With aging populations in the United States and around the world larger than ever, policy makers and practitioners across disciplines face an evolving set of concerns. What are the social, cultural, health, and economic implications of this demographic shift, and how will they be addressed? How does the aging experience vary by race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation? Are people living longer and in better health, or are those extra years just years of disability? In what ways are younger and older generations important to one another and interdependent?
The Syracuse University Aging Studies Institute (ASI) welcomes opportunities to explore and answer such questions, bringing together expert faculty who team up to develop insightful and practical solutions through multidisciplinary research, education, and outreach. A collaborative initiative of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, the ASI comprises more than 40 faculty affiliates from a dozen departments. Established in 2011 and housed in Lyman Hall, it builds on the work and reputation of the University’s Gerontology Center, which was founded in 1972 as one of the nation’s first programs specifically targeted at researching aging issues.
The institute provides education and training to undergraduates through a minor in gerontology, to graduate students through courses and assistantships, and to faculty through its seminars, conferences, and summer workshops. Its outreach activities include disseminating research findings, training gerontology educators, and working with age-related nonprofit organizations. “At the ASI, we use the term ‘aging’ very broadly,” says sociology professor Janet Wilmoth, the institute’s director. “We’re not just studying ‘old folks.’ We’re interested in aging across the whole life course.”
In June 2015, the ASI hosted an international conference on aging families, highlighting the contributions of older citizens. It drew to campus more than 120 people representing 21 countries and featuring some 75 presentations of scholarly research. The biggest event organized by the institute since its establishment, the conference helped solidify ASI’s reputation as a national and international leader on aging studies. Wilmoth is confident the institute will continue to be recognized for its outstanding scholarship. “As director, I’m working to sustain our areas of traditional strength, while also trying to cultivate new areas of expertise,” she says. “It’s exciting to see people from disciplines that do not typically think about these sorts of issues increasingly around the table with each other, talking about the possibilities in terms of their own research and in terms of training students.”
According to social work professor Eric Kingson, who received the 2015 Donald P. Kent Award from The Gerontological Society of America for exemplary teaching, service, and interpretation of gerontology to society, the University has long had “a great group of people” working in the field of aging. “The institute helps recognize and formalize what already existed, increases its reach, and creates a certain synergy for increased contributions to the field,” he says. “It’s extremely important, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”