Meet the five gerontology doctoral candidates who successfully defended their dissertations in the spring of 2024 and were hooded as new PhDs at ceremonies on campus May 22, 2024.

Elizabeth Gallagher with boyfriend, Eric, and pups Porkchop and Pepperjack

Elizabeth Gallagher

Hometown: Fitchburg, Massachusetts

Dissertation: “Challenging Aspects of Caregiving: The Unique Perspective of Children 65+ Caring for Parents 90+ with Dementia”

I explored challenging aspects of caregiving for a parent with dementia from the perspective of children aged 65 and older caring for parents aged 90 and older. The specific challenges I focused on were behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, relationship challenges, and caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s next: I am excited to continue my work with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) as a project manager for our strategy & policy team. I will be working on several projects including the many regulations and policies related to the Older Americans Act.

Anyah Prasad

Anyah Prasad

Hometown: Hyderabad, India

Dissertation: “Social Networks and Emotional Wellbeing among LGBT Older Adults”

I tried to understand how the structural and functional aspects of LGBT older adults’ social networks are related to each other and show that they feel more supported and experience better emotional wellbeing when embedded in larger social networks that are especially composed of other LGBT and age peers.

What’s next: I accepted a postdoctoral position at LGBTQ+ Policy Lab in the Department of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University.

Natalie Shellito

Natalie Shellito and her husband, Kevin, with Mathilda, born three weeks before commencement.

Hometown: Wichita, Kansas

Dissertation: “The Impact of Older Adult Health on Loneliness and Social Engagement: What Role Does Physical Activity Play?”

Self-rated health may be a strong indicator of loneliness among older adults and could be used by healthcare professionals to screen older people for loneliness. Also, the place in which and with whom physical activity takes place may be more influential on social engagement than older adults’ self-rated health. 

What’s next: I work as an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton in the health account and I work on contracts for government agencies such as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, National Institutes of Health, and Veterans Affairs. Currently, I am on parental leave because I gave birth to my daughter, Mathilda, in April. 

Ning Xie with her children on graduation day, May 2024

Ning Xie

Hometown: Beijing, China

Dissertation: “English Learning Among Late-Life Chinese Immigrants to the U.S.”

I explored why older Chinese immigrants decide to learn English after moving to the U.S. and how they go about it, including the challenges they face. The goal of the study is to understand their motivations and experiences in order to provide the necessary support and attention they need. The findings show that for these older Chinese immigrants, learning English is more than just picking up a new language. It is a journey toward gaining empowerment, dignity, and meaningful involvement in their new community. Learning English helps them build the confidence to handle life’s challenges with grace and self-respect. Additionally, their efforts to learn the language reflect the deep, lifelong love and dedication they have for their families.

What’s next: I’ll be putting my research skills to work, diving into diverse studies at work and embracing different approaches to broaden my knowledge. I’ll make sure to enjoy those nights without any deadlines hanging over my head. I will also stay in touch with the UMB Gerontology family—keeping up with what’s going on and lending a hand where I can. But most importantly, I’m just living life to the fullest, staying positive with a big smile on my face.

Shu Xu with Professor Jeffrey Burr and her parents, visiting from China for her graduation

Shu Xu 

Hometown: Beijing, China

Dissertation: “Visual, Hearing, and Dual Sensory Difficulty in Later Life”

I focus on individuals experiencing functional limitations, particularly in terms of vision, hearing, and the use of both senses as they age. I’m looking at not only how these changes affect their overall health but also the wellbeing of those who care for them. My goal is to identify strategies and interventions that can improve the quality of life for both older adults with sensory loss and their caregivers.

What’s next: I will be a postdoctoral researcher under the guidance of Joshua Ehrlich at the University of Michigan. Our research projects will primarily be geared towards studying vision loss and aging, which I am eagerly looking forward to working on.