New director of the Institute of Gerontology, Dr. Jan Mutchler, discusses public scholarship on diversity and equity
In August 2021, Dr. Jan Mutchler was appointed as the new director of the Institute of Gerontology, succeeding former director Len Fishman, who retired after seven years of service. Reflecting on how she could use her position to further the work of the Institute, Mutchler noted that while her predecessor had deep and extensive experience as a leader of senior-focused nonprofits she comes to this role as a faculty member and academic researcher. .
A UMass Boston faculty member for 22 years, Dr. Mutchler served as graduate program director and chair of the department of gerontology and founding director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging, a unit of the Institute. of gerontology. “What I bring to [the role]she said, “rolls back that academic sensibility, to some extent. I bring a long experience of working with PhD students, and I bring… a strong belief in the power of education, writ large. Everything I do overlaps in some way with…educational programs on campus.
Additionally, Mutchler brings to the Institute a focus on educational processes and opportunities that align with outward-looking investment in public education. She commented that “the work that I have done through my center is very outward looking and about…public engagement, and to a large extent it has taken the form of an educational process that reinforces each other, so to speak. I learn from the community, and the community learns from me, and we all learn something new together.
This is also part of his vision for the four centers of the Institute. As Director, Mutchler oversees the Center for Demographic and Social Research in Aging (CSDRA), the LeadingAge Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Center, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and the Pension Action Center (PAC ).
The centers’ missions align with Mutchler’s dual focus on research-based work and community work. Within the Institute of Gerontology, CSDRA focuses on applied research related to the well-being of older New England residents that organizations, stakeholders and communities can use, and the LTSS Center conducts research into long-term services and supports, such as nursing homes, home care and health promotion — to help the country meet the challenges and seize the opportunities associated with an aging position. At the level of community engagement, OLLI emphasizes lifelong learning and social relations for older people, and PAC offers advice to citizens on retirement benefits.
Mutchler recognizes and finds value in the “crosswalks” that occur between research-driven and community-driven work and between publicly engaged research and scholarship more traditionally tied to the discipline. For example, the Institute offers graduate students in gerontology the opportunity to engage in quantitative and qualitative studies that add to our understanding of aging while informing policies and practices that affect older people, their families, and their communities. . Additionally, when faculty members conduct empirical research on older adults and need interviewees as participants in their research, the Institute’s community networking often provides them with these contacts. Mutchler commented, “We really feel like the Institute and the department are just two parts of the same whole, and so we’re always looking to highlight that interconnectedness, and…as we promote one aspect, we promote another aspect of this.”
As director, Mutchler emphasizes the role the Institute of Gerontology plays in informing the national, state, and local levels of policy. She commented: “We are in a school of politics, and that is important.” Recognizing the broader implications of the Institute of Gerontology’s work to highlight how issues of aging intersect with policy issues, a particular vision for the Institute of Gerontology is to continue to “leverage our interests and our equity expertise. This is especially true given the local and contemporary context in which the Institute operates, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the need for more equitable responses to health issues that resonate nationally like aging and disease. Working with populations like Boston, notes Mutchler, attention to diversity and equity issues in health-informed research and public policy is a must, and most faculty members at department work with diverse populations. “So far,” Mutchler said, their work on diversity and equity “has been recognized as a strength and something important.” Nonetheless, she commented, “We’re working together to…elevate it to a new level where we’re a little more intentional about what we can add to this conversation and how we can add to strengthening our work in this area. region [while] adding more to the knowledge we produce that will help communities, governments and people.