Valued Partnership

Internship benefits housing provider and doctoral student while supporting older adult residents

When a Boston-based affordable housing developer wanted to survey their residents to better support their health-related needs, they paused. What did they know about approaching older adults to inquire about their personal healthcare?

“We’re developers and project managers, not social workers or healthcare providers,” says Amarillys Rodriguez, Development and Policy Project Manager for the Planning Office for Urban Affairs (POUA). “We needed to bridge this gap and have the kind of expertise on hand to help us better understand our residents.”

Elisabeth Stam, gerontology doctoral student

POUA reached out to the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston and the two organizations created a graduate assistantship. The opportunity allowed one doctoral student in UMass Boston’s distinguished Gerontology program to help POUA move forward on its Health & Housing Initiative while gaining useful work experience.

A social justice ministry of the Archdiocese of Boston, POUA has more than 3,000 housing units located in Eastern Massachusetts. About one-half of these apartments are homes for older adults. POUA wanted to learn about these residents’ health needs to better serve them by providing support such as preventive care. To accomplish this, POUA decided to develop a voluntary, confidential survey to collect demographic information and information about health conditions, insurance coverage and healthcare provider relationships.

“If we gather this information, we’ll be able to identify any patterns or clusters of particular issues to pay attention to and create on-site, health-targeted resident services,” says Rodriguez.

Elisabeth Stam, a first-year doctoral student studying Gerontology at UMass Boston, began her internship with POUA in the fall of 2020 continuing through the Spring 2021 semester. Among her responsibilities was helping to develop and structure the survey to describe respondents’ health needs. Having someone with an understanding of gerontology and knew how to word questions so residents felt comfortable to participate and respond, was key to a successful survey, notes Rodriguez. Continue reading

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.

Transforming the Future of Aging

Bei Wu works toward improving health status through research and policy

If the world of academic gerontology had a rock star, it would be Bei Wu, MS ‘97, PhD ’00.

Recognized for her extensive research and pursued by top tier universities, Wu has become an international leader in the field since graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Department of Gerontology. Add the years in policy work before earning her doctorate and Wu chuckles that, having spent more than half of her life in the field of gerontology, she herself is now experiencing the aging process.

“I’ve become my own study subject,” Wu says.

Today, Wu is the Director of Global Health and Aging Research at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and Director for Research at the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University (NYU) and the inaugural co-director of NYU’s Aging Incubator, a university-wide aging initiative.

Given her considerable success in gerontology, it’s fitting she credits her grandmother — with whom she was extremely close — for nudging her into the field. Born in Shanghai, Wu’s parents left her and her brother in their grandparents’ care when the two were young. After college, Wu accepted a research position with the Shanghai Commission on Aging only after prompting by her grandmother.

“At the time, very few people thought aging would be a challenging issue in the future,” Wu says.

But writing policy briefs and launching studies on intergenerational support with the United Nations Population Fund convinced Wu to pursue graduate studies. With no options available in China, she chose UMass Boston.

“UMass Boston has had a significant impact on my career,” Wu says. “The gerontology program has a critical mass of excellent faculty.” 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

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

Gerontology PhD Student Shiva Prasad Studies How to Create Ideal LGBT Online Senior Center

By Caitlin Connelly

Imagine an online LGBT senior center. What would that look like and how would it serve visitors?

These are questions on Shiva Prasad’s mind. The third-year gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston recently presented preliminary research findings on the subject at the LGBT Elders in an Ever Changing World conference in Salem, Mass.

Nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference held to discuss the needs and desires of older adults and caregivers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Organizations helping put on the event included the LGBT Aging Project, North Shore Elder Services and the Over the Rainbow LGBT Coalition, Salem State University School of Social Work, Care Dimensions, and AARP Massachusetts. Continue reading