100th Dissertation Celebrated by UMass Boston’s Gerontology Program

One in Five Gerontology PhDs are earned at UMass Boston

Krystal Kittle, PhD

The Gerontology program at UMass Boston (UMB) has recognized a significant milestone: its 100th dissertation defense. With the COVID-19 pandemic still requiring most academic work conducted remotely, Krystal Kittle defended her dissertation over Zoom. Her thesis advisor, Professor Kathrin Boerner, attended the online event as well other committee members, faculty, fellow students, and staff to show their support and celebrate her accomplishment.

Established in 1989, the UMass Boston Department of Gerontology is one of the world’s oldest and most recognized programs studying aging across the lifespan. Globally renowned for its multi-disciplinary curriculum, exemplary research and accomplished faculty, one in five gerontologists with a doctorate earned their degree at UMass Boston. The program is also home to the Journal on Aging & Social Policy and Research on Aging, both peer-reviewed journals edited, respectively, by UMass Boston faculty Edward Alan Miller, PhD, professor and doctoral program director for the department and Jeffrey Burr, PhD, professor and chair of the department.

“Doctoral education takes a commitment to the field and a willingness to sacrifice,” says Burr. “Our alumni exemplify dedication, perseverance, and passion for research that makes a difference in society. As we mark this milestone, we celebrate the hard work of our graduates, and the impact they make in the world.”

Jeffrey Burr, PhD

UMass Boston gerontology alumni have been major contributors to the strong international reputation of the program. They live and work across the globe, including in Canada, China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, and across the U.S. Alumni work in a variety of healthcare settings, for local, state, and federal agencies, not-for-profits that address aging issues and as faculty, researchers and administrators in universities.

“Between the first dissertation defense and the 100th, our students have produced many innovative, cutting-edge research projects and publications in scholarly journals,” says Miller. “They add significantly to the knowledge base on aging, while informing practices and policies that impact older adults, their families and communities.”

Kittle, from California, was the first person in her family to go to college and the only one to earn an advanced degree. She chose to attend UMass Boston’s gerontology program because of its high graduation rate which, she reasoned, meant a supportive and patient faculty. Kittle said she was impressed with the collegiality among the program’s tightknit community of students and faculty.

“The endurance required for a doctorate is considerable,” she says. “The UMB faculty saw something in me that inspired me to keep going.”

Kittle’s dissertation centered on the healthcare of older LGBT adults and “The Role of Minority Stress, Sociodemographic Characteristics and Social Resources.”

“I was a little nervous, but more excited to share what I had worked so diligently on for so long,” she says.

Edward Alan Miller

Edward A. Miller, PhD

Kittle joins an engaged and respected group of professionals. In a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of the program’s 100 doctorates shared how their degree had shaped and supported their career goals.

“My multidisciplinary training from UMB prepared me to be an effective collaborator—one that weaves together the expertise and perspective of colleagues towards a shared purpose,” noted one alum. “[My training] helped me develop extensive knowledge and hands-on skills in conducting qualitative and quantitative research studies that makes a real impact on the care and life of vulnerable and frail elders,” wrote another alum.

Identifying their current professional roles, alumni reflect the wide range of career opportunities available to gerontologists. These prospects are anticipated to increase as older populations are expected to outnumber younger populations in most countries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in every five residents will be retirement age by 2030. By 2034, there will be 77 million Americans 65 years and older and 76.5 million Americans under the age of 18.

“One highlight of faculty life is maintaining relationships with our graduates as they progress in their careers,” says Burr. “We see them at conferences, collaborate on research and welcome their return to campus as guest lecturers.”

After she successfully defended her thesis, Kittle was told she had earned the program’s 100th doctorate. She said it gave her a strong “sense of pride for the program. It felt as if I had come full circle. It was a testament to the commitment that the faculty makes for their students.”

In April, Kittle begins work as a postdoc research fellow in the Social and Behavioral Health Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Public Health. The focus of her work is Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias among LGBTQ middle-aged and older adults.

Gerontology MAS Grad Margaret Lutze a “Rising Star” in Eldercare Service

By Taryn Hojlo

Many executives with distinguished careers in eldercare services can trace their earliest interest in the field to fond family memories. Count Margaret Lutze among them.

Lutze credits the close relationships she had with her grandparents as the foundation of her work in aging. A graduate of UMass Boston’s Management in Aging Services master’s program, she now serves as chief operating officer of the Good Shepherd Community Care hospice in Newton, Mass. She was recently honored with a Rising Star award at the 2019 McKnight’s Senior Living Women of Distinction ceremony.

But Lutze’s interest in the field goes far back, to those family memories and her high school years. As a senior, she spent her spring semester interning at a local nursing facility, helping staff organize activities and events for residents. After graduating from Tufts University with a sociology degree, Lutze quickly landed a job in aging services. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology PhD Alum Elizabeth Chen Named State Secretary of Elder Affairs

Elizabeth Chen came to the field of public health later in life. She’s been making up for lost time ever since.

Chen, who had been the chief executive of two companies and a leader in higher education, came to the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2012 as a gerontology PhD student at the McCormack Graduate School. She received her degree in 2016, completing the program faster than any student in UMass Boston history.

Now Chen is about to lead the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker named Chen to succeed Alice Bonner as the next Elder Affairs secretary. She officially starts her new job June 3.

“We welcome the expertise and knowledge that Dr. Chen will bring to Elder Affairs as the new secretary and look forward to the hard work she will do to build on the progress achieved under [Bonner] that made Massachusetts an age friendly state,” Baker said. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology Grad’s Journey From MAS Student to Assisted Living Executive

By Taryn Hojlo

After years working in management and hospitality, Catherine Williamson was confident she knew how to serve people. For a decade, she had overseen the care of hotel patrons and spa-goers at The Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. She had also held positions in financial and property management.

Williamson thought she had experienced every managerial role the field had to offer. But when she took an assistant executive director position at Emeritus in 2013, a senior living facility in South Windsor, Conn., Williamson realized her career was only beginning.

“I loved the feeling I got from comforting families throughout the process of this challenging journey,” she said. “But I realized I needed more competency in the field.”

That discovery led Williamson to enroll in a Management of Aging Services course at UMass Boston to get a better idea of what the program had to offer before she matriculated. Once the course had ended, she made the decision to enroll as a full-time student. Thanks to her professional experience and education, Williamson was recently named the new executive director of Orchard Valley, a Benchmark Senior Living assisted living and memory care community in Wilbraham. Continue reading

A Big Year for UMass Boston Gerontology

It’s been a year for the record books.

The Gerontology Institute Blog covered every major department and institute event of 2017. But few of those posts could match the impact of coverage of students and their accomplishments filed during commencement season.

Start with those UMass Boston gerontology students who were awarded PhD degrees this year – as a group of eight, the largest in department history. One of the students, Mai See Yang, was selected as the speaker for the year’s graduate commencement ceremony. Read about her extraordinary story and then take a look at her commencement address. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology Alum Elizabeth Chen Named Senior State Public Health Official

 

Elizabeth Chen was a woman in a hurry when she arrived at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Department in 2012.

Chen had already lived through two highly successful but very different careers, as a biotech chief executive and the president of a college. After receiving a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, she came directly to UMass to pursue master’s and PhD degrees in gerontology, and prepare herself for a third act.

Chen’s latest career move, this time as a public health executive, took a big step forward in September. She was recently named assistant commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, to provide senior leadership and oversee the state’s Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, the Bureau of Health Professions Licensure and the state’s Determination of Need program. Continue reading

UMass Gerontology Alum Natalie Leland Receives $4.7M Contract for Dementia Care Research

A research team led by UMass Boston Gerontology alumna Dr. Natalie Leland has received a $4.7 million contract to compare the effectiveness of two care delivery models for nursing home residents living with dementia.

The contract from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute will fund a five-year study comparing care models at 80 nursing homes in 10 geographic regions across the United States. More than 700,000 Americans residing in nursing homes live with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Continue reading

Fabulous Idea: Reframing the Dissertation Experience

By Kristen E. Porter, PhD, MS, MAc, LAc, JP

Life happens.

I was the 67th graduate of the UMass Gerontology PhD program when I received my degree in 2015. I spent one year from proposal to successful defense with no revisions. At the time, I was the 11th fastest to graduate.

But it wasn’t the breeze it might appear to be on paper. While in the program, I was the president of a company, a foster parent to numerous children ranging in age from newborn to teen, and primary caregiver to my mother and grandmother. During this time my mother, grandmother, father, and business partner died and I underwent nine surgical procedures and survived sepsis. Continue reading