Current PhD Students
Balancing rigorous, high-level research training with leadership skills and the acquisition and application of cutting-edge scientific knowledge, a USC Leonard Davis School PhD prepares graduates to take the lead in the research of their chosen aspect of gerontology.
Current Gerontology PhD Students
Elizabeth Avent is a PhD student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Georgia State University in 2012, and her Master of Arts in Gerontology at Georgia State University in 2016. Her research interests include elder abuse, particularly the experiences of victims of late-life intimate partner violence, and improving and developing appropriate services for victims through community and policy interventions.
During her time at Georgia State University, Liz worked in the Gerontology Institute as a research assistant on the Convoys of Care Research Team on a study that focuses on the care networks of residents in assisted living facilities. She has worked at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, assisting with research on improving care transitions of patients being discharged from the hospital. She has also worked at the Georgia Council on Aging, assisting with planning and executing the quarterly meetings of the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, in which aging issues are selected to advocate to policymakers.
Liz works in Dr. Wilber’s Secure Old Age Lab.
Lauren Brown is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from the University of Southern California in 2004; and a Masters of Public Health in Health Systems Management from Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She has prior work experience at the New Orleans Regional AIDS Planning Council in Louisiana and as a research assistant to Dr. Ihab Hajjar on hypertension and cognitive decline at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Lauren’s research interests are in aging minority health issues, psychosocial and socioeconomic health, and health disparities..
A graduate of USC in Biological Sciences and Gerontology, Jeanine Yonashiro-Cho returned to USC to begin her doctoral studies in Fall 2013. Her research interests focus on improving and preserving the health and well-being of older adults with a particular focus on reducing health disparities and protecting vulnerable elders.
Before returning to California, Jeanine served as the State of Hawaii’s Planner for Aging Services where she worked to strengthen Hawaii’s aging services infrastructure and development of evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention programs for older adults.
Working under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Wilber, Jeanine is currently studying forensic markers of elder abuse and promising elder abuse interventions, such as the Elder Abuse Forensic Center model.
Alexis R. Gaines Freedland is originally from Washington, D.C. and began her doctoral studies in 2017 at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the USC. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Neuroscience from Amherst College; a Masters of Science degree in Global Health from Duke University; and a Masters of Science degree in Molecular Epidemiology from USC. A former recipient of the National Institutes of Health Postbaccalaurate Intramural Research Trainee Fellowship Award, Alexis has prior work experience in translational research, epidemiology, and basic sciences from a six-year tenure at Duke University. She also has several first author independent research publications. Working under the direction of Dr. Eileen Crimmins, Alexis is currently interested in studying the epigenetics of aging, global cancer, psychosocial determinants of health, and racial health disparities.
In her spare time, Alexis loves international travel, cooking, running and cycling, community service, spending time with her husband, friends and family, and musical theater.
Stephen Frochen is a doctoral student, whose research interests include aging in place, geographical quality of life factor analysis, senior housing facility site suitability analysis, and location allocation analysis in evaluating regional accessibility to senior housing facilities.
He currently assists Jon Pynoos as a teaching assistant, and his professional goals are teaching, consulting, and government practice.
He likes to hike, snorkel, surf, and play the piano.
Gerson Galdamez is a first year doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. He completed his undergraduate degree in Human Aging and Development at USC in 2016, during which his research focused on economic security in late life among Latino immigrant groups. This research primarily involved detecting income dynamics across the lifecourse, and how these dynamics vary by citizenship and ethnicity.
Gerson’s work in the Secure Old Age lab focuses on Latino economic security and elder abuse. He engages in projects focused on the effectiveness of elder abuse interventions, and hopes to develop further research on legal and criminological aspects of elder abuse.
Haley Gallo is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology, with a minor in Gerontology, from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017. Her research interests include long-term services and supports and developing policies that enable older adults to maintain independence and stay engaged with society. She is currently working on the Purposeful Aging Los Angeles Initiative, a project that seeks to create livable communities for all ages.
Haley’s previous experiences include working in the Drug Discovery Lab and the Memory and Lifespan Cognition Lab at UCLA. She also served as the Executive Secretary for the Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults (Tech4Aging) in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Krista Garcia is currently a PhD student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology whose research is done within the USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health. Krista’s research focuses on cross-country comparisons in health outcomes and secondary prevention strategies. Her previous work focused on a collaborative project examining whether international differences in health are similar to international differences in life expectancy. Her current research examines prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer screening prevalence and trends in cancer-specific incidence and mortality rates in the U.S. and Europe. Krista’s goal is to increase understanding of the factors associated with cancer survival as well as the challenges and needs associated with the growing population of older cancer survivors.
Krista received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology, with a minor in Human Development-Adulthood and Aging from the University of California, Davis in 2005. She worked on her master’s degree in Gerontology prior to entering the doctoral program in 2009.
Molli Grossman is originally from Shavertown, Pennsylvania and began her doctoral studies at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in 2013. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English. Before coming to USC, Molli spent a year working as a research assistant in the Psychiatry Department at NYU Langone Medical Center. Her primary interests are psychology and aging, and she is currently working under the direction of Dr. Tara Gruenewald, examining the mind-body processes that play a role in healthy aging. She is also the current recipient of a University of Southern California Provost’s PhD Fellowship and a member of the Healthy Aging Lab at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Elizabeth Hagood is a PhD student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and originally comes to Los Angeles from Shawsville, Virginia. Elizabeth graduated from Wake Forest University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in biology. She subsequently worked in the Senate of Virginia and in clinical research before beginning graduate school at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. There, Elizabeth completed a Master’s degree in anatomy and neurobiology.
As a doctoral student at USC, Elizabeth works under the direction of Dr. Tara Gruenewald, studying mind-body interactions and their impact on trajectories of health and aging. Elizabeth’s current research focuses on generativity and health among older individuals and examines how perceptions of generativity and social usefulness may shape health outcomes.
Elizabeth is also a member of the Healthy Aging Lab at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Deborah Hoe works under the direction of Dr. Susan Enguídanos. Her primary research area is in palliative care models and ageism in healthcare. Her secondary research interests are ageism in media and how we may best use media to shape our perceptions about our own aging.
Prior to attending the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Deborah received a B.S. in Mathematics (U.S.), M.A. in Digital Storytelling (U.S.), and M.Soc.Sc. in Gerontology (Hong Kong). She is also a certified pet loss and bereavement counselor.
Deborah loves all things storytelling. She has produced digital stories for older adults, performed at Hong Kong’s Top Notch Storytelling Festival, and was nominated for an Emmy.
Shoshana Hindin is a gerontology doctoral student specializing in aspects of cognition and aging, such as cognitive training programs and changes in language processing. She is a research assistant of Dr. Zelinski and the Long Beach Longitudinal Study. Shoshana grew up in central Ohio and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Shoshana became interested in aging while working in Dr. Stine-Morrow’s Lab in Illinois. She is a regular at GSA conferences and has forthcoming publications.
Hyewon (Ellis) Kang is a second-year PhD student in the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. She is interested in socioeconomic disparities in health, access to health care and global aging. She holds Master of Public Administration from Cornell University and Master in Area Studies from Kyunghee University. Past work experience includes working as a consultant with the World Bank, an intern with International Food Policy Research Institute.
Kylie Meyer is a graduate student in Gerontology, who started at USC in fall of 2015 on a USC Provost Doctoral Fellowship. Her work focuses on elder abuse and family caregiving, with a particular focus on caregiver burden as well as caregivers’ access to information and advice. Recently she is working working with California’s Task Force on Family Caregiving to identify priority policy areas and best practices in caregiving, as well as Care Compass, a pilot for caregivers to access personalized information and resources online.
Prior to beginning at USC, she completed an MSc at the University of Southampton on a U.S. Fulbright. Kylie completed undergraduate studies at Kalamazoo College, where she studied anthropology/sociology and French. Her interest in aging began during her sophomore year, when she became involved with a state branch of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. She also completed internships with the Area Agency on Aging IIIA in Kalamazoo and Elder Law of Michigan.
Catherine Pérez is a doctoral student in the Gerontology Program at the University of Southern California working under the direct mentorship of Jennifer Ailshire. Her research work focuses primarily on understanding the Latino elderly population using the Health and Retirement study to examine ethnic differentials in health outcomes by testing hypotheses of how socioeconomic status, health behaviors, social relationships/isolation, living conditions, stressors, etc. contribute to these ethnic differences. Recently, Pérez graduated with her Master of Science degree in Sociology at Florida State University where the majority of her coursework was in race, health, neighborhoods, and quantitative methods. Previously, Pérez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and minor in Human Complex Systems at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Laura Rath is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Gerontology, with minors in Biology and Bioethics from the University of Southern California in 2000; and a Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of Southern California in 2002. Her research interests include promoting a secure old age for all people, improving the overall health and quality of life for older adults, and family caregiving. She lives in Seal Beach, California with her husband and two practically perfect daughters.
Carly Roman is originally from Rockville Centre, NY and began her doctoral studies at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in 2016. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Carly’s research interests include creating and evaluating positive psychology interventions aimed to increase meaning and well-being in older adults. She became interested in positive psychology and aging through volunteering with GlamourGals, a national not-for-profit that brings high school and college students into senior homes to provide makeovers, manicures, and companionship to senior home residents. She is the current recipient of a University of Southern California Provost’s PhD Fellowship and is working under Dr. Cleopatra Abdou-Kamperveen.
Hyunju Shim is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology under the mentorship of Dr. Eileen Crimmins and Dr. Jennifer Ailshire. Her research interests are on health and technology use, both for older adults and their caregivers. She is also interested in aging in Asia, with a particular focus on Active Aging.
She has prior work experience at the North East Asia Subregional Office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and Pacific as well as the Secretariat Office of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
She received her BA in English from Busan University of Foreign Studies and MSW from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also was a recipient of Fulbright Scholarship.
Diana Wang is a fourth-year doctoral student, working with Dr. Tara Gruenewald and Dr. Mara Mather.
She is interested in the effects of giving social support on psychological well-being, stress reactivity, health habits, and cognition in older adults. She is investigating the potential stress-buffering effects of social support exchanges using psychophysiology measures such as blood pressure, skin conductance, and heart rate variability. She graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Neuroscience.
Kristi Wisniewski is a first year doctoral student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She graduated from The University of Alabama in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and minor in Biology. Before coming to USC, Kristi worked as a research analyst for the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Her primary interests are cognition, memory and aging. She is currently working under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski.
Yuan Zhang is a fourth-year doctoral student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She is working with Dr. Eileen Crimmins and Dr. Jennifer Ailshire at the USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health. She received her master degree (M.S) in Statistics from the Program in Survey Methodology, located within the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Before coming to U.S for graduate school, Yuan spent two years working on the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) at Peking University after she got a bachelor’s degree in Economics.
Yuan’s research focuses on health and aging in China and U.S, emphasizing on biological risks and physical assessments. Her current projects include 1) biological risks among the Chinese elderly, 2) time spent on health promoting activities for older Americans, and 3) missing data in HRS physical assessments. She uses the data from the Health and Retirement Study and the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study for most of her research.
Current Biology of Aging PhD Students
Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto is a fifth-year PhD student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in the laboratory of Dr. Kelvin Davies. Laura graduated from USC in 2012 with two bachelors’ degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Gerontology and subsequently completed a Progressive Degree for a Masters’ in Biomedical Engineering.
In her doctoral studies, Laura has been focused upon the role of the mitochondrial stress response protein, the Lon protease. Lon has been implicated as an important protease for mitochondrial protein turnover and mitochondrial DNA replication, with loss of Lon paralleling a decline of mitochondrial function. She is specifically interested in understanding the regulatory mechanisms of Lon expression and the conserved role of Lon in the model organism, Drosophila melanogaster. Laura is a current recipient of a University of Southern California Provost PhD Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
I enjoy hiking, biking, and exploring new and unusual places and experiences. I also am somewhat of a technophile. My research interests include stem cell maintenance and management of homeostasis during periods of persistent stress. I also want to examine the genetic pathways that are most perturbed during aging in such a system and how to remedy these effects.