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.

Pension Rights

Help is available to secure your pension

Whether your retirement is close at hand or years away, you’re likely counting on savings and other income sources you’ve maintained to provide you with a comfortable and secure life after working for years. If you’re counting on a pension, take steps now to make certain it’s in place and available when you decide to retire.

A defined benefit pension is a retirement plan that may provide monthly income for the rest of your life. Pensions are sponsored by your employer and provided to you based on your years of service, compensation and other factors. Unlike a 401(k), the employer bears all of the risk and responsibility for funding the pension plan. But, employers can make mistakes.

Take the case of William, a Pension Action Center client.

William worked for a company outside of Chicago off and on for about 20 years. He had two breaks in service that resulted from factory-wide reductions in force. After the first layoff, he was recruited back, because the factory needed someone with his specialized skills. When he was laid off again, he had worked about 12 years in total, and was fully vested in the company’s pension plan.

In the mid-1980s, the company that owned the factory decided to close it down permanently. The company again recruited William back to help with the closure. He understood that his brief return would increase his pension benefit at retirement.

But the employer made a big mistake. When personnel matters were wrapped up for the remaining factory employees, William’s service credit for his pension was recorded based on his short return to his employer to close down the factory. The employer did not credit him with the 12 years of service from earlier in his career. As a result, William was not included on the list of employees who had earned a pension. Continue reading

Book Investigates the Pandemic and its impact on Older Adults

Journal of Aging and Social Policy special edition examines scope,
impact and lessons drawn from Covid-19 for older adults

A special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy (JASP) that focused on Covid-19 has been released as a book. “Older Adults and Covid-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice” provides 28 articles written by leading gerontology researchers. The authors offer perspectives from around the globe on a host of issues surrounding the virus and its impact on older adults, their families, caregivers, and communities.

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward A. Miller

Originally published in June 2020, this issue’s release as a book by Taylor & Francis Publishing indicates that the critical questions raised and the policy changes proposed to protect this vulnerable population moving forward deserve continued attention.

“This book is important because nearly everything addressed in the special issue six months ago is still relevant today which reflects poorly in our response as a nation,” said Edward Alan Miller, PhD, a professor at UMass Boston and editor-in-chief of JASP.

As Miller points out in the book’s introduction, older adults have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Exposure to the virus has resulted in older adults dying in disproportionately higher numbers, especially in long-term care facilities. Government-mandated actions to lessen the impact of the virus on older adults have had adverse consequences such as increased social isolation, separation from family members, enhanced economic risk, and challenges getting basic needs met. Continue reading

Remembering Frank Caro: Inspiring Leader and Key Figure in Development of UMass Boston Gerontology Program

Frank CaroBy Len Fishman and Jeffrey Burr

The field of gerontology has lost a pioneer with the death of Professor Emeritus Frank Caro, an inspiring and beloved figure at UMass Boston. He died on October 2, at age 84. Frank was an architect of one of the world’s most influential gerontology programs. More than that, he was its heart and soul.

Frank wore many hats at UMass Boston, a former director of the Gerontology Institute and chair of the Gerontology Department in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. He also helped found the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston and the Management of Aging Services Master’s program.

Frank is remembered as a consummate scholar-administrator in the field of higher education. He guided the Gerontology Department through its early years with a steady hand and a determination to make its educational programs excel. He deftly mentored many doctoral students and junior faculty members during his years on our campus. Beyond his many great professional achievements, he was known for his kindness, thoughtfulness and humility. Continue reading

The Makings of a Mentor – Meet Ellen Birchander

This article originally appeared on the UMass Boston News web page.

We all take different paths in life and, if we’re lucky, we have mentors guiding us along the way. As an undergraduate psychology major, 20-year-old Ellen Birchander was on track to fail her journalism class unless she completed an upcoming article assignment. She was directed by her professor to open the yellow pages and interview someone listed as a contact in the first advertisement she saw, which happened to be Greater Lynn Senior Services. Her assignment not only received an A but led to the first job she’d have in the field of aging.

Out of this serendipity came a passion for the work of aging that developed and evolved over the next 40 years. Birchander went on to lead the development of programs and delivery of services for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, where she served as Assistant Secretary for Programs. Now, after making a career transition from public affairs to public education, she is teaching, mentoring, and co-directing the Management of Aging Services (MAS) Graduate Program in the Department of Gerontology. Continue reading

Beth Dugan on COVID-19 in Aging Populations: “Older People are Part of the Solution”

This conversation with Gerontology associate professor Elizabeth Dugan was conducted by the McCormack Graduate School and  first appeared on the UMass Boston News web page.

Q: Can we start by talking a bit about the aging population in Massachusetts and how it’s similar or different from other places facing the COVID-19 crisis?

Beth Dugan:  I would say overall, we have more positives to work with. Here in Massachusetts, we have more than a million people who are 65 and older, so we have more older people than other states. And one thing that’s interesting to think about is that longevity is a new experience in terms of human development. We’re about the first or second generation where most people could expect to live to old age. Continue reading

Gerontology Associate Professor Kathrin Boerner: Dealing with Grief After Death


UMass Boston Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner has spent much of her career researching a wide range of end-of-life issues. She was recently interviewed by MyRoche, a publication of the global health care company Roche Holding AG, about her work. The following transcript of the interview with MyRoche editor-in-chief Rebekka Schnell was first published in January.

Q: Why are you so focused on death?

 Kathrin Boerner:  Many people do indeed ask me about my concern with such depressing matters. But I don’t see it like that at all. I work on a topic that affects everyone, and that’s what makes it so relevant. What is more, it is fantastic to see the capacity people have to cope with terri­ble loss, and to help those who aren’t doing so well. Continue reading

Gerontology Faculty Members Jeffrey Stokes and Qian Song Win NIA Research Grants

Jeffrey Stokes

Jeffrey Stokes

Qian Song

Qian Song

What’s better than a grant funding new faculty research? Two grants.

Two assistant professors from the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Department recently won two-year grants of $152,500 each from the National Institute on Aging. Work on both projects began recently.

Jeffrey Stokes received a grant to study the impact of loneliness of a spouse on the health and well-being of both older adult partners in a marriage. Qian Song is the principle investigator on a project that won a grant to examine the long-term effects of job loss on health in a setting that mimics a natural experiment – the massive layoffs of State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) workers in urban China. Continue reading

Assistant Professor Qian Song Joins UMass Boston Gerontology Faculty

By Martin Hansen-Verma

Qian Jasmine Song, a demographer and sociologist with broad research interests relating to the health of an aging population, has joined the UMass Boston’s Gerontology department faculty as an assistant professor.

Song, who most recently was a NIH/NIA postdoctoral fellow at the RAND Corporation, comes to the McCormack Graduate School from Santa Monica, Calif., with her husband and three-year-old son. After living in a variety of places across the U.S. over the past 12 years, she said had been looking forward to the move to Boston.

“It’s a very beautiful city,” she said. “The ethnic and intellectual diversity, and the whole Boston intellectual community are really attractive to me, as well.”

Song sees Boston as an ideal place to pursue her research interests, examining the effects of migration on physical and mental health outcomes of older adults. Continue reading