Young '11 to Study Aging Through Prestigious National Scholarship
By Amber Khan '14, Contributing Writer
Bessie Young ’11 was recently named one of 18 recipients of the Luce Scholarship, an award that will allow her spend a year in Japan pursuing her interest in photography and cross-cultural gerontology.

The Luce Scholarship is a competitive national program begun in 1974 by the Henry Luce Foundation. The program is different from other scholarship programs because it targets young professionals with great potential for leadership who have had limited exposure to Asia. Winners of the Luce Scholarship spend a year working in an Asian country in their chosen field. The selection process for the 2011-2012 Luce Scholars began in November 2010, with the nomination of 151 candidates by 67 colleges and universities and ended in February, with Bessie Young as one of the youngest among the Luce Scholars.

Young’s interest in gerontology, the study of the psychological, social and biological aspects of aging, began with a class called Psychology of Aging that she took with Professor Lisa Raskin, the John William Ward Professor of Psychology, in the fall of her freshman year. Raskin says that Young “distinguished herself as the one who was most passionate about learning more about the aging experience,” and since then, Young has pursued her interest in working with the elderly at the Amherst Senior Center.

“She spends serious, devoted time at our in-town Senior Center, organizes programs, coordinates activities and is a reliable, enthusiastic friend of the elderly community,” Raskin said. “They are all so very fond of her.”

When an elderly woman Young had worked with at the senior center, Mae, passed away, Young felt as if though she had truly grown up.

“It puts things in perspective and you realize how precious life is,” Young said.

Fellowships Coordinator Denise Gagnon has worked closely with Young during the application process for the Luce Scholarship.

“Bessie’s success is a reflection on her commitment to public service, her intellectual engagement, and her creativity,” Gagnon said.

Past Luce winners from Amherst include Daniel Schar ’96, Kimberly Palmer ’01, Jamila Trindle ’02 and, last year, Joshua Glasser ’10 was named a finalist.

“I want students to realize that winning these scholarships is possible, and if students are willing to work hard, we are willing to work with them,” Gagnon said.

Young was particularly eager to work in Japan because the nation is home to the fastest-aging population in the world, has the highest proportion of elderly to youth and has a tradition of respect for the elderly. Young hopes to study how quality of life in Japan is influenced by the environments in which the elderly age. She didn’t think that she stood a chance because she was competing against people up to 30 years of age.

“They are the perfect fit for me. Not only was I accepted by them, but they are right for me,” she said.

Young, who will graduate with a triple major this spring, is interested in photography and the social value of art. Her thesis examines how different environments shape the aging experience, and she has captured varied environments through her photography. Raskin is impressed with Young’s photography.

“You need only to see some of her photos of cross-cultural housing for the aged to know she’s quite a talent, one with remarkable creativity and imagination,” Raskin said.

The field of gerontology is one that will become ever more important in the future. According to Raskin who has spent years on the subject, the future of gerontology is around us.

“With the Baby Boomers retiring this country will soon have 78 million adults over 65, and since these folks are savvy about health and quality of life issues, they will be vocal,” Baskin said.

Bessie’s hope for future is that in addition to resolving political and economic issues that come with an aging population, “more attention will be paid to the psychological aspect of aging.”

“We all aspire to reach old age someday. We should do more now to ensure a better quality of life for the elderly.”

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 03:53:20