Matthew Avila, a senior in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University, will receive this year’s Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship for students interested in pursuing a career in gerontology. The scholarship was established by an anonymous Cornell alumnus living at Kendal of Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community located a mile from the Cornell campus.
Avila is working towards a gerontology minor as part of his bachelor’s degree, and plans to pursue a career researching the relationship between aging and disease.
“I want to explore the idea that growing old and disease are two separate constructs,” Avila said. “In other words, I will use the knowledge I gained from gerontology to fight against the stigma of aging, reduce age-related bias in my research, make accurate conclusions about the aging population, and produce good science.”
Corinna Loeckenhoff, the director of Cornell’s Gerontology Minor Program as well as Avila’s honors thesis advisor, commented, “What impressed the jurors about Matthew’s application is his continuous engagement with gerontology across multiple areas ranging from formal classwork to research and volunteering.”
At Cornell, Avila is involved with the Alzheimer’s Help and Awareness Club, a team of students dedicated to raising public awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and supporting Alzheimer’s patients.
And last summer, he was a research assistant at Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, where he worked on a brain-imaging study to examine how older adults who suffer from depression regulate their emotions.
“This experience provided me with the opportunity to learn how to do research in older populations as it relates to mental health and emotion regulation, and develop my skill set for research design,” he said.
This is the 17th year of the Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship. The donor, who built a career in the corporate world after graduating from Cornell in the 1940’s, first learned about gerontology work at Cornell by participating in a study about the transition to living in a retirement community.
The donor’s goal was to build a lasting link between Kendal at Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community, and Cornell so that “more students have a chance to learn about the colorful, interesting lives and careers of retirees, and more residents have an opportunity to better understand students of today—their hopes, thoughts, and dreams.”