Dean David Cash announces retirement of Institute Director Len Fishman

I write to announce that Len Fishman, after serving seven years as director of the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, will be retiring on August 31.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman

A nationally recognized leader in health care and aging, Len’s priorities as director were guided by two goals. First, increasing the institute’s relevance, reputation and influence through its research and policy work. Second, boosting external funding.

He achieved both. Thanks to the Institute’s enterprising faculty and fellows, external funding from grants nearly tripled during Fishman’s tenure, and private donations soared. Financial support for students increased two and a half times, opening doors for future scholars and policymakers.

Fishman also helped the Institute become even more prominent in its signature areas of research on older people, including economic insecurity, race- and ethnicity-related health disparities, healthy aging, and age-friendly communities, while striving to bring that work to the attention of policymakers and the general public through robust communication.

The Gerontology Institute also deepened its expertise in long-term services and supports (LTSS) under Fishman by adding a fourth center — the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. This three-way partnership among Community Catalyst, LeadingAge and UMass Boston unites researchers and policy analysts in academic and applied settings, an innovative collaboration illustrative of Len’s knack for building strategic alliances whose whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

Fishman and Gerontology Department Chair Jeff Burr treated their respective units as a united enterprise, resulting in increased productivity of faculty and more opportunities for students to conduct research, be mentored, and earn money for their education. Fishman and Burr led the recent effort to establish the Frank Caro Scholarship for Social Justice in Aging. Named after one of the UMass Boston Gerontology program’s founders, the fund has raised approximately $370,000 thus far. The funds will be used to recruit and support doctoral students from under-served communities.

“The last seven years have been the best years for gerontology at UMass Boston and a lot, a lot, a lot of the credit goes to Len,” Burr said.

Len came to UMass Boston after serving for 12 years as CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife, New England’s largest nonprofit provider of senior housing and health care. Prior to joining HSL, Len was president and CEO of LeadingAge, in Washington, D.C., which represents 6,000 non-profit senior housing and health care providers in the U.S. and Canada, serving over two million older people. Before that, he served in the cabinet of Governor Christine Todd Whitman as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, where he led the governor’s initiative to unite programs serving older people into one cabinet-level department. He previously practiced law as a health-care lawyer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“We are on the cusp of the greatest demographic transformation in history,” said Fishman. “The human lifespan has increased by more than a third, and very soon, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. Yet we are nowhere near ready to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities presented by these changes. Our gerontology program is a beacon of learning and hope.”

“I will, of course, remain involved in the field of aging. As our chancellor, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco recently observed, population aging is one of the three greatest challenges facing humanity. My generation (me included) has not covered itself in glory in dealing with the other two: climate change and racialized inequity. My retirement will allow me to spend more time on both. It’s been an honor to work with the Gerontology program’s talented faculty, fellows, staff and students, and a privilege to work at the nation’s third most diverse university during this most recent racial reckoning. The demographics of UMass Boston’s students are a preview of what our nation is becoming – they are my greatest source of hope for the future.”

How COVID-19 Has Changed Everyday Life for Older Adults, Long After Pandemic’s Onset

By Taryn Hojlo

How do older adults think about the COVID-19 threat and go about their lives now, many months after the virus first changed their approach to activities of every kind?

Of course there is no single answer to that question, and the way older adults look to the future with the pandemic remaining a real threat varies as well. The Gerontology Institute Blog contacted several members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to ask them about how they approached the problem and how it affects their routines. They offer a small sample of everyday lives among older adults in the age of COVID-19.

Mona, 69, and Phil Rosen, 72 in Easton, Mass.

 When news of the coronavirus first appeared, Mona and Phil were both reasonably concerned about contracting the virus. They isolated themselves from friends and family, only leaving the house for essential activities. However, they’ve begun to venture out a bit more in recent weeks – while still being careful to adhere to health authority guidelines. Continue reading

The Aging Paradox: A Look at Later-Life Satisfaction Through the Eyes of OLLI Members

Olli members

Clockwise from top left, OLLI members Mary Doller, Al May, Jean Hunt and Steve Vorenberg.

By Caitlin Connelly

A good paradox can turn the obvious on its head.

That’s a fair way to describe the aging paradox, a concept well-known to gerontologists that challenges presumptions about the way people feel as they grow older. True, there may be many forms of loss or limitation that come with older age. But there is also empirical evidence that shows people actually experience a greater level of life satisfaction as they grow older.

In the process of living to an older age, transitions often become more than a simple shift from work to retirement and bring people to a more peaceful frame of mind, according to Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston.

“Older adults often arrive at this point where they feel like they’ve experienced a lot but they’ve also learned a lot from the experience,” said Boerner.

Those transitions can be driven by conventional forces of work and family. But the kind of older-life satisfaction described by the aging paradox is often rooted other kinds of experiences. “People get to that point from very different trajectories,” said Boerner.

The Gerontology Institute Blog asked members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to describe their transition into the earlier stages of older life and how they felt about it. Their responses illustrate just how different those trajectories can be. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Students Switch Roles as OLLI Scholars Leading Classes

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

By Caitlin Connelly

Think of it as academic role reversal.

In these classes, students become the teachers. The classes are offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston, the state’s largest lifelong learning program for older adults. The instructors are PhD students studying gerontology at UMass Boston, known in these particular classrooms as OLLI Scholars.

Grad students have served as OLLI teachers for more than five years. This semester, UMass Boston Gerontology PhD students Emily Lim and Cindy Bui are the instructors of Popular Media, Apps and Communication, a course providing hands-on, interactive instruction on everything from hashtags to key phrases. 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