Message from the Dean
Welcome from the Dean:
Hello, my name is Gerald Davison. I am dean of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and executive director of the Andrus Gerontology Center. I would like to tell you a few things about our School.
The University of Southern California is one of the world’s leading research universities. The USC Davis School of Gerontology was founded in 1975, and it was the first school of its kind in the world. There have been many centers, institutes and programs in gerontology established in this country and abroad since then, but none has led the development of the field as boldly and innovatively as the USC Davis School and its research and services arm, the Andrus Gerontology Center.
The Davis School’s mission is to provide leadership in research and education that will increase our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of development over the lifespan, and to translate this knowledge into practical applications to promote healthy aging. My mission as dean is to foster the conditions that will enable our interdisciplinary faculty, our dedicated staff and our enthusiastic students to make discoveries that can continue to define the very domain of gerontology.
The word “interdisciplinary” is more than a buzzword at USC, and our school exemplifies this paradigm very well. It is no accident that each member of our faculty has a joint appointment in another department or division of the University. And it is no surprise that over two dozen faculty from other schools throughout the University have joint appointments in Gerontology.
The so-called baby boomers make up nearly one-third of the American population, and they possess two-thirds of its wealth. As they approach retirement age, and this is happening very soon, they will demand a new generation of specialists to identify and meet their needs. This group of older adults, these baby boomers, will be unlike any aged population the world has ever seen — they’ll be better educated, healthier, active and productive into late life. This longer ‘health-span’, as we call it, will affect products and services for every profession, including, law, business, entertainment, financial planning and, of course, the health professions, such as medicine, psychology, nursing and social work.
As a small school within a large research university, the USC Davis School offers a highly personal educational experience. Students can study alongside some of the world’s leading experts in such disciplines as biology, psychology, sociology and public policy. The USC Davis School offers degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. levels, and also post-doctoral training. We offer certificate programs as well.
Our distinguished Ph.D. graduates apply their research skills to human development and the aging. The master’s programs prepare students to address the diverse needs of an older population. They pursue careers in a variety of professions, such as in the private sector, community organizations, advocacy groups, non-profits, hospitals and governmental agencies.
We’re also pleased to offer all of our master’s level courses over the Internet, and with our so-called “smart classrooms,” we can link students who are off-campus to students who are on-campus. In fact, our School developed the first online master’s degree in gerontology in the nation, with innovative online degree certificate programs as well. These online programs are available to people whose jobs, geographical location or health status prevents their studying on campus with us.
For undergraduates, many opportunities exist immediately following graduation. Some enter the working world, where they are highly sought after for their expertise in gerontology and for their passionate interest in serving older adults. Others pursue postgraduate education in fields such as medicine, law, social work, psychology, gerontology and related areas. Some USC undergraduates take advantage of the opportunity to minor in gerontology, where they can apply their knowledge from other USC majors, such as cinema, history, psychology, sociology, business, biology to issues addressing adults at every age.
Over 1,500 graduates have passed through the arches of the USC Davis School. I invite you to contact us for application as gerontology colleagues as we prepare the world for the largest population of older adults in human history
Gerald C. Davison, Ph.D.
Dean and Executive Director
Professor of Gerontology and Psychology
New Directions for Gerontology at USC
Gerald C. Davison, Ph.D.
On the occasion of his installation as Dean of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
February 27, 2007
Thank you for your kind words, President Sample. I’d like to thank all of you for being here this afternoon to share my installation: President Sample, Members of the Provost’s Office, fellow deans, staff and faculty fellows of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, colleagues and friends of the Department of Psychology, the School of Architecture, the USC Davis School of Gerontology, and especially Gero’s Board of Councilors and other generous supporters of the School.
Special thanks to my colleague, wife, best friend, and secret weapon, Professor Kathleen Chambers of the Psychology Department, whose loving support and clear-eyed wisdom have benefited me in countless ways since we came to know each other almost twenty years ago.
I am pleased and happy to be with all of you this afternoon to mark the beginning of what I know will be an interesting and rewarding chapter in my academic life. More importantly, I intend for this to be an interesting and rewarding time for the USC Davis School of Gerontology.
It is a privilege to be the successor to the previous deans of the School – founding Dean James Birren, Dean Ed Schneider, and Dean Elizabeth Zelinski.
As many of you know, gerontology as a scholarly domain is quite new. When the USC Davis School was founded in 1975, it was the first school of gerontology in the world. Since then, many centers, institutes, and programs in gerontology have been established in this country and throughout Western Europe. But none has led the development of the field as boldly as the Davis School, and the Andrus Gerontology Center, of which I am also honored to be Executive Director.
When I was first contacted by USC in 1979 about interviewing for the position of director of the clinical psychology Ph.D. program in the College’s Department of Psychology, what I knew best about USC was the USC Davis School of Gerontology and the Andrus Gerontology Center. So, it seemed fortuitous – and perhaps also fateful -- that several interviews took place in the graceful Edward Durrell Stone building that houses Gerontology here.
It took only a few months of settling into my new job in Psychology for my thinking as a research clinical psychologist and as a teacher to be favorably influenced and enriched by the Gero School.
Most of you don’t need to be reminded of the tremendous importance of gerontology and the study of human development across the lifespan, but some brief words may be useful. Statistics about the rising numbers of people over the ages of 65, 70, even 90 are familiar to us all. For example, about one in eight Americans is now 65 years and older. By the year 2050, this is expected to more than double to 80 million, or to one in five. Advances in medicine, paired with advances in social policies and healthier lifestyles have laid the foundation for an older America and older world.
It is a reflection of USC’s forward-looking leadership to have established and nurtured a school, headed by a dean, to provide a focal point for educational and research programs, a dynamic place where scholars and students come together for the multi-faceted study of aging. The Davis School is renowned as the premiere School for the study of lifespan development and aging, not only at USC, but around the world.
It has been said that the best way to predict the future is to play a central role in creating it. At the most general level, this is what I want to help the Davis School do – define the very conception of lifespan development and aging.
My overall mission is to foster the conditions that will enable our multi-disciplinary faculty, our dedicated staff, and our enthusiastic students to make discoveries that continue to define the very domain of gerontology.
Our work is both theoretical and practical. Universities are places where the best science and knowledge-gathering can lead to humane and effective applications in society. Actions that affect people should be based on the best knowledge available. Research universities are arguably the foremost places where sound knowledge is generated.
This science-practice dialectic has been at the core of my career as an academic clinical psychologist. Drawing upon my own interdisciplinary research and teaching, I look forward to making gerontology part of what my humanist colleagues call “the social conversation” of this campus.
I’d like to share key aspects of this vision with you – focusing on an interdisciplinary approach, the exciting synergy this can generate, resulting in new ideas, approaches, and practical innovations for the benefit of society. This synergistic approach can be seen on a grand scale if we look to the Renaissance – when the disciplines of art, architecture, literature, science, and religion came together and flourished – with a wealth of new ideas, artistic expression and innovation – to the great benefit of all.
Now, how do we go about realizing our vision?
Interdisciplinary is more than a buzzword at USC, and the Davis School exemplifies this paradigm well. It is no accident that each member of our faculty has a joint appointment in another unit on campus, and that over two dozen faculty from other schools at USC have joint appointments in Gerontology.
I want to build on what the Davis School has already been doing, enhance these interdisciplinary efforts, and create new opportunities to work together with units from across the University. I offer here some specific examples of what I have in mind.
When we are young, our horizons seem limitless. But by age 70 if not before then, these horizons are no longer limitless, as they were at age 20. As a consequence, the examination of the meaning of one’s past and future tends to come more clearly into focus. The role of spirituality and religion and existential questions of value and meaning constitute an area of study that can forge connections with the School of Religion and the School of Philosophy.
I would like the Davis School to work with others to look at how the aging process is depicted in the visual arts and in literature. How do those depictions influence the way we view aging in our society and in societies vastly different from ours? And how do societal views on aging affect art and literature? I will explore links with literature departments in the College and with units such as the School of Cinematic Arts and the Roski School of Fine Arts.
Significant advances in basic biological research are beginning to unlock the mysteries of both the normal aging process and what happens when people become ill with diseases like Alzheimer’s. Working together with various departments and institutes on the Health Sciences campus as well as with the College’s Department of Biological Sciences and with the Neurosciences Program, the USC Davis School of Gerontology is continuing important research on some of the illnesses that can beset older adults.
The importance of emotion in how people think and reason has been increasingly recognized, spurred on by the work of a leading neuroscience researcher, Dr. Antonio Damasio, who is director of the Brain and Creativity Institute in the College. Laboratory research in how the brain processes information and how emotions influence these processes has been facilitated by brain imaging technologies, and Dr. Hanna Damasio, director of the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, will also, I hope, be part of our scientific efforts to understand the cognitive and emotional life of older adults.
We are exploring collaborative efforts also with the School of Engineering on innovative areas such as robotics and other assistive modalities to help older adults function independently and lead more satisfying lives. Of course such research will be of benefit also to younger people.
From my recent sojourn as interim dean of the School of Architecture, I’ve learned about the ways the expertise of gerontologists can inform aspects of architectural design. The built environment can help older adults continue living longer in their homes. Also, the design of assisted living and nursing homes has begun to be informed by gerontological science. Joint programs with the School of Architecture are definitely on my agenda.
And there are legal issues to explore with our Law School. How can the continuing development of what is called elder law be better informed by the scientific study of lifespan development?
And we must continue to address the impact of social and governmental policy on how older adults live. Some of this work will entail collaborations with the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. In addition, the newly established Roybal Institute for Applied Gerontology will, by its being located in the Andrus Gerontology Center, enhance our efforts, especially with respect to best practices with ethnic minorities in Latin America and in our own city of Los Angeles and environs.
I also wish to bring into the Davis School new fields of study that can be incorporated into existing initiatives and directions. For example, “healthy aging” is an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control. There is increasing optimism these days about people living enjoyable and meaningful lives well into their 80s and beyond.
As physical health is maintained, what about psychological health? Positive psychology is today’s incarnation of the human potential movement of the 60s but decidedly less politicized and more evidence-based. Positive psychology would seem to have a good deal to offer older adults -- exploring the enhancement of mental and emotional life in ways that go beyond just being okay. That’s something from which we can all benefit.
But just being okay is not to be taken for granted. Across the lifespan, people sometimes suffer from a wide range of psychological disorders, from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and even schizophrenia. How do psychological disorders change over time? What adjustments in therapeutic interventions need to be made to provide better mental health services to older adults? Enhancing our ties to the Department of Psychology is in order here.
The things people do or don’t do throughout the lifespan affect their physical and emotional health as they enter their senior years. For example, exercise and dietary habits are usually acquired early in life and generally persist into one’s senior years, often to the individual’s detriment. Collaborations with the Institute for Prevention Research will deepen our understanding of the behavioral aspects of successful and unsuccessful aging.
I am also making connections with programs outside USC, such as the newly established Center for Longevity at Stanford University. And I have begun exploring mutually beneficial academic links with gerontology colleagues in China, where several of our faculty are already conducting research.
I’ve had the chance to speak to some of you about collaborative ventures, and I look forward to speaking with others in the coming months.
These are a few of the interdisciplinary inter-school directions that I hope to enhance within my School and to explore with fellow deans and faculty from across the campus, as I try to take full advantage of the amazing scope of intellectual and applied activities here at USC. And so, I will close by thanking President Sample and Provost Nikias for affording me this opportunity to work with you so that together we can do intellectually exciting and societally useful things in the USC Davis School of Gerontology and in the University as a whole. It’s truly an honor. Thank you all for coming here to cheer me on.