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 Leonard 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. She works under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Wilber in the Secure Old Age Lab and at the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment. 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 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 that focused on 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.

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.

Erik Blanco is a doctoral student in the Gerontology Program at the University of Southern
California working under the mentorship of Jennifer Ailshire. Prior to starting the doctoral
program, he graduated with a BA and MA in Sociology from California State University, Los
Angeles. His research interest include health disparities and the social determinants of health in
the Latinx population. He specifically wants to focus on the importance of the neighborhood
environment and walkability in determining health outcomes.

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.

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.

Lilly Estenson 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 examining Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term services and supports (LTSS) policies. She is interested in how health insurance and LTSS models can be innovated to better support the health and well-being of diverse beneficiaries. She works under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Wilber in the Secure Old Age Lab.

Gillian Fennell is a doctoral student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Prior to beginning the PhD program, she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Cornell University in May 2019. Her primary research interests are the psychological and emotional consequences of chronic pain. She is currently working under the advisement of Dr. Susan Enguidanos and Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski.

Haley Gallo received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychobiology with a minor in Gerontology from the University of California, Los Angeles. As a Gerontology doctoral candidate in Dr. Kate Wilber’s Secure Old Age Lab, Haley’s research focuses on policies that promote the goals of the Age-Friendly Cities and Communities initiative. She is especially interested in the Age-Friendly domains that relate to civic participation and social inclusion. Her research focuses on using co-production to include older adults as researchers in projects that inform local policies. She is passionate about including older adults—particularly those from groups who are traditionally left out—in the development of research and policy that affects people of all ages.

Haley was the inaugural Greg O’Neill Policy Intern with the Gerontological Society of America in 2019. 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 in 2016.

deborah_hoe150x150Deborah 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 Franco is a doctoral student at the USC Davis Leonard School of Gerontology. Her research interests include dementia mortality and immigrant populations. She graduated summa cum laude from Korea National Sport University with a Bachelor of Art in Sport and 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. She is currently working under the guidance of Dr. Jessica Ho.

hyewon_kang150x150Hyewon 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.

Narae Kim is a doctoral student at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Her research interests focus on the evaluation of health and insurance policies and the provision of affordable care for vulnerable seniors.

Prior to the doctoral study, Narae received a Master of Public Health from Brown University and a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts with Political Science, Economics and Philosophy concentration from Sogang University in South Korea. She worked as a global marketer at Samsung Medison for four years and worked as a research assistant at the Rhode Island Department of Health for two years. Under the direction of Dr. Mireille Jacobson, she is currently studying Health Economics and working as a research assistant.

Susanna Mage comes to USC after working in New York City for the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry for several years. Her previous educational background was in Environmental Science (Masters from Brown University 2012 & Bachelors from University of Delaware 2010). Suzy’s current interests stem from her more recent experience in being her father’s caregiver, which has led her to interest in a career focusing on how to best provide caregiver support and in influencing social policy for the elderly. She works under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Wilber in the Secure Old Age Lab.

Kelly Ann Marnfeldt is a 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 3 key areas: the impact of caregiver burden; the complexity of elder mistreatment; the importance of social connection and maintaining a sense of purpose across the life course.
Kelly will continue her research in the Secure Old Age lab at USC in the following areas: reexamining the meaning of justice for the individual in cases of elder mistreatment; the varying effects of episodic, serial and perennial caregiving across the life course; evaluating social connection in the context of the digital age. Kelly employs a mixed methods approach to her research and has a strong foundation in narrative analysis to compliment her quantitative skills.
Prior to attending USC, Kelly’s experience in the arts, communications and media led her to establish a creative writing and performance workshop that provided a space for older adults to create and perform original works that dismantle age bias in media and the performing arts, with a hearty focus on the value of intergenerational connectivity for people of all ages.

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. She is currently working under the advisement of Dr. Kathleen Wilber and Dr. Reginald Tucker-Seeley.

Margarita Osuna is a Colombian (South America) PhD student in Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Under the mentorship of Jennifer Ailshire, she is conducting research in the Ailshire Lab focused on Latin American demography, health, and aging. She is also interested in socioeconomic inequalities in health and well-being in the older adult population. Margarita graduated from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in 2015 with an undergraduate degree in Sociology and is currently a member of the LAHA research group (Latin America Health and Aging research group).

Carly_RomanCarly 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.

Meki Singleton is a second 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 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 older adult LGBTQ + population and how they experience end of life care and planning and long-term care support and services.

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 advance directives and palliative care issues.

Qiao Wu began the doctoral program at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in Fall 2019, studying and working in the Center on Biodemography and Population Health, under the direction of Dr. Eileen Crimmins. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in History in Capital Normal University (Beijing, China), and Master of International Public Policy and Management in Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Qiao’s research interests include topics in demography, population health, and policy outcomes. He is currently using data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) to analyze the biomarkers of middle-aged and older Chinese, and to conduct international comparisons. He is also interested in evaluating policy impacts on different age groups.

kristi-_wisniewski150x150Kristi 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 health behaviors 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.

Erfei Zhao is a PhD student working under the mentorship of Dr. Eileen Crimmins. He joined the USC family with an MSW from Columbia university and a BA in Economics and minors in Dance and French from Washington University in St. Louis. He previously worked at a senior center under University Settlement in New York. Erfei is interested in various aspects that influence the subjective well-being of older Chinese, such employment quality and intergenerational relationships. He is also interested in how older adults are portrayed in the media. Outside of studying, Erfei is also a passionate dancer. He is currently a member of the USC-based competitive urban dance team Chaotic 3.

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

Joshua_Kramer_headshotI 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.

KennethKenneth is a doctoral student in USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s Biology of Aging program. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, with an emphasis in Genetics, Genomics, and Development, from the University of California, Berkeley in 2011.  He then attended Dominican University of California and earned his Master’s degree in the Biological Sciences in 2014. Throughout his Master’s education he worked in the Kapahi Lab at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in his hometown of Novato, CA, where he studied the effects of the gut microbiome on responses to dietary restriction, the genetic mechanisms behind gut integrity, and the role of natural genetic variation in response to dietary conditions.
Kenneth’s research interests, as well as his intended doctoral research, are to continue his work on genetic variations and how they modulate dietary response in relation to the aging process.