USC Leonard Davis Dean, Alumnae Recognized as Top Influencers in Aging Field

A newly published list of the nation’s leading voices in the field of aging includes three members of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology family.

USC Leonard Davis School Dean Pinchas Cohen and alumnae Gretchen Alkema and Kathy Black were included in the list of 2017’s top 50 “Influencers in Aging” by the baby boomer-focused online news platform Next Avenue.

Researching how to personalize aging interventions

USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Dean Pinchas Cohen

Next Avenue noted that Dean Cohen is a champion of “personalized aging,” a term he coined to describe an approach to aging that takes individual characteristics into account to customize prevention and treatment of age-related health issues. Cohen is a world-renowned researcher in the biology of aging, particularly in the science of mitochondrial peptides, and has authored hundreds of articles on health and aging.

At the USC Leonard Davis School, Cohen is also leading several new initiatives to translate research on personalized aging into tangible health benefits for older adults. He said he was honored by the Next Avenue recognition and added that he hopes it draws more attention to the need for what he calls a “twenty-first century approach” to aging.

“We know that none of us age in the same way. We can capitalize on the genomics revolution in order to provide personalized aging guidance instead of one-size-fits-all recommendations,” Cohen said. “While we’ve made enormous advances in extending lifespans in recent decades, we need to address how we can maximize health spans, or the portion of our lives that we spend in good health rather than in disability. Providing customized prevention and treatment will be key to increasing our healthy years.”

Supporting innovations that improve lives

Gretchen Alkema PhD ’07

“I’m deeply honored by this recognition and very humbled,” said Gretchen Alkema, a 2007 graduate of the USC Leonard Davis PhD in Gerontology program. “I’m standing on the shoulders of many giants, including USC faculty and alumni… my time at USC was really instrumental in building my research and policy analysis skills.”

Alkema is the vice president of policy and communications for The SCAN Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes independent, dignified aging by funding projects that improve services for older adults. She said she appreciates and embraces the literal translation of the word philanthropy: to love humanity.

“My personal mission is to catalyze creativity and talent in order to improve the lives of adults of all ages with complex care needs,” she said. “This is about creating a better world that we all want to age in.”

Developing a more age-friendly community

Kathy Black MSG ’88, MSW ’88

Kathy Black, a 1988 graduate of both the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is a professor of aging studies and social work at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. She also serves as a senior age-friendly advisor for the Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative, which aims to promote active, engaged and healthy living for people of all ages in Sarasota County, Florida.

“I am truly honored to receive the designation—I have been working in the field since 1977!” said Black, who received Master of Science in Gerontology and Master of Social Work degrees from USC. “I have spent decades as a researcher, educator and clinician helping people and their families plan for care throughout the end of life, and now my work is focused on helping communities better meet the needs and preferences of an aging citizenry.”