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Alumni Stories

Recovery for Liza

By Alumni, Featured
Dual degree USC Davis School of Gerontology alum Liza Cherney (’06, BSG; ’07 MSG) sustained major injuries at the 2013 Boston Marathon. After undergoing a number of surgeries, Liza is now recovering at home but needs our help and support. Liza has always proven herself a devoted, philanthropic Trojan—please join…
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Dr. Phil Interviews USC Davis Alum

By Alumni, Featured

With some studies showing that as many as 1 in 10 older adults—with 1 in 2 with dementia—becoming victims of elder abuse, the issue has never been more important to tackle.

Identifying and combating elder abuse was the topic of the Jan. 8, 2012 episode of Dr. Phil, and featured a very special guest expert: USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology PhD grad Kerry Parker Burnight.

Burnight, who is a faculty member at the University of California at Irvine is a high-profile elder justice advocate who is a member of the Ageless Alliance, a collective of experts dedicated to fighting elder abuse by building awareness, providing support and increasing community involvement.

“We are so proud of Kerry’s amazing career and that she continues to bring attention to such an important and necessary subject that affects us all,” said Pinchas Cohen, dean of the USC Leonard Davis School. “She represents the very best ideals of gerontology and I hope viewers will take her excellent advice to heart.”

Alumni Update: Maribeth Bersani

By Alumni, Featured

Maribeth Bersani earned her master of science in gerontology in 1978 from the USC Leonard Davis School. Today, she’s the Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) in Alexandria, Virginia.

USC Leonard Davis: Hi Maribeth. Could you describe the work of ALFA?

MARIBETH BERSANI: The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) was founded in 1990 to serve as the voice for providers of senior living communities and the seniors and families those communities serve. Advocacy is an essential component of ALFA’s public policy program.

How would you describe your work?

As the Senior Vice President for Public Policy, I help ALFA and our members champion consumer-driven public policy to promote choice, independence, dignity and quality of life for America’s seniors. We serve as a resource to elected officials and policy makers at the federal and state level, and help educate and inform them about senior living.

What made you choose the USC Leonard Davis School?

When I was a senior in high school my grandmother with diabetes had to have her leg amputated. She went to a nursing home for rehabilitation services. I had never been in a nursing home before but after that first exposure I decided I wanted to help the seniors living in nursing homes. I volunteered my senior year and then worked at the nursing home in the activities department during my summer vacations. My undergraduate degree was in psychology but my college had recently started offering courses on aging. Paul Kershner from USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology came to speak to our class. I knew I wanted to study gerontology and quite frankly at the time (1976) there were only a few schools that offered the degree. USC had the master-level degree and that is what I wanted.

How did you learn about your current position?

I have been working in the field of aging for over 30 years. About 17 years ago I switched from being a public sector employee working for the New York State Office for the Aging to the private sector working for Sunrise Senior Living. That opportunity helped me learn the business of senior living. Sunrise Senior Living was the founder of ALFA and I had always worked closely with the organization. When I had to opportunity to join ALFA six years ago, it was an opportunity to broaden my scope and work on behalf of all providers, not just one company.

How did your USC Leonard Davis School experience help prepare you for your career?

The USC Leonard Davis curriculum was multi-disciplinary. It provided a well-rounded education on all issues related to aging. At the time we did an internship that enabled students to pursue particular interests in direct service, public policy or other areas related to aging and long-term care. I can still remember sitting in class seeing the demographic charts showing the growth of the elderly population that was expected in 2010 and thinking that was a lifetime away.

What advice would you offer current or prospective USC Leonard Davis students?

My advice to anyone thinking about studying at the USC Leonard Davis School is to do it! There are so many career opportunities in the field of aging. There are today and will continue to be many doors open for people with a degree in gerontology. Opportunities exist in public policy, direct care, legislative, regulatory and legal fields to name a few. In 2031, the first of the baby boomers will be 85 years old. Take it from someone who thought 2010 was a lifetime away: it will be here before you know it.

Success Story

By Alumni, Featured

Finding a job, especially in this economy, can be daunting for many new grads, but thanks to his creativity, training and support from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, recent alum Peter Lancellotti is living his dream.

After graduating with his graduate certificate this past summer, Lancellotti started a new career in business development with Blue Marble Game Company, becoming the company’s resident gerontologist.

“We are creating an innovative, comprehensive and cost-savings digital health game ecosystem,” he said. “Our strategy is to combine the strengths of empirical evidence with entertainment to provide a low cost method of therapy for health and wellness.”

Part of what attracted Lancellotti to Blue Marble was their focus on creating fun video games that could serve as valuable cognitive and physical therapy tools, especially the development of a suite of games aimed directly at helping with fall prevention.

“Helping older adults age in place is paramount in my personal and career goals. Another aspect of my gerontological goal is a strong desire to help older adults obtain and maintain health/wellness, while improving their quality of life,” he said. “My education at the USC Leonard Davis School has also afforded me the opportunity to educate a software development company to ensure that the design matches the needs of older adults.”

Crediting his mentors at the USC Leonard Davis School for their assistance, particularly Elizabeth Zelinski, PhD, Lancellotti advised students and job-seekers to focus on networking proactively and creatively as a key element to making the sometimes-rocky post-academic transition.

“Talk to everybody about what you want and what you do,” he said. “For example, if it weren’t for Dr. Zelinski, I would have never met the CEO of Blue Marble Game Company.”

With more than 20 years of experience in sales and marketing for the telecom and technology industries before he decided to return to school, Lancellotti was initially drawn to gerontology so that he could better understand the needs of his older partner as well as his mother. Born out of this interest came his increasing desire to help improve the health and wellbeing of all older adults despite the numerous limitations, obstacles and difficulties they may face.

“Blue Marble is working to provide solutions to all of these concerns by offering a method to provide low-cost healthcare through the use of video games that are highly motivating and thereby improving adherence, allowing remote access and easy communication with therapists after discharge,” he said. “Not to mention, the games are motivating and fun!”

With the opening of this new chapter, Lancellotti is proud to get one step closer to fulfilling his personal dream of reaching his full professional potential, and points to his alma mater as a crucial step in helping him achieve it.

“The USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology has the best program in the U.S. and quite probably the world,” he said. “Having internationally renowned professors at the top of their field, I received the highest level of expertise and an educational experience unmatched by any university in an environment that fosters and cultivates creativity.”

Peter Lancellotti

Congratulations, Class of 2012!

By Alumni, Featured, Students

Ending the year on a bittersweet note, the USC Leonard Davis School graduated its largest class thus far while bidding longtime dean Gerald C. Davison goodbye.

“After a wonderful five and a half years, this will be my final commencement as your dean. On July 1, I will return to teaching and research in the department of psychology,” Davison said in his address. “I can’t think of a better or more meaningful way to cap off my tenure as dean than to celebrate the achievements of our graduates.”

He introduced incoming dean, Pinchas “Hassy” Cohen, MD, who drew a connection between himself and the recent grads.

“We are both entering a new phase in our lives. Me as the leader of this unique, world-leading School that is constantly breaking new ground, and you, as recent graduates, embarking on new careers where you will make a difference in the lives of aging adults worldwide,” Cohen said. “Becoming part of the Trojan family is an important and exciting new aspect of my life, and I know everyone in this room takes this honor as seriously as I do.”

The ceremony featured faculty, staff and students uniting, with Tara Gruenewald, PhD and Aaron Hagedorn, PhD serving as faculty marshals while Lu Zhang and Elaine Martini served as student flag and banner bearers.

For their PhDs in Gerontology, Kathleen Wilber, PhD, hooded Zachary Gassoumis, Merril Silverstein, PhD, hooded Jessica Penn Lendon and Mara Mather, PhD, hooded Nichole Lighthall and Kaoru Nashiro. Kelvin J.A. Davies, PhD, D.Sc., presented a recognition of the affiliated doctorate to Andrew Michael Pickering.

Caleb Finch, PhD presented Lighthall and Nashiro with the prestigious Heinz Osterburg Prize, while Dean Davison presented Sean Curran, PhD, with the Dean’s Outstanding Faculty Award for his banner year mentoring students.

“As his students and colleagues will attest, Dr. Curran is a world-class researcher, professor and mentor,” Dean Davison said. “We are immensely proud of him.”

Davison went on to recognize many of the faculty’s recent awards, including Finch winning USC’s Presidential Medallion; Davies winning the Sigma Phi Omega Award as well as being knighted by the country of France; Valter Longo, PhD, winning the Vincent Cristofalo “Rising Star” Award in Aging Research from the American Federation for Aging Research; and Susan Enguídanos winning a USC Mellon Mentoring Award, the Betty and James E. Birren Emerging Leadership Award from the California Council on Gerontology & Geriatrics as well as Faculty Member of the Year from the Student Gerontology Association.

Inspiring both tears and jubilation, the ceremony capped off a long journey for many of the students and inspired all present.

“Your degree from USC is something you have earned by dint of your intelligence, industriousness and commitment,” Davison said. “It is yours forever and it will only grow in value as the key to your future. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, I congratulate each and every one of you, and wish you all the best.”

Congratulations to all our graduates and award winners! Fight On, Gero!


engAGING Awards: Tameka Brown, Susan Hurt, Alice Kim, Emily Loynachan, Elaine Martini, Anna Nguyen, Tammy Nguyen, Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto, Lu Zhang

Heinz Osterburg Prize: Nichole Lighthall, PhD and Kaoru Nashiro, PhD

Order of Troy: Alyssa Bobman, Michelle Huynh, Gina Jaqua, Lu Zhang

Order of Arete: Matthew Bressette, Sonia Nguyen, Karen Marcy Pham, Stephanie Polson

Order of Laurel and Palm: Alice Kim, Emily Loynachan

Renaissance Scholar: Michelle Huynh, Alice Kim, Emily Loynachan, Lu Zhang

Discovery Scholar: Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto (Prize Finalist), Alice Kim (Prize Finalist)

Gerontology Minors: Christopher Frace, Gina Jaqua

Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Aging: Alyssa Bobman, Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto, Valerie Cromwell, Nathan Cutietta, Michelle Huynh, Alice Kim, Jonathan Li, Emily Loynachan, Caite O’Brien, Shannon Sullivan, Kim Vu, Lu Zhang

Graduate Certificate in Gerontology: Athan Bezaitis, Peter Lancellotti, Marcie Terasawa-Lew

Master of Long Term Care Administration: Christopher Jackson

Master of Arts in Gerontology: Valerie Applewhite, Tameka Brown, Christine Cavanaugh, Susan Cherco, Wan Ping Chin, Ashley Chun, Shawna Conlan, Kevin Crowell, Alexis Denton, Hema Doshi, Jennifer Fry, Yadira Garcia, Molly Gleason-Kodama, Carrie Greer, Susan Hurt, Kathleen Taylor

Master of Aging Services Management: Cynthia Bradshaw, Renee Cunningham, Liang Dong, Alicia Figueroa-Tiler, Jacqueline Gemelos, Madeline Heller, Teresa Hill, Karen Marcy Pham

Master of Science in Gerontology: Amy Bassoff, Sara Bonnell, Matthew Bressette, Lisa Brinkmann, Megan Calhoun, Poyin Chen, Jung Hoon Choi, Jenny Chou, Nora Dabuni, Raquel Delorio, Ayesha Dixon, Kyla Forbes, Maddison Gan, Janice Gastelum, Heather Harada, Elaine Martini, Lauren McNamara, Anna Nguyen, Sonia Nguyen, Tammy-Tam Nguyen, Yusuke Ninomiya, David Orenstein, Stephanie Polson, Maria Siciliano, Natalie Warrick

Doctor of Philosophy in Gerontology: Zachary Gassoumis, Jessica Penn Lendon, Nichole Lighthall, Kaoru Nashiro

Recognition of Affiliated Doctorate: Andrew Michael Pickering


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