Kathleen Wilber, PhD, LCSW

Kate Wilber is the director of the Secure Old Age lab and co-directs both the USC Family Caregiver Support Center and the National Center on Elder Abuse. Dr. Wilber’s research has focused on improving the quality of life of people with chronic physical and mental health conditions, by improving the formal health and long term care delivery system. Her work on collaborative relationships among providers has examined cost effectiveness and health outcomes of different service delivery structures. This research includes outcomes research for older adults in managed care, the development and evaluation of chronic care models that link acute and long-term care, and the testing and translation of evidence-based long-term care interventions into practice settings.

In addition to health care, Dr. Wilber’s research has focused on protective services including the identification and treatment of elder abuse, adult protective services, guardianship and conservatorship, and alternative supportive and surrogate decision-making approaches. She has authored over 100 articles, books, and book chapters. Dr. Wilber regularly teaches courses in public policy, administration, systems management, and long-term care.

Donna Benton, PhD

Donna Benton, PhD, is a Research Associate Professor of Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She received her graduate training in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and was a Gero-psychological postdoctoral fellow at USC/Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. Dr. Benton is the Director of the USC Family Caregiver Support Center/ Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center. She has over 30 years of experience in working with families and the community, to help improve services and support to persons with dementia. She has served as a commissioner on the California Commission on Aging (CCOA) and served as chair of the legislative sub-committee for many years.

Predoctoral Students

Elizabeth Avent, MSG

Liz is a PhD candidate 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 policy, prevention and intervention, the impact of adverse childhood experiences into later life, late-life intimate partner violence, and improving and developing appropriate services for older victims of abuse through community and policy interventions.

Liz has worked as a research assistant with the Convoys of Care Research Team at Georgia State University on a NIH-funded study exploring the care networks of residents in assisted living facilities. She has worked as a research assistant at Grady Memorial Hospital on a care transitions research study and for the Georgia Council on Aging, where aging issues are selected by a coalition of older adults to advocate to policymakers.


Lilly Estenson, MSW

Lilly Estenson, MSW, is a doctoral student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She completed her Bachelor of Arts at Scripps College and her Master of Social Work at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term services and supports (LTSS) policy. She is interested in health insurance and LTSS models that address social determinants of health.

Susanna Mage, MA

Susanna Mage (Suzy) is a second-year PhD candidate at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Suzy came to USC after working in New York City for the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry for several years. Her previous educational background was in Environmental Science (receiving a Masters from Brown University ‘2012 & BS from University of Delaware ‘2010). Suzy’s current research interests stem from her more experience in being her father’s caregiver, which has led her to interest to pursue a career focusing on how to best provide caregiver support and in influencing social policy for the elderly. Suzy’s mission in research is in focusing on family caregiving to advance policies supporting caregivers and their families. She is also interested in long term services and supports, both in management and policy of, and how it relates to the future of healthcare in the United States. Suzy works under the direction of Dr. Kate Wilber in the Secure Old Age Lab at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Kelly Ann Marnfeldt, MSG

Kelly Ann Marnfeldt (née Ford) is an incoming doctoral student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, where she also received her Master of Science in Gerontology in 2019. During her master’s program, her research focused on the importance of social connection and maintaining a sense of purpose across the life course.

She will continue her research at the Secure Old Age lab at USC in the areas of justice in late life, the prevention of mistreatment and neglect of older adults, and interventions to alleviate caregiver burden, employing community-based participatory research where older adults play a central role in shaping policies and interventions that affect them

Prior to attending USC, Kelly founded a creative writing and performance workshop that provided a space for older adults to create and perform original works that dismantle age bias and demonstrate the value of generativity for people of all ages.

Julia Rowan, PhD

Julia Margaret Rowan (née Wysong) is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Her research focus is evaluation of elder abuse interventions, particularly multidisciplinary teams and person-centered approaches. Using mixed methods research, she has examined complexity of assisting older adults whose priorities are misaligned with service provider goals for safety, and the elements that contribute to difficulty alleviating abuse risk. Julia is interested in the application of complexity theory to inform evaluation of dynamic elder abuse interventions, and the study of organization change. Julia received a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2010, and a Master of Science in Gerontology in 2013. From 2013 to 2016, she worked as a research analyst for Ventura County Behavioral Health Quality Improvement. In 2016, she concluded an evaluation of Ventura County’s implementation of California’s mandated initiative to improve delivery of trauma-informed therapeutic services to children and families within Child Protective Services. Julia had the honor of facilitating the Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST) in Ventura County for eight years. The FAST is a multidisciplinary team that provides guidance and support on difficult cases of elder and dependent adult financial exploitation and fraud. Julia’s goal is to contribute to innovative strategies for mitigating abuse and neglect through applied evaluation, with emphasis on partnership with service providers, advocates, and policy makers.

Sheila Salinas Navarro

Sheila Salinas Navarro is a first-year Ph.D. student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at California State University, Long Beach in 2016, and her Master of Public Administration at California State University, Long Beach, in 2018. Her research interest is on economic security for the Latino/Hispanic immigrant communities living in the United States.

Graduate Students

Emily Muñoz-Snyder, MS

Emily Muñoz-Snyder is an MS Gerontology student at USC. She completed her undergraduate studies in English and Philosophy at CSULB in 2012, and then spent seven years living in Chile working as a freelance writer and in human resource management. She also organized bilingual community events surrounding creative writing and communication, including comedy and writing workshops.

Her interests in gerontology include relationships and communication, particularly between individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. She is also interested in holistic approaches to long-term care, end-of-life care, and bereavement. She would like to dedicate her career to supporting systems aimed at ensuring older adulthood is a safe and fulfilling time in life for all.

Mengzhao Yan

Mengzhao Yan (闫孟昭) is a Graduate Student Researcher at the USC Secure Old Age Lab. He received his master’s degree in aging services management from USC. Before coming to the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in 2018, Mengzhao worked as a researcher and an administrator at Beijing Foreign Studies University in China. He has published some scholarly papers and media articles and presented at many international or national conferences. At the 2020 Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Annual Conference, his presentation was nominated as one of the 12 Finalists for the SRPP Outstanding Student Poster Award from more than 140 presentations.

Former Lab Members

Other Collaborators

Zachary Gassoumis, PhD

Zach Gassoumis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. His research in the Secure Old Age lab has focused on various aspects of quality of life for older adults, with specific concentration on the application of quantitative methodologies to large, population-based datasets.

Zach engages in two primary substantive areas of population-based research. The first involves the financial security of racial/ethnic minority and immigrant populations, with an emphasis on naturalization and the Latino baby boomer generational cohort. The second substantive area is elder abuse, with emphases including etiology, life-course patterns, and outcomes. Zach also participates in and advises on many other projects within and beyond the Secure Old Age lab, including: predicting transitions from nursing facilities to the community; developing an HCBS assessment tool for use within the Medi-Cal program; assessing the impact of end-of-life care across healthcare settings; characterizing injuries among older adults and reported victims of elder abuse; and evaluating an elder abuse intervention, the elder abuse forensic center model.

He received his PhD from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and was a recipient of a doctoral dissertation fellowship from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and a one-year pre-doctoral fellowship at the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging. He earned his BSc in Natural Sciences (Psychology & Anthropology) from the University of Durham (England).


Diana C. Homeier, MD

Diana Homeier is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and has a joint appointment as Clinical Associate Professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. Dr. Homeier is the director of both the LAC+USC Adult Protection Team and the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center and is Principal Investigator of a National Institute of Justice-funded study to explore forensic markers of physical elder abuse. She is also a practicing geriatric physician.


Laura Mosqueda, MD

Laura Mosqueda, MD, is a professor of Family Medicine and Geriatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. She also serves as Associate Dean of Primary Care and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine. She directs the National Center on Elder Abuse which provides information regarding policy, research, training and resources related to neglect and exploitation for policy makers, professional and the public. In 2003, Dr. Mosqueda founded the first Elder Abuse Forensic Center in the United States in an effort to build teams that collaborate across expertise to assist with the evaluation and interventions for complicated cases of suspected elder abuse. Throughout her professional career, she has been involved in extensive research in the field. She is also devoted to the care of older adults by bolstering interprofessional teamwork and enhancing the education of healthcare professional students. While teaching professionals in medicine, criminal justice and social services, she continues to see victims of abuse and neglect in her role as a physician. Dr. Mosqueda has written and lectured extensively on topics in the area of elder care and has been published in top scientific journals and textbooks. She likes cats.


Michael B. Nichol, PhD

Michael B. Nichol, PhD, holds an appointment as Professor of Health Policy at the USC Price School of Public Policy and joint appointments as Professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and Professor of Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy in the School of Pharmacy.  In addition, he directs the Graduate Health Programs at the USC Price School. Dr. Nichol maintains an active research program enabled by federal and corporate grants. This includes his role as Principal Investigator of a National Institute of Justice-funded project to assess the cost effectiveness of the Elder Abuse Forensic Center model. He has published more than 250 peer-reviewed articles and abstracts on a variety of health topics. He regularly consults for pharmaceutical and health insurance companies, as well as large physician groups within California.


Debra Saliba, MD, MPH, AGSF

Debra Saliba, MD, MPH, AGSF, is a physician with the VA GRECC and serves as the Associate Director for Education for the VA HSR&D Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation and Policy. Dr. Saliba also holds the Anna & Harry Borun Endowed Chair in Geriatrics at UCLA and directs the UCLA/Jewish Home Borun Center for Gerontological Research. She is also a senior natural scientist at RAND and a member of the American Geriatrics Society Board of Directors. A recognized leader in geriatrics research and quality, Dr. Saliba has served as an expert on multiple national advisory panels addressing quality of care for older adults across care settings. Her research has created tools and knowledge that can be applied to improving quality of care and quality of life for vulnerable elders across the care continuum. A major theme of this work has been giving voice to elders in assessments of their health and healthcare, as demonstrated in her development of the VES-13 survey and revision of the Minimum Data Set (MDS 3.0) for nursing homes.


Fernando M. Torres-Gil, PhD, MSW

Fernando Torres-Gil, PhD, MSW, is a Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA, Director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging, and an Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at USC. His research spans the important topics of health and long-term care, disability, entitlement reform, and the politics of aging. Since its inception in 2005, he has served as the Principal Investigator of the Ford Foundation-funded Latinos & Economic Security project. In addition to his academic pursuits, Professor Torres-Gil has an extensive portfolio of public service. He earned his first presidential appointment in 1978 when President Carter appointed him to the Federal Council on Aging, shortly after which he was selected as a White House Fellow and served as a Special Assistant to the then-Secretary of HEW, Patricia Harris. He was appointed (with Senate Confirmation) by President Clinton as the first-ever U.S. Assistant Secretary on Aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, Professor Torres-Gil received his third presidential appointment (with Senate Confirmation) by President Obama as Vice Chair of the National Council on Disability. He has served in various leadership roles in state and local-level government and continues to provide important leadership in philanthropy and non-profit organizations, including as a board member for AARP.