More AlumniKathryn Berlin
Andres E. Carrillo
Katie Hill Gallant
Tetyana P. Shippee
John Spruill III
April J. Stull
Roland J. Thorpe
Jessica Kelley, PhD ('12)
Jessica Kelley is a Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University. She studies the causes and consequences of health disparities over the life course,
particularly those related to race, socioeconomic status, and disability. Her recent research has focused on: life course influences on later-life functional disparities
among Black and White adults; how cohort trends and social change affect later-life health profiles; social influences on the experience of disability; and neighborhoods
and social exclusion of older adults.
What do you remember best about your time in the Gerontology Program?
The experience of taking courses, attending symposia, and traveling to GSA with faculty and students from all different disciplines studying age and aging was invaluable to me. I made friends with people studying age-related cancers in dogs, audiology changes with age, and the role of pet ownership in maintaining mobility in later life. It broadened my understanding of the concept of aging and prepared me to work in multidisciplinary teams. In this way, I am a successful product of the CALC training that emphasized the “Gerontological Imagination!”
In what ways did your Purdue education help you in your career?
I have felt very lucky to have had such multi-disciplinary training in Gerontology. My background prepared me to enjoy the entirety of the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, rather than being relegated solely to sessions in my specific discipline. David Waters taught me biology of aging, where I learned about how and why we age. We talked about the Hayflick Theorem, the special feature of the c elegans to “turn off” their aging processes during suspended animation, and the deleterious effects of oxidative stress. Sharon Devaney taught me the economics of aging. She introduced me to Critical Gerontology, a subfield focusing on the moral and political economy of aging, that became one of the theoretical pillars of my own work and thinking. Currently I serve as the Co-Editor of the series Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics (Springer) with Purdue and CALC alumnus Roland J. Thorpe, Jr. A unique feature of our partnership is that we both were trained across disciplines so are able to appreciate and evaluate research on gerontology in many different domains, including medical, epidemiologic, social, and economic. Without the cross-training experience at Purdue, I would not be able to make such contributions to the field.
Who were your mentors and what attributes did they have that helped you?
My primary mentor was Ken Ferraro. I had the great fortune of working with him on his grant-funded research throughout my training, which allowed me to learn first-hand to be a “principled” and a “principal” investigator, meaning that I learned how to be a careful analyst and thinker, and how to be an independent scholar pursuing my own ideas and questions. If emulation is the highest form of flattery, then I can think of no better statement than to say that I strive every day to be the kind of mentor that Ken has been not just to me, but to many students and young professionals. I look forward to seeing Ken at GSA each year, with a group of CALC students in tow who are eager to present their research and start their own professional journeys.
Are you working on any new research projects related to aging?
I have recently become interested in the collective legacy of long-term cohort studies on our discipline. What began in many cases as studies of school children in the mid-20th century (e.g., Children of the Great Depression; British Cohort Study; Swedish Cohort of 1953) have continued for as many as 70 years, following those original children – and sometimes their siblings and spouses – into older adulthood. Across these studies, we have been able to ask questions such as: Does being “off-time” with one’s cohort in family formation or educational attainment create disadvantages in the adult labor market? Does mid-life serious illness or disablement lead to financial precarity in older adulthood? Can children from economically deprived families “make up for it” by achieving higher education? I am embarking on a book project, which will review the major long-term cohort studies and outline their contributions to empirical and theoretical scholarship in the life course, methodological innovations for studying human lives, and statistical developments for handling both the promise and challenge of working with multi-decade data.
What research or other experiences did you have at Purdue that helped form your current agenda?
As indicated, I worked with a number of different faculty members during my time at Purdue. Splitting my time in different labs provided a great backdrop for the current work I do with community samples, and pre-existing data, and in teaching research methods. I think I participated in almost every major method of data collection.
In what ways do you infuse ideas from your study of aging into courses that you are now teaching?
I integrate a life course perspective and a “long view” into all of my substantive courses. When I teach Disability in Society, we wrestle with questions about differences in the lived experience of those who age with disabilities and those who become disabled in older age. I talk about how when we conflate older age with disability, we tend to forget to study older adults who are healthy and able and younger adults who have disabilities. In my Health Disparities course, we use Ken Ferraro’s cumulative inequality framework to emphasize how stressors and assaults on the biological systems of our bodies lead to compromised health and disability. I emphasize that these stressors and assaults disproportionately affect race/ethnic minorities and those who are economically disadvantaged.