A Busy Summer: Fellowship Gave UMB Gerontology PhD Student a Role in Boston’s Efforts to Back Housing With Services for Older Adults

Setarreh MassihzadeganHow can cities analyze the costs of providing supportive housing for older adults and evaluate proposals from developers seeking municipal support?  The not-so-surprising answer: It’s complicated.

Ask Setarreh Massihzadegan, who began her second year in UMass Boston’s Gerontology PhD program this month. She spent the past summer working through exactly that challenge.

While completing her first year as a PhD student, Massihzadegan applied for the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston’s Public Policy Summer Fellowship. The program led her to a position at the Neighborhood Housing Development Division within the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).

The job: A deep dive into the operating expense details of affordable housing plus services for older adults in Boston. Massihzadegan researched those operating costs, then created a descriptive analysis of her findings to support DND’s process of evaluating developer requests for support and to inform future underwriting policies at the department.

She also provided recommendations that led to changes to the city’s annual Request for Proposals covering housing development assistance this year. Continue reading

Jan Mutchler to head UMass Boston Gerontology Institute

Professor Jan Mutchler, a faculty member at University of Massachusetts Boston for more than 20 years and the founding Director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging (CSDRA), has been appointed director of the Gerontology Institute at the university’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

Jan Mutchler

Prior to founding CSDRA (located within the Institute) in 2012, Mutchler served as Graduate Program Director, Chair of the Gerontology Department, and Associate Director of the Institute. Her scholarship has focused on diversity, inequality, and disparities in aging, seeking to strengthen scholarship and its impact for our growing and diverse older population.

Mutchler produces the national Elder IndexTM, a one-of-a-kind, county-by-county measure of the income needed by older adults to maintain independence and meet their daily living costs while staying in their own homes. The Congressional Budget Office cites the Elder Index as the only retirement adequacy measure that is oriented specifically to older people and takes into account the unique demands of housing and medical care on older budgets.

Under her leadership, the CSDRA and colleagues across UMB also recently issued a report, “Aging Strong for All: Examining Aging Equity in the City of Boston,” documenting disparities across three dimensions that impact quality of life — economic security, health, and social engagement. The report aims to inform the City’s public agencies, businesses, cultural, educational, and religious institutions, and community groups as they seek to change policy and practices to enhance the quality of life for Boston’s older residents.

Mutchler received her B.A. degree from the University of Mississippi and her doctorate from the University of Texas Austin. She takes over for Len Fishman, who announced his retirement earlier this month after serving seven years as director of the Institute.

Mutchler has been highly successful in growing the center and has been a trusted resource and counsel for state policymakers and community leaders. A recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2016, McCormack Graduate School Dean David Cash said Mutchler embodies the program’s ethos of scholarship, public service, and student engagement through research and teaching.

“Gerontology and the study of how to improve aging in America and around the world is at a critical juncture, and Jan’s leadership at the Institute ensures that the institute will catalyze a new era of cutting-edge research and impact on policy makers,” said Cash.

“The work of the Gerontology Institute is critically important, especially in this post-pandemic era,” Mutchler said. “The experiences of older people during the pandemic have highlighted the importance of research, policy and advocacy focusing on aging. At the same time, our work seeks to recognize and address the detrimental role racism plays in making growing old especially challenging in some communities. The work that our students, faculty and fellows do on a daily basis aims to identify strategies for improving quality of life for older people and promoting aging equity, both at home and around the world.”

The Director is responsible for guiding the Gerontology Institute and its four centers as leading international research, policy, and service centers focused on aging. By enhancing the impact of research and service activities carried out through the Institute’s Centers and by its more than 50 fellows, the director pursues opportunities for McCormack and the Gerontology department’s faculty and students, as well as strengthens collaborations with external partners, with the goal of increasing the impact of their work and promoting better and more equitable outcomes for older people, their families and communities.

Under Mutchler’s leadership, the Gerontology Institute will work to continue its upward trajectory in external funding and to strengthen its scholarship, public engagement, and visibility as a national and international leader in aging research and service to older populations. These efforts will encompass the Gerontology program’s efforts to expand its work at the intersection of aging, race, and anti-racism aging policy. Combined, these efforts will strengthen the Gerontology Institute and Department’s ability to attract and support faculty working in these areas, and help train diverse students from communities under-represented in the ranks of researchers, policymakers and advocates for all aging populations.

About the Gerontology Institute

Created by the Commonwealth in 1984, the Gerontology Institute provides research, education and public service in the field of aging. Four centers bring special expertise in targeted areas. The Pension Action Center has recovered over $65 million for low and moderate-income retirees whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. The LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston works to improve the quality and effectiveness of services for seniors across the continuum of housing and health care services. The Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging conducts research in collaboration with government agencies and NGOs, and produces the Elder Index which measures the true cost of living for older adults in the U.S. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute provides 140 courses to 1000 older adults in Greater Boston. The Gerontology Institute is located within the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

Gerontology PhD Grads Look Ahead to Next Career Step in a More Complicated Working World

Life after PhDBy Claire Wickersham

UMass Boston’s newest class of Gerontology PhD graduates are heading out into a world – and a job market – unseen by any of their predecessors.

The good news: As a group, they have their immediate work future well in hand. Many secured post-graduation positions or commitments well before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Some are working in jobs they had held for some time.

Among the freshly-minted PhDs, Danielle Waldron is the newest tenure-track assistant professor in Healthcare Administration at Stonehill College. She will teach courses in gerontology, disability, and methods, while continuing research in aging with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Continue reading

The Virtual Semester: How UMass Gerontology Students are Adapting to Remote Learning While Campus Remains Closed

Claire Wickersham home office

STEP INTO MY OFFICE: Author Claire Wickersham turned her bedroom closet into a phone booth-sized office with a standing work station.

By Claire Wickersham

Students are making a lot of adjustments in the spring semester driven online by the COVID-19 pandemic. New technology and different work environments bring a whole new meaning to work and home life balance.

The good news: Many are adapting well to new ways of learning and working, often adding an element of creativity to the process.

For UMass Boston gerontology students, some classes are held in real-time via apps like Zoom, while others are recorded. Some use PowerPoint with voiceovers for slides. Assistantship work is being done off campus and meetings held virtually.

Some students have even gone home for the remainder of the semester. Continue reading

Zoom Boom: Gerontology Department Moves Online to Conduct 5 Virtual PhD Dissertation Defenses in 4 Days

The new dissertation defense (pets welcome): Clockwise from top left PhD candidate Hayley Gleason defending her dissertation, professor Edward Miller, associate professor Kathrin Boerner, PhD student Molly Wylie, LeadingAge LTSS Center @Mass Boston co-director Robyn Stone and Brandeis University professor Christine Bishop.

Years of work, study and preparation came down to this final step: Defending PhD dissertations to a series of faces on a computer screen.

Conversing with images of people, arranged like tiles on an electronic board, had become a suddenly familiar experience for millions of people as Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms replaced live gatherings amid the growing coronavirus threat. No doubt many PhD dissertation defenses took place that way as campuses shut down across the country in March.

But the UMass Boston Gerontology Department’s busy schedule put that virtual work-around to a serious test: Five remote dissertation defenses in a span of four days. Three of them took place through the morning and early afternoon of a single day.

PhD candidates Andrea Daddato, Danielle Waldron and Hayley Gleason all defended their dissertations on March 31. Yijung Kim followed on April 2 and Haowei Wang defended the following day. All were successful. Continue reading

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Busy Gerontology Students Mixed Work with Pleasure

Summer is history.

Most of UMass Boston’s gerontology students enjoyed the vacation break and hopefully some even found their way to chairs on a beach. But many also worked on gerontology research projects, attended professional events or participated in fellowships at some point during the summer.

Haowei Wang, Adrita Barooah and Nidya Velasco Roldan all attended the prestigious RAND Summer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. All said they had become interested in the institute based on recommendations of others. In particular, Sae Hwang Han and Yijung Kim had both traveled from UMass Boston to attend the institute the previous summer.

“It was a great opportunity to network and meet new people,” said Barooah. “Compared to a lot of big conferences, the RAND institute was more personal, which helped me get to know fellow attendees and their work better.” Continue reading

PhD Student Danielle Waldron Elected to Leadership Role at Gerontological Society of America

Danielle Waldron thinks it’s important for everyone to maintain a healthy balance between their professional and personal lives. One key: Jump on the right opportunities but don’t feel guilty about saying “no” now and then.

The UMass Boston gerontology PhD candidate is about to take on a prestigious new role, in part to emphasize that message to other young researchers across the country. It was one of those opportunities to go for.

Waldron was recently elected to a leadership position at the Gerontological Society of America’s Emerging Scholar and Professional Organization. She’s beginning a four-year term as the organization’s vice chairman, which will be followed by a term as chairman and another as past chair. Continue reading

A Year Later: 3 Gerontology PhDs Talk About Their Professional Lives After Graduation

One year ago, the Gerontology Institute blog brought together three newly minted UMass Boston PhDs to talk about their dissertation experiences. They discussed everything from original dissertation designs to the eventual defense of their work.

The blog recently reached out again to all three – Wendy Wang, Jane Tavares and Ian Livingstone – to ask them about their professional experience in the year following graduation. What happened after they received their degrees and how do they view their careers now? Here’s what they had to say in response to our questions:

Q: What are you doing now and how did you come to that work?

Wendy Wang: I am working full time as a post-doctoral researcher in the gerontology department at UMass Boston with Dr. Elizabeth Dugan. I used to work as Dr. Dugan’s research assistant on projects such as the Healthy Aging Data Report, dementia-friendly Massachusetts, and a scan of transportation services available to older adults in Massachusetts. At the time of my graduation, I was lucky enough that Dr. Dugan offered me a post-doc position to continue working with her on these projects.

Jane Tavares: I have remained connected to the UMB Gerontology Program and, based on my prior research experience, was approached about job opportunities at UMB. I am currently a research fellow in the Gerontology Institute, working for the LeadingAge LTSS Center. I am also teaching courses as an adjunct in the Management of Aging Services program in the Gerontology Department.

Ian Livingstone: I am working as a Research Public Health Analyst at RTI International assisting in the development and maintenance of quality measure in post-acute and long-term care settings. I started as a research analyst contractor after my second year of coursework and have been with the company since. Since defending my dissertation and graduating I have transitioned to a full-time role where I split my time between the quality measure work and an ASPE (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) funded project examining the financial impact of minimum wage increases on the nursing home industry. Continue reading

Academic Life: The Education of a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student

This is the final post in a series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

It happened in the blink of an eye.

My first year as a gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston is finished and it really did go by faster than I could have imagined. Those two semesters have been a great experience, but they were also filled with their fair share of highs and lows.

A few low periods revolved around panic over the amount of work that had to be crammed into what seemed like an impossibly short amount of time. But they were offset by many high points, like the opportunity to attend the Gerontological Society of America conference – something I have wanted to do for years! I went to presentations by scholars from around the globe and realized that they were talking about the theories and using statistics that I had been learning in my classes. It was such a neat opportunity that confirmed my choice to pursue further education in the field of gerontology. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Candidate Natalie Pitheckoff Examines Bonds Between Older Adults and Animals

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits, left to right, Gizmo, Sir Ziggy and Madame Bushwick

Call it the Domino effect.

Natalie Pitheckoff, a gerontology PhD candidate at UMass Boston, has spent years observing and studying the impact of pets on older adults, particularly those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Her proposed PhD dissertation  involves analyzing the policies and practices of nursing homes when it comes to human-animal interactions.

Pitheckoff was recently awarded a dissertation grant to support her work from the UCLA Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Small Grants Program. The program is funded by Bob Barker, the retired television game show host and long-time animal rights supporter. Continue reading