Undergrads START Their Journey in Aging Research

Professor Shannon Meija and START students

Dr. Shannon Meija of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health tells START program participants about her research in the field of aging.

All baby boomers will be older than 65 by 2030, representing 1 in 5 US residents. The US Census Bureau projects that within twenty years, people aged 65 and older will outnumber people under the age of 18 for the first time.
The College of Applied Health Sciences is continuing its leadership role in investigating factors related to healthy aging. Its latest initiative is a program called Student Aging Researchers in Training, or START. With a grant from the campus Office of Undergraduate Research, a team of faculty members is mentoring undergraduate students into the area of aging research. The program encourages participation by students from underrepresented groups, such as first-generation college students, ethnic minority students, and students from rural communities. START co-coordinator Andiara Schwingel, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, says the program’s mission is to increase diversity in the aging research agenda.
“Older adults from racial and ethnic minorities, as well as those in rural and low socioeconomic communities, are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases and other issues that impact their quality of life. Therefore, it is critical to have culturally diverse perspectives represented in aging research,” she said.
During the first ten weeks of the fall semester, START Fellows attend seminars to learn about aging, the research process, and the range of research opportunities available throughout the college. They spend the rest of the fall semester and the spring semester working with their chosen mentors on research projects. Their work will culminate with presentations at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium.
START co-coordinator Julie Bobitt, director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences degree program, says initiatives like START can impact the future of older adults. “The rapidly growing and increasingly diverse aging population will require an increase in the number and diversity of health care researchers, practitioners, and service providers who are trained in gerontology,” she said. “Undergraduate research programs like START can have a significant impact on the career choices of our students.”
START Mentors:
Dr. Wendy Bartlo, Center on Health, Aging, and Disability
Dr. Liza Berdychevsky, Diversity Research Lab
Dr. Julie Bobitt, Aging and Health Policy Lab
Dr. Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, Social Epidemiology Research Group
Dr. Fatima Husain, Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Lab
Dr. Adam Konopka, Physiology of Aging Lab
Dr. Shannon Mejia, Adult Development, Adaptation, and Technology Lab
Dr. Raksha Mudar, Aging and Neurocognition Lab
Dr. Wendy Rogers, Human Factors and Aging Lab
Dr. Andiara Schwingel, Aging and Diversity Lab
Dr. Jake Sosnoff, Motor Control Research Lab

Eleven students were chosen to be START Fellows for 2018-2019. They are:

Wong-Alanna.jpgAlanna Wong
Interdisciplinary Health Sciences







Grace-Rochford_0.jpgGrace Rochford
Speech and Hearing Science

I intend to work with older adults after graduate school. I think that the START program will give me extensive insight on aging, how we age, and the trends seen today in aging. I thought that it would be a great opportunity for my first research experience.


Sonia-Cabrera_0.jpgSonia Cabrera
Community Health







Jenna-Vangalis_0.jpgJenna Vangalis
I have worked with people with developmental disabilities aged 60 and younger. Through the START program, I hope to work with people in an older demographic, and learn more about the challenges aging presents.



Riah-Lee_0.jpgRiah Lee
Interdisciplinary Health Sciences







Emily-Williams_0.jpgEmily Williams
Community Health

My interest in the START Program stemmed from my desire to learn more about how our public health environment affects the lives of the growing and diverse elderly population.



Leo-Guzman_0.jpgLeo Guzman







Jessica-Philipp_0.jpgJessica Philipp
Speech and Hearing Science

I was able to relate what I learned in my speech and hearing sciences classes to the changes in cognition and communication that I saw in my grandmother who had dementia. This made me want to learn more about how aging impacts an individual's daily life.


Nimota-lai-Sulaiman_0.jpgNimota-lai Sulaiman






Jenny-Lee_0.jpgJenny Lee
Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

Older adults are a growing demographic in health care, the field in which I plan to work. I wanted early research experience in the area and also to bring a different cultural perspective to the program in hopes of promoting inclusivity in research.


Kathy-Tran_0.jpgKathy Tran
Community Health