Current PhD Students
Balancing rigorous, high-level research training with leadership skills and the acquisition and application of cutting-edge scientific knowledge, a USC Leonard Davis School PhD prepares graduates to take the lead in the research of their chosen aspect of gerontology.
Current Gerontology PhD Students
Elizabeth Avent began the doctoral program at the Davis School of Gerontology in Fall 2017. 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 experiences of victims of late-life intimate partner violence, how adverse childhood experiences can contribute to lifespan victimization, and improving and developing appropriate services for older IPV victims through community and policy interventions.
During her time at Georgia State University, Liz was a part of the Gerontology Institute’s Convoys of Care Research Team working on a NIH-funded study that focuses on the care networks of residents in assisted living facilities. She has worked at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, assisting with research on improving care transitions of patients being discharged from the hospital. She has also worked at the Georgia Council on Aging, assisting with planning and executing the quarterly meetings of the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, in which aging issues are selected to advocate to policymakers.
Liz works in Dr. Wilber’s Secure Old Age Lab.
Shelby Bachman is a doctoral student in the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology working under the direction of Dr. Mara Mather. Shelby’s research is focused on how emotional arousal affects the brain and cognition across the lifespan. In particular, she is interested in how the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system changes across the lifespan and the consequences of those changes for memory performance, attention, brain structure, and brain function. She uses behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuroimaging methods to investigate these questions. Prior to her doctoral studies, Shelby completed a Master of Science at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain and a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at USC.
Valeria Cardenas is a doctoral student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare and Justice, and Public Relations from Marquette University; and a Master’s in Aging Services Management from the University of Southern California. Valeria’s research interests are in palliative care and hospice care for the Latino community. She is currently working with Dr. Susan Enguidanos.
A graduate of USC in Biological Sciences and Gerontology, Jeanine Yonashiro-Cho returned to USC to begin her doctoral studies in Fall 2013. Her research interests focus on improving and preserving the health and well-being of older adults with a particular focus on reducing health disparities and protecting vulnerable elders.
Before returning to California, Jeanine served as the State of Hawaii’s Planner for Aging Services where she worked to strengthen Hawaii’s aging services infrastructure and development of evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention programs for older adults.
Working under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Wilber, Jeanine is currently studying forensic markers of elder abuse and promising elder abuse interventions, such as the Elder Abuse Forensic Center model.
Eunyoung Choi is a Ph.D. student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Yonsei University in 2015 and her Master of Arts in Gerontology at Kyung Hee University in 2018. Her research interests primarily lie on psychosocial factors such as subjective perception of aging and its influence on older adults’ overall well-being and general health. She is also interested in older adults’ technology use to better manage their health and lifestyle. During her master, Eunyoung worked as a research assistant on the nationally funded project “The Development of Dementia Literacy Intervention Program”, aimed at developing a mobile-based intervention program to increase the dementia literacy levels of older Korean adults. She also has prior work experience at the Samsung-ro Nursing Care in South Korea, assisting with implementing intervention programs for cognitively declined older adults to maintain their functions and delay further progression.
Stephen Frochen is a doctoral candidate and Ruth L. Kirschstein fellow at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Frochen’s research interests include housing for the elderly, particularly senior housing. He has conducted extensive research on residential care in the City and County of Los Angeles as well as all of California. His most recent research focuses on a new eldercare land use ordinance in Los Angeles, which streamlines the permitting process of eldercare facility developments and allows them to be sited in any area of the jurisdiction. He is currently working on understanding and demonstrating how land use and planning tools such as this new eldercare ordinance may help to close the gap between an already burgeoning demand for residential and institutional care among older adults and a languishing supply of such services and facilities.
Gerson Galdamez is a first year doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. He completed his undergraduate degree in Human Aging and Development at USC in 2016, during which his research focused on economic security in late life among Latino immigrant groups. This research primarily involved detecting income dynamics across the lifecourse, and how these dynamics vary by citizenship and ethnicity.
Gerson’s work in the Secure Old Age lab focuses on Latino economic security and elder abuse. He engages in projects focused on the effectiveness of elder abuse interventions, and hopes to develop further research on legal and criminological aspects of elder abuse.
Haley Gallo is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology, with a minor in Gerontology, from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017. Her research interests include long-term services and supports and developing policies that enable older adults to maintain independence and stay engaged with society. She is currently working on the Purposeful Aging Los Angeles Initiative, a project that seeks to create livable communities for all ages.
Haley’s previous experiences include working in the Drug Discovery Lab and the Memory and Lifespan Cognition Lab at UCLA. She also served as the Executive Secretary for the Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults (Tech4Aging) in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Deborah Hoe began her doctoral studies in the fall of 2015 and works under the direction of Dr. Susan Enguídanos. Her primary research area is in health literacy and palliative care while her secondary research interests include health care stereotype threat and ageism in media. Deborah is currently working on theory-driven role model video stories as a mechanism of promoting health literacy. More specifically, she is co-developing and studying the impact of theoretically-driven role model stories on palliative care knowledge and intentions.
Prior to attending the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Deborah received a B.S. in Mathematics (U.S.), M.A. in Digital Storytelling (U.S.), and M.Soc.Sc. in Gerontology (Hong Kong). She is also a certified pet loss and bereavement counselor. Deborah loves all things storytelling. She has produced digital stories for older adults, performed at Hong Kong’s Top Notch Storytelling Festival, and was nominated for an Emmy.
Yujin Jeong is a doctoral student at the USC Davis Leonard School of Gerontology. Her research interests include dementia, determinants of health disparities, and minority populations. Prior to beginning at USC, she graduated summa cum laude from Korea National Sport University with a Bachelor of Art in Sport & Healthy Aging. She then completed a Master of Arts in Gerontology at San Francisco State University as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient. During her master’s degree, she was a Community Outreach Intern at the Alzheimer’s Association in San Francisco.
Hyewon Kang is a doctoral student in the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California working under mentorship of Eileen Crimmins and Jennifer Ailshire. Her research is broadly focused health among older adults, with particular interests of individual and contextual risk factors for diseases and health care use. She holds Master of Public Administration from Cornell University and Master in Area Studies from Kyunghee University. Past work experience includes working as a consultant with the World Bank, an intern with International Food Policy Research Institute.
Kylie Meyer is a graduate student in Gerontology, who started at USC in fall of 2015 on a USC Provost Doctoral Fellowship. Her work focuses on elder abuse and family caregiving, with a particular focus on caregiver burden as well as caregivers’ access to information and advice. Recently she is working working with California’s Task Force on Family Caregiving to identify priority policy areas and best practices in caregiving, as well as Care Compass, a pilot for caregivers to access personalized information and resources online.
Prior to beginning at USC, she completed an MSc at the University of Southampton on a U.S. Fulbright. Kylie completed undergraduate studies at Kalamazoo College, where she studied anthropology/sociology and French. Her interest in aging began during her sophomore year, when she became involved with a state branch of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. She also completed internships with the Area Agency on Aging IIIA in Kalamazoo and Elder Law of Michigan.
Catherine Pérez is a doctoral student in the Gerontology Program at the University of Southern California working under the direct mentorship of Jennifer Ailshire. Her research work focuses primarily on understanding the Latino elderly population using the Health and Retirement study to examine ethnic differentials in health outcomes by testing hypotheses of how socioeconomic status, health behaviors, social relationships/isolation, living conditions, stressors, etc. contribute to these ethnic differences. Recently, Pérez graduated with her Master of Science degree in Sociology at Florida State University where the majority of her coursework was in race, health, neighborhoods, and quantitative methods. Previously, Pérez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and minor in Human Complex Systems at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Laura Rath is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Gerontology, with minors in Biology and Bioethics from the University of Southern California in 2000; and a Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of Southern California in 2002. Her research interests include promoting a secure old age for all people, improving the overall health and quality of life for older adults, and family caregiving. She lives in Seal Beach, California with her husband and two practically perfect daughters.
Carly Roman is originally from Rockville Centre, NY and began her doctoral studies at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in 2016. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Carly’s research interests include creating and evaluating positive psychology interventions aimed to increase meaning and well-being in older adults. She became interested in positive psychology and aging through volunteering with GlamourGals, a national not-for-profit that brings high school and college students into senior homes to provide makeovers, manicures, and companionship to senior home residents. She is the current recipient of a University of Southern California Provost’s PhD Fellowship and is working under Dr. Cleopatra Abdou-Kamperveen.
Hyunju Shim is a doctoral student at the Davis School of Gerontology under the mentorship of Dr. Eileen Crimmins and Dr. Jennifer Ailshire. Her research interests are on health and technology use, both for older adults and their caregivers. She is also interested in aging in Asia, with a particular focus on Active Aging.
She has prior work experience at the North East Asia Subregional Office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and Pacific as well as the Secretariat Office of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
She received her BA in English from Busan University of Foreign Studies and MSW from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also was a recipient of Fulbright Scholarship.
Meki Singleton is a first year PhD student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. During her undergraduate study, Meki attended the University of South Florida in Tampa where she earned a BA in Psychology and Gerontology. Meki’s love for USF did not stop there and she continued her education to earn her MSW. After completing her masters, she moved back home and became a Health Educator Consultant for the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County. She worked directly with the Ryan White clinic, which provides medical care to people living with HIV/AIDS. Her main role was overseeing the medication assistance program and performing administrative duties. Meki is a part of Dr. Susan Enguidanos’ lab and her research interest is in the LGBTQ community and end of life care/advance care planning.
Olivia (Yu-Hsuan) Wang works under the direction of Dr. Susan Enguidanos. Olivia received a B.S. in psychology, M.S. in Clinical Psychology from National Taiwan University. From 2015 to 2018, she worked in hospice as a clinical psychologist in Taiwan. Her research interests are palliative care and bereavement issue.
Kristi Wisniewski is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology working under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski. Kristi graduated from The University of Alabama in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and minor in Biology. Before coming to USC, Kristi worked as a research analyst at the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center in Nashville, Tennessee and contributed to the Vanderbilt Memory and Aging Project and the NOBLE clinical trial.
Kristi’s research interests surround cognition, memory, and aging in older adults. With a focus on screening measures for cognitive impairment, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, Kristi examines personal perception of memory or cognitive decline compared to objective neuropsychological performance and health outcomes. Her current projects involve geographic variation in rates of subjective cognitive complaint, personality factors and financial decision making associated with cognitive decline, and physician-patient communication regarding brain aging. Kristi is currently a predoctoral recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award funded by the National Institute of Aging.
Yuan Zhang is a doctoral candidate in Gerontology. She came to USC with an MS in Survey Methodology from the University of Michigan and a BA in Economics from the Central University of Finance and Economics. Her overarching research objective is to understand the role of behavioral, social, environmental, and contextual factors in making the aging process different across time and place. Her research covers multiple topics in demography and population health, focusing on determinants of morbidity, disability, and mortality over the life course in both less developed and more developed settings. Her dissertation work uses data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative study of middle-aged and older Chinese, to assess age-related physiological changes that underlie the risk of disease, disability, and mortality, and study the determinants of physiological health change and mortality among the older Chinese. In addition to her dissertation research, she is involved in research on life expectancy and extension of healthy life.
YuJun (Fisher) Zhu is a PhD student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. He worked in a local hospital after getting his bachelor’s degree in public health in Shanghai, China. Then he came to the United States and got his Master of Science in Gerontology degree here in 2017. His research interest is technology implementation in health care, especially in end of life care. He is currently working under the direction of Dr. Susan Enguidanos.
Fisher used to be a student worker of our school’s IT department and he loves problem solving variety of technical issues.
Current Biology of Aging PhD Students
I enjoy hiking, biking, and exploring new and unusual places and experiences. I also am somewhat of a technophile. My research interests include stem cell maintenance and management of homeostasis during periods of persistent stress. I also want to examine the genetic pathways that are most perturbed during aging in such a system and how to remedy these effects.