Massachusetts

Dissertation: Hypertension and Heart Disease in Later Life: The Role of Depression, Subjective Age, and Preventative Health Behaviors

“I looked at how subjective age and depression can relate to cardiovascular health through diet and physical activity.”

What’s next: “I’ll be continuing my work as a research associate at Advocates for Human Potential. I hope to have a career researching mental and behavioral health in older adults.”

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“I appreciate the unwavering support and encouragement the faculty provided throughout my academic journey. I had the privilege of becoming a mother to two babies during the course of my dissertation. Balancing motherhood and academia was not easy, but the experience has been truly transformative. I feel incredibly grateful for the support that has made it all possible.”

Mei Chen

Revere, Massachusetts

Dissertation: Acculturation and Health Services Utilization Among Older Asian Americans: The Roles of Social Support and Psychological Distress

“I studied the relationship between acculturation and the use of preventive health services and treatment among older Asian Americans, using the California Health Interview Survey. Specifically, I studied how one’s acculturation level may affect their visits to physicians, dentists, emergency rooms, and hospitalization. Traditionally, the heterogeneity of Asian subgroups was neglected, or they are treated as one Asian type or “Other” group. My study is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between acculturation and health services utilization among specific Asian subgroups, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipinos. The findings can help policymakers design culturally competent programs to meet the various needs of Asian subgroups. And it provides significant insights for future studies.”

What’s next: “I will continue my interest in health research to address the health inequity for vulnerable groups and advise policymakers on programs that can meet the needs of the vulnerable groups.”

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“I really appreciated the wide range of training we received in the doctoral program. I feel confident I am prepared for a career in academia, research, or data analysis.”

Taylor Jansen

Ottawa, Illinois

Dissertation: Town-Level Risk Factors Associated with 65+ Lung Cancer in New England

“I wanted to know what characteristics or factors in a town were associated with high or low town-level lung cancer rates. In my dissertation, I first conducted a systematic review of all the research conducted at geographic levels (like neighborhoods, towns, counties) that looked at lung cancer rates. Then I incorporated the findings from the review into my next two studies which looked at town-level factors and their associated lung cancer incidence in about 800 towns across New England. I found that the demographics of the community, environmental exposures such as air pollution, smoke-free legislation enactment, and burden of other respiratory conditions were associated with a town’s lung cancer rates.”

What’s next: “I will continue to work with the Healthy Aging Data Reports team at UMass Boston as a post-doc and I will teach the Social Aspects course in the Gerontology PhD program.”

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“I appreciate the opportunity to learn new concepts of successful aging.”

Ngai Kwan

Malden, Massachusetts

Dissertation: The Effects of Physical Activity Participation on Late-life Mortality and Morbidity Levels among the Chinese Oldest-Old Population

“I examined the longitudinal relationship between physical activity (including exercise and non-exercise) and a series of health outcome measures, including mortality, among a large sample of randomly selected adults 80 years or older in China. The findings made a unique contribution to the emerging interests of conducting longitudinal studies among the oldest-old population. This study validated that the benefits of physical activity can be extended to the oldest-old population. This study also highlighted the effects of specific non-exercise types of activity (household work, outdoor activities, gardening, and caring for pets) on mortality, cognitive function and subjective well-being which have not been demonstrated well in previous research.”

What’s next: “I will continue to work as a researcher at the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston.”

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“I’ve realized that aging is a life-long process, not something that happens when you are 55, 65, or 67. Life circumstances as well as decisions made early and throughout our lives profoundly impact and shape the trajectory of how we age. This opens the door for health promotion interventions throughout one’s lifespan.” 

Corina Ronneberg

Chicago, Illinois

Dissertation: The Relationship Between Religiosity and Nursing Home Service Utilization

“I was curious to learn whether a relationship exists between religiosity and nursing home utilization. I looked at three dimensions of religiosity:  organizational (service attendance), non-organizational (private prayer), and intrinsic (application of religious beliefs in daily life) and whether they were related to future nursing home use. I used national Health and Retirement Study data on 7,000-plus people aged 51 years and older. I found that high levels of organizational religiosity (service attendance) are associated with higher rates of nursing home utilization, which may reflect the sharing of information about available resources such as long-term care through one’s social support networks, including congregations. In contrast, higher non-organizational religiosity (private prayer) was associated with a lower likelihood of nursing home use. Individuals who were more likely to pray on their own may lack the social support provided by congregations, and as a result, experienced more limited knowledge transfer about available resources such as nursing homes.”

What’s next:  “I plan to continue in my current role as a senior research specialist in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago while I decide whether to pursue a post-doc or seek a promotion to research scientist. In my current role, I work on several behavioral lifestyle intervention studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, r\primarily in the area of intervention adaptation, optimization, and management. Ultimately I’d like to combine my PhD training in aging with my experience working with underserved populations (including older adults as well as low-income and racial/ethnic minorities); my experience adapting, conducting, and managing lifestyle behavioral interventions for weight loss, emotional distress, and asthma; and my hands-on experience in clinical trial planning, preparation, recruitment, and retention.”