USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Awarded $2M for Undergrad Research

NIA grant promotes diversity and participation in the aging research workforce of the future.

The USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology is diversifying participation in aging and health disparities research with a first-of-its-kind undergraduate training, education, and mentoring program.

The Gerontology Enriching MSTEM (GEMSTEM) to Enhance Diversity in Aging program is funded by a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Aging and is designed specifically to overcome longstanding financial, social support and professional barriers that have limited aging research opportunities for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds.

The multi-faceted proposal includes a training program with seminars and workshops to help faculty successfully mentor undergraduate researchers that will be supported by both the USC Leonard Davis School and the USC Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and a plan to partner with the Los Angeles Unified School District to establish a direct pipeline into the USC Leonard Davis School.

“The USC Leonard Davis School is committed to improving representation in research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dean Pinchas Cohen. “This grant recognizes our innovation in these areas and helps to ensure that aging research will be accessible to students of all backgrounds and that it will address the needs of diverse populations today and into the future.”

The program will recruit undergraduates from diverse backgrounds from within the USC Leonard Davis School and across USC, including transfer students from two- and four-year colleges that serve underrepresented minority students. In addition to paid research opportunities, it will provide gerontology education, professional development, and a peer and community network.

“Meeting the needs of our increasingly older and diverse population will require greater efforts to attract talented students to aging research training and careers,” said principal investigator Sean Curran, vice dean and the James E. Birren Chair in Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School. “The GEMSTEM program will increase representation and diversity in the biomedical aging workforce and our capacity for addressing persistent, and seemingly intractable, health disparities in aging.”

Specific initiatives to help ensure long-term success in careers in aging research include a newly developed minor in geroscience, regularly scheduled opportunities for socialization with peers and faculty, and a formalized and professionally run mentor match program.

GEMSTEM programs are designed to progressively meet student needs throughout their undergraduate education. Year one opportunities will focus on community building and identifying research opportunities. Year two will include research training and skill-building activities. For upper-division students, the program will provide support for research communication, mentor training, graduate school applications, writing fellowships, and preparing for graduate school success. In addition, a subset of students in the program will also be provided funded research opportunities to work closely with USC Leonard Davis School faculty on research projects during the academic year or over the summer.

“It can be challenging to foster an interest in aging research at the undergraduate level,” said co-principal investigator Jennifer Ailshire, associate professor, associate dean of international programs and global initiatives and assistant dean of research at the USC Leonard Davis School. “Our goal is to identify ‘aging curious’ students and provide them with the full spectrum of service and support they need to be successful geroscience and health disparities researchers.”

The USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology is home to the largest and oldest program focused on aging. The GEMSTEM program leverages the school’s robust academic support services and strengths in research, training and education in the biology, sociology, policy, and cognitive neuroscience of aging.

“Participating in aging research immerses students in hands-on learning that expands their academic training beyond just memorizing facts in the classroom,” said co-principal investigator John Walsh, an associate professor and the assistant dean of education at the USC Leonard Davis School. “Students from this program will hit the ground running by becoming skilled in  exciting, cutting-edge approaches for using the lens of aging in their clinical and applied science careers.”

Applications to participate are currently being accepted. For more information contact Bradford Barnes, GEMSTEM Program Coordinator at blbarnes@usc.edu.