Maymester and Summer Online Courses Provide International Experiences

While the pandemic may have curtailed summer travels, USC students still have the opportunity to immerse themselves in other cultures online via Maymester and Summer courses. 

This year, students can learn about Costa Rican recipes, modern European interpretations of the afterlife, the brain’s mechanisms for happiness and sadness, the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, and the Colombian aging experience, all from the comfort of home.

This year’s Maymester and summer courses are offered online via Zoom. These courses are currently listed on the Schedule of Classes, so students can register through web registration on MyUSC. If you are a gerontology graduate student, please email Jim deVera at edevera@usc.edu before registration. For prospective or undergraduate students, contact Sara Robinson at sararobi@usc.edu for more info!

GERO 489: Finding the Key to a Long, Happy Life in Nicoya, Costa Rica’s Blue Zone

Instructor: John Walsh

May 17 – June 4 

4 units

Our goal is to immerse students into lifestyles shown to improve the quality of life and extend the lifespan by studying populations that live in communities referred to as “Blue Zones” throughout the world. The list of Blue Zone Communities are the Italian island of Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, and the island of Ikaria in Greece. The largest per capita longevity is found in the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica. Experiential learning on lifestyle practices believed to underlie the high longevity seen in all of the Blue Zones across the world will complement traditional academic training. Class meetings will be broken-up between true curriculum, cooking and eating together, exercising together and talking together. 

GERO 493: Longevity and Death Among Ancient and Modern European Populations

Instructor: Susan Enguidanos

May 17 – June 7 

2 units

This course provides a multicultural perspective on end of life, death, and burial practices of ancient and modern cultures in Europe. We explore the role of religion and culture in determining and defining end of life care, death practices, ceremonies, and other customs. Class discussions and virtual field trips will demonstrate the strong connection between culture, religion, and afterlife beliefs and body disposal practices. We also explore practice and customs relating to grief and mourning among various cultures and across centuries. 

Finally, we will discuss how these ancient end of life, death, burial, and mourning customs influence modern day traditions and practices. How does this history impact our lifestyle and end of life choices today? Students will be challenged to identify how various cultures and religions across the centuries can inform modern day practices, attitudes, and beliefs toward life and death. 

GERO 494: Emotion-Cognition Interactions (How do our brains make us happy or miserable throughout our lives?)

Instructor: Mara Mather

May 17 – June 4

4 units

Somehow our brains construct our emotions. Two people experiencing the same event can have quite different emotional experiences. What are the brain mechanisms that make us happy or sad? How is that some people suffer emotionally the rest of their lives after experiencing a traumatic event whereas others are resilient? How do these processes change as we get older? 

Understanding paths to emotional resilience versus vulnerability is critical for our society, as well as for us as individuals seeking long and fulfilling lives. Depressive disorders contribute more to disability rates worldwide than any other illness or disorder. Are there ways that we can train the brain to improve our emotional well-being? What is the purpose of emotions in the brain? How does aging affect the brain mechanisms involved in emotion? This course tackles these questions.

Instead of having exams, the class will involve a major project of designing and writing up a proposal for a behavioral intervention with older adults that examines the effects of the intervention on well-being and the brain. The course will cover the basics of designing clinical trials and students will engage in a journal club ‘smackdown’ to learn to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of clinical trials with behavioral interventions and brain outcomes. Another project will be to implement a happiness intervention for oneself for a few days and document the experience. 

GERO 498: Nutrition, Genes, Longevity and Diseases

Instructor: Valter Longo

May 18 – June 11 

4 units

This course is intended to teach students about the important role of nutrition and genes and the impact each has on longevity and diseases, particularly diseases related to aging. Students will be encouraged to observe and compare the lifestyle choices people make through their activities of daily living and dietary choices. Students will also be strongly encouraged to live as much as possible the Mediterranean lifestyle with emphasis on the Mediterranean diet and an active lifestyle. In particular the class will try to emphasize the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle of 50-100 years ago, which is still adopted by the older population but often not by younger individuals. 

Students will examine the effect of nutrition and genes modulated by nutrients on aging and life span in simple organisms and humans. The course will provide an introduction to the biology of aging and to the mechanisms for the extension of the healthy life span and the prevention of age-related diseases. The course will also describe the effect of common but also extreme diets and of diets adopted by very long-lived populations from around the world on aging and diseases. Specific populations with unusually long life spans will be examined as part of the course. Finally the course will discuss the role of diets, dietary restriction and fasting in the treatment of diseases with emphasis on cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Students will be given actual case reports from doctors and/or clinical trials describing the translation of these approaches to disease prevention and treatment. For example, they will learn about the effects of fasting on the side effects caused by chemotherapy and they will see the effects of dietary restriction on hypertension and diabetes. Students will be responsible for more in-depth study of selected topics through assigned readings.

GERO 499: Aging and Older Adults in Latin America

Instructor: Jennifer Ailshire

May 17 – 28

2 units

This course provides students with a multifaceted perspective on the social, economic, health care, and environmental contexts experienced by older adults in Colombia, a Latin American country with a rapidly aging population. 

With respect to Colombian culture and demography, this course will focus causes and consequences of the rapidly aging population, the impact of social stratification on health and mortality, environmental determinants of health and well-being among older adults, and social and economic aspects of the healthcare system.

The course will include opportunities for Spanish lessons, conversation classes, dance lessons, and cooking classes.

Student Feedback for 2020 Online Summer Courses

“The class really changed the way that I’m thinking about healthcare and my future. It actually made me want to switch my track in the Health and Human Sciences major from International Health to Health and Aging… I really feel like I learned a lot and this class revitalized my passion for learning.”
– Natalia Jun

“This class has solidified my passion to go into public health and work in underserved communities. Thank you for emphasizing the importance of social justice and equality.”
– Ben Vogel

“It ended up being a really engaging experience, even though we were totally online… And I think that made it a lot of fun for all of us.”
– Margarita Osuna