THC Feature: USC Davis School of Gerontology

by Jolie Cooperman

Aging – a reality of existence and a topic neglected by many undergraduate students. While Gerontology is not a typically common choice of study, the Davis School of Gerontology extends USC students the opportunity to take classes relevant to today’s society and any pre-health student.

Many USC pre-health students enter college hoping for freedom in course selection, but end up discouraged by requirement-laden majors such as Biology or Chemistry.

However, courses offered through USC Davis tend to be “[w]hat pre-health students are waiting for,” said USC Gerontology Professor John Walsh. He argued, “[t]aking courses in gerontology has an applied effect to the pre-health training.” Professor Walsh, who teaches several gerontology-affiliated classes, including BISC 230: Brains, Minds, and Machines, GERO 414: Neurobiology of Aging, and GERO 310: Physiology of Aging, recently won the Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Professor Walsh teaches students about the aging body: what happens when the body malfunctions and how to improve care when malfunctions occur – stimulating topics of utmost importance to those with a pre-health focus. Gerontology classes also tend to be far smaller than traditional science courses, which can provide students with a more engaging learning environment. In addition, Davis-specific offerings such as its Colloquium Series in Aging offer students to opportunity to engage with renowned professors in gerontology and other health related fields.

As undergraduate student Claire Bazley said, “GERO 310 was a fascinating and difficult course! It was interesting to look at [diseases] from an aging-focused perspective.”

Davis further engages its students through its Colloquium Series in Aging, which hosts renowned professionals of gerontology to give free lectures throughout the semester.  Lecture topics include: Tobacco and Aging, Personalized Medicine, and Stem Cell Therapy.

USC Davis offers undergraduate and graduate degrees that support a well-rounded academic background applicable to a wide range of careers.

Said Walsh, “[w]hen I discuss the biology of aging, I can correlate that information to public policy, psychological aspects of aging, or sociology and that allows students a unique experience.”

Further, for pre-medical students, a background in gerontology serves as an asset for improved patient care. According to Walsh, the “[m]ajority of patients will be over the age of 65 [in this generation].” There is much room, however, for overlap in other disciplines.

“[T]he career options for students who graduate with a degree in gerontology are endless. Students from this program have gone on to careers in medicine, but also academia, nursing, media, policy, and more,” said Davis PhD student Jaclyn Portanova. Gerontology is a worthwhile field for students who are not fully committed to the idea of becoming a physician, but still wish to work in the medical and health professions.

Another noteworthy aspect about USC Davis is the variety of ongoing research projects. The labs at USC Davis are a viable option for any student considering becoming a research assistant. While Walsh’s lab focuses on aging and its related diseases, others focus on the genetic components of aging. For those interested in psychology, the Emotion and Cognition Lab is on the cutting edge of the psychology of aging and memory.

As Bazley said, “I’ve been a research assistant at the Emotion and Cognition Lab for over a year studying the relationship between female sex hormones and working and emotional memory.”

Not only does the variety of research at the USC Davis School of Gerontology cater to the many interests of USC pre-health students, but the labs are also located primarily on the University Park Campus, as opposed to the detached Health Sciences Campus.

For those interested in obtaining a degree through the Davis School of Gerontology, the school offers two majors: Human Development and Aging, and Lifespan Health. The Human Development and Aging major offers two sub-specialties: Social Science and Health Science. USC Davis also offers two minors: Individuals, Society, and Aging, as well as Science, Health, and Aging. For students who wish to earn a Masters or PhD in gerontology, USC Davis offers several graduate programs – including a dual degree and progressive degree program.

While gerontology is not the usual choice of study for a USC pre-health student, the process of aging has recently gained the academic world’s attention. There could not be a more appropriate time to explore the topic of aging and all that the USC Davis School of Gerontology has to offer.

Ultimately, the importance of Gerontology is summed up well by Bazley, “Gerontology is a dynamic and growing field for pre-health students to consider… given our aging generation we must change the way we care for this population.”

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