Where are they now?

More Alumni

Kathryn Berlin
Andres E. Carrillo
Aleda Chen
Krista Cline
Katie Hill Gallant
Megan Gilligan
Kimberly Hurley
Heidi IglayReger
Jessica Kelley
Seoyoun Kim
Min-Ah Lee
Mary Marshall
Megan MacPherson
Lauren Parker
Lindsay Pitzer
Markus Schafer
Jori Sechrist
Amber Seidel
Tetyana P. Shippee
John Spruill III
April J. Stull
Anusha Sundarrajan
Roland J. Thorpe
Kyle Timmerman
Nicholas Turiano
Lori Ward
Oliver Wendt
Lindsay Wilkinson
Tim Wright

Patricia Morton, PhD

What initially got you interested in studying gerontology?

My undergraduate professor Kyong Hee Chee introduced me to the life course perspective. I found it fascinating how patterns in later-life health and aging were not simply a function of proximal factors, but, rather, could be traced back to some of the earliest life stages. I also was intrigued by how contextual factors like historical time and place influenced patterns of population health, which resonated with me as I had been traveling during my twenties to other countries that experienced distinct historical moments. Those ideas helped me understand how the lives of individuals I had encountered during my travels were a function of broader social structures and historical time and place. Thus, learning about the life course and reflecting upon what I had observed sparked my interest in studying health and aging processes from a life course perspective. As I read more research on aging and life course, I knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree with a gerontology focus and study with an advisor who specialized in that area.

What was your favorite experience in the CALC gerontology program?  What did you like about it?

In general, my favorite part of the gerontology program was learning about health and aging from a multidisciplinary perspective. The gerontology program enabled this not only through the classes I took and the faculty with whom I engaged, but also through the symposia. The CALC symposia were a consistent highlight each year in which I learned about my colleagues’ ongoing research as well as the research of gerontology scholars from other institutions. These symposia also provided graduate students with a unique opportunity to interact with gerontology experts during the annual event, an opportunity that I also was given when I attended the International Conference on Successful Aging at Yonsei University (another graduate school highlight). These interdisciplinary academic settings offered in-depth exposure to diverse ideas that shaped me as a scholar and my current career path. They gave me the tools to engage with a multidisciplinary audience, speak across disciplines, and develop my own interdisciplinary approach to studying health and aging. This has been invaluable at my current job at Wayne State University where I teach across two disciplines and engage with scholars from sociology, public health, and gerontology.

Who were your mentors at Purdue and how did they help you succeed? 

My primary mentor was Ken Ferraro. One of the best ways in which he helped me succeed was by helping me cultivate my own gerontological imagination, along with giving me the time and space to do so. Some of my most memorable experiences include discussing concepts and methods in health and aging in-depth, whether during our research group meetings or one-on-one advisor meetings, as well as critically thinking of unique ways to address these ideas. My dissertation committee also consisted of a wonderful group of scholars who guided my development as a life course scholar: Elliot Friedman, Sarah Mustillo, and Jill Suitor. Together, all four of these mentors helped me learn how to ask interesting research questions and how to answer those questions using fascinating methodological tools and theoretical frameworks. Their mentorship has continued to this day, and I find their help and support invaluable as I have transitioned to new roles within academia.

That said, both the gerontology program and sociology department had a fantastic group of professors who shaped me as a scholar. For instance, Dave Waters taught me how to think critically about my academic writing to make it clear and accessible to audiences beyond academia. I still use Vande Kopple’s Clear and Coherent Prose that he gave me. Another moment that stands out was Jean Beaman’s mentorship while I was on the job market. She always attended my practice job talks and gave incredibly helpful advice on not only my research talk, but also how to navigate the interview process. There are many instances with other faculty similar to these that come to mind. In sum, Purdue has many wonderful mentors who can provide excellent guidance and advice to emerging scholars—even if you never took a class from them.

How has your interest in gerontology influenced or shaped your research agenda?  Your teaching focus?

My research reflects my immediate interest in the life course perspective and integrates both my training in sociology and gerontology to better understand health inequality from a life course perspective. My work primarily focuses on explicating how childhood conditions produce unequal opportunities and constraints that shape health and aging across the life course. A gerontological lens has been very helpful in elucidating how this multidimensional process unfolds over time. For instance, I have examined how behavioral, psychosocial, and biological mechanisms of early-life disadvantage work together to influence later-life health. The interdisciplinary community of gerontology has also informed my own work by challenging me to think more broadly about my research, to address conceptual and methodological issues surrounding life course research as well as the implications and translation aspects of my research.

My interest in health and aging influences my teaching, and I frequently turn to gerontological research outside my area to guide my teaching. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging research revealed how older adults were experiencing increased social isolation during the pandemic due to physical distancing measures. In my own community, residents of retirement communities experienced strict enforcement of these safety measures to protect the health and wellbeing of this at-risk population, especially before we had a vaccine. Thus, I developed a virtual pen pal program in 2020 between my students and residents in retirement communities across three different states to combat social isolation and foster connections across generations. This semester, my students participated in the inaugural Royal Oak Senior Tech Fair. This community projected was inspired by research highlighting how the digital divide impacts older adults’ utilization of technology. I partnered with a community organizer to set-up a booth for students to provide information and technological support to older adults, with a secondary goal of once again fostering intergenerational interactions. I was recently awarded a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Award and realize that gerontology—the research and community—greatly contributed to my own success as a teacher.