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USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology doctoral students Patrick Beck and Morgan Levine made a strong showing at USC’s Fifth Annual Graduate Research Symposium. Beck won first place in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities category while Levine took third in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) category.

Beck presented research aimed at helping older or physically challenged adults remain in their homes longer by providing a universal design educational intervention following a major insurance claim.

“With six percent of the 130,000,000 homes in the United States filing an insurance claim every year, this is an opportunity to make home modifications following a major insurance claim. Because the home is already damaged, it might be easier to modify the existing environment,” Beck said. “This is important, because 96% of older adults want to remain in their homes and communities, and this is a great way to help them do it.”

Levine presented research studying whether long-lived smokers represented a biologically resilient phenotype.

“Using two nationally representative populations I showed that long-lived smokers did not have an increased mortality risk from smoking but instead had similar lung function, inflammatory, and immune activation levels to individuals who had never smoked,” Levine said. “I could use lung function and inflammation to quantify ‘resiliency’ and predict who might become a long-lived smoker when looking at a younger population.”

Beck will receive a $1,500 fellowship. He hopes to extrapolate this research into a larger population while also continuing his study of fall prevention. Levine will receive a $500 fellowship and plans to further explore genetic factors among long-lived smokers in the hope that her work will benefit all populations by translating to additional environmental hazards such as pollution.

Both students gave credit to faculty advisors and colleagues, with Beck thanking Jon Pynoos, Susan Enguídanos, Greg Misiaszek, Emily Nabors, Anna Nguyen and Dana Kumabe while Levine thanked Eileen Crimmins, Caleb Finch, Jennifer Ailshire, Tara Gruenewald and Edward Schneider.

“The research presented during the STEM session was tremendously impressive, so I am thrilled to have done so well and to know that scientists outside of my field found my research important and exciting,” Levine said. “Furthermore, as a woman, I am extremely proud given that, unfortunately, women are underrepresented in STEM fields.”

“This was an amazing opportunity to present our findings and to increase the knowledge and visibility of our field,” Beck said. “Even though Gerontology may be a small School at USC, we are making a huge impact that is changing the world.”

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