The Department of Gerontology at UMass Boston has awarded four doctoral students with annual departmental honors. The 2022-2023 honorees are:

  • Book (Dissertation) Award: Taylor Jansen, PhD ’23
  • Scholarship Award: Setarreh Massihzadegan
  • Service Award: Molly Wylie
  • Wu Award: Changmin Peng
Jansen headshot
Taylor Jansen

The Book Award Committee chose Taylor Jansen, PhD ‘23, for the 2022-2023 Book Award based on her dissertation, “Town-Level Risk Factors Associated With 65+ Lung Cancer in New England.” Her dissertation committee included Kristi Long Foley, PhD, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Qian Song, PhD, assistant professor of gerontology at UMass Boston; and Beth Dugan, PhD, professor of gerontology at UMass Boston and committee chair.

“Taylor developed an interest in using geospatial methods to identify health disparities, with a particular interest in rural health and cancer,” Dugan says. “This is a unique approach to dissertation work, requiring considerable initiative and mastery of a methodology that is not frequently used in our field.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and 70 percent of those diagnosed with the disease are older adults. While individual factors such as smoking or second-hand smoke are known risk factors, the risks associated with community factors are not well-understood. 

“Taylor’s first study, a literature review, identified geographic-level factors associated with lung cancer incidence at the community level and set the framework for studies 2 and 3. Study 2 explored how legislative, demographic, environmental risk factors, and comorbid respiratory illness were associated with lung cancer in the study sample of (N=796) towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Finally, study 3 used hot-spot analysis and spatial regression to identify clusters of lung cancer and the factors that contributed to higher lung cancer rates. She found that hot spots were more likely to be in towns that were urban, more densely populated, had access to lung cancer screening, and were more likely to have smoke-free legislation. Taylor’s use of geospatial analysis demonstrated how these powerful tools can be used to identify health disparities and inform the allocation of resources to improve health equity.”

Setarreh Massihzadegan headshot
Setarreh Massihzadegan

The Gerontology faculty selected Setarreh Massihzadegan for the 2022-2023 Scholarship Award based on her paper, “Measuring the Association of Housing Type and Ownership Status With Loneliness in Midlife and Older Adults: Do Perceived Neighborhood Social Cohesion and Physical Disorder Matter.” The paper fulfilled one of the major requirements for the doctoral program’s research practicum course sequence, taught by Jeffrey Stokes, PhD, with Professors Jan Mutchler, PhD, and Beth Dugan, PhD, as readers.

“This award is a well-deserved accolade for an excellent student,” says Stokes. “Set has been a diligent, focused, and bright student since Day 1, and it was a pleasure to instruct her throughout the Second-Year Paper process. Her paper is a fantastic example of the scholarship we aim for our students to pursue. Set took a complicated data structure as well as a complex set of research questions, yet managed to communicate her research questions and conclusions in such a clear and persuasive manner that I am not at all surprised by the attention it is receiving within the department. I look forward to seeing it published soon, as it well deserves.”

Molly Wylie headshot
Molly Wylie

The Department of Gerontology Service Award is presented to a doctoral student who exhibits outstanding contributions to the department, university, and the discipline. The faculty selected Molly Wylie for the 2022-2023 award.

Molly Wylie has been an active contributor to the department and profession,” says Edward Alan Miller, PhD, chair of gerontology. “She served as president of Sigma Phi Omega for the 2020-2021 academic year, during which she helped pilot the peer mentorship program and coordinated the inaugural ‘Panel Discussion on Non-Academic Careers.’ She represented UMass Boston Gerontology as team captain for the Alzheimer’s Walk in 2020, coordinating a virtual department event and raising around $1,000. She presented on aging in place as a guest lecturer in the undergraduate class ‘Aging and Society,’ and hosted a brown bag presentation for older adult learners at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.”

Wylie has also volunteered to represent UMass Boston Gerontology at national meetings including LeadingAge, American Society on Aging, and Gerontological Society of America. She has worked with our LeadingAge LTSS Center as a research assistant and fellow for four years, work that includes implementing health and wellness assessments in affordable housing sites across Greater Boston, developing an evaluation survey and conducting interviews for LeadingAge’s Summer Enrichment Program promoting diversity among young aging services leaders, contacting over 1,000 LeadingAge members for their nationwide member survey, and hosting 16 episodes of The Mentor’s Voice podcast that brings together students and aging service professionals. For 2022-2023, she was named the NCOA Equity in Aging research fellow at the LTSS Center.

Changmin Peng

The Gerontology Wu Paper Award is presented to a doctoral student for an excellent original paper focused on Asian-American or Asian older adults, with particular emphasis on Chinese older adults. The gerontology faculty selected Changmin Peng for the 2022-2023 Wu Paper Award based on her paper, “Physical Frailty and Cognitive Function Among Older Chinese Adults:  The Mediating Roles of Activities of Daily Living Limitations and Depression.”

Changmin richly deserves the Wu Award for her research on aging in China,” says Jeffrey Burr, PhD, professor of gerontology. “In a short period of time, she has published more than 10 peer-reviewed journal articles on a broad range of topics including cognitive functioning and physical frailty, examining the effects of friendship, neighborhood conditions, social support, and intergenerational relationships. I expect Changmin to continue to contribute scholarship on older Chinese adults well into the future.”