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Summer Research: The Treasured Wisdom Initiative, a Gerontology Study

Summer Research Institute student Caitlin Presley ’15 worked with Hood professor of psychology Professor Wanda Ruffin this summer on the Treasured Wisdom Initiative, a qualitative gerontology study.

It is well known in the field of gerontology that African Americans are more likely to die younger than Caucasians. When African Americans reach 85 years old, also known in psychology as the oldest-old, the trend reverses and African Americans are seen to outlive their Caucasian counterparts.

“I had taken Social Gerontology and Psychology of Aging with Professor MacDougall, so I knew about the basic trends of older African Americans and the psychology of aging. I was then recommended to Professor Ruffin by two professors in the department,” said Caitlin, a psychology major.

Professor Ruffin and Caitlin believe that the life stories and wisdom of the oldest-old African Americans are an untapped potential in the gerontology field. The Treasured Wisdom Initiative hopes to begin to understand the factors that contribute to the resiliency in these African American seniors.

“This research experience helped in two ways, not only did it give me a research experience to put on my CV, it also allowed me to work on the interviewing skills needed in many fields of psychology,” said Caitlin. “Even though I want to work in school psychology, it is important to be able to communicate and converse with people of all ages, while still getting the information you need.”

Some students involved in SRI this summer also had the opportunity to travel. Research led students and their supervisors across the United States and abroad.

“The most valuable aspect of my research experience was traveling to Mississippi,” said Caitlin. “I haven’t spent much time out of the state of Maryland and it was interesting to not only see the difference in cultures, but also the similarities of African Americans’ experiences from different regions. And outside of research, it was thought-provoking to see and hear about Gulfport, Mississippi, post-Hurricane Katrina.”

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