NIA Funding Launches PARC and LDI’s New GEAR UP Program
Get Experience in Aging Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP)
A 15-month fellowship in the demography and economics of aging and health care for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds.
About the Program
Established in spring 2022 by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Aging, the Get Experience in Aging Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) supports undergraduate students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds through a 15-month immersive experience in the disciplines, skills, and day-to-day life of Penn’s broad faculty community of aging-related health care researchers. This joint venture between the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) will build on the successful and long-standing Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) Program by providing exciting mentored research experiences to undergraduates for two consecutive summers, supplemented with programming throughout the academic year. The long-term goal of the program is to enhance the diversity of the research workforce in the demography and economics of aging, health, and health care.
GEAR UP program is a 15-month sustained fellowship program focused on research in the demography and economics of aging and health care. It aims to develop research skills in talented undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds interested in the fields of demography and economics of aging, health, and health care, with a focus on individual- and population-aging and health disparities in diverse communities. GEAR UP provides undergraduates an opportunity to grow their skills in research, enrich their relationships with mentors and colleagues, and become more deeply involved in research that addresses the nation’s aging-related biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. The program will include formal and informal activities, incorporating online components that increase program flexibility and increase access for students outside of Philadelphia during the academic year.
We aim to enhance the diversity of the research workforce in the demography and economics of aging, health, and health care. This new program provides students the opportunity to grow, enhance their technical capabilities, enrich their relationships with mentors and colleagues, and develop a passion for research along with a desire to pursue graduate studies.
Norma Coe, PhD
Co-Director of PARC and GEAR UP
Aging in America is not going as planned. COVID-19, declining life expectancy, Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD), and a large and aging Baby Boomer population at risk for ADRD present the potential for a looming long-term care crisis. In all these areas, motivating researchers from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue research careers will bring desperately needed new talent and creative solutions to the field.
Hans-Peter Kohler, PhD
Co-Director of PARC and GEAR UP
Racial and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented in aging-research-related professions, including biomedical, clinical, health services, demography, and economics. For instance, in health services research (HSR), which studies the organization, financing, and delivery of health care and provides an evidence-base that is central to addressing issues of care quality, access, affordability, and equity, Black and Hispanic researchers account for only 6.9% and 3.7%, respectively, of the workforce.
Rachel M. Werner, MD, PhD
Penn LDI Executive Director and GEAR UP Co-Director
We are living in an age where it is understood that diversity improves innovation and drives the search for novel discoveries. The GEAR UP program will provide training opportunities in aging-related research and career socialization through sustained network building for the next generation of population aging researchers.
Chinwe Nwadiogbu, MLA
Deputy Director, GEAR UP
How to Apply
The GEAR UP 2023 program will run for 15 months concurrently with SUMR, beginning May 30, 2023 through August 17, 2024. Those who wish to apply for GEAR UP should complete a SUMR application and indicate in the application form your desire to be considered for GEAR UP.
SUMR and GEAR UP Application Timeline will be the same.
SUMR/GEAR UP Application Timeline
- Application Deadline: February 1, 2023
- Applicant Interviews: March 2023
- Admissions Notifications: April 2023
We recommend that you begin the application process early as it may take longer than you would expect. Allow enough time for completing your online application, and gathering and submitting all of your materials, including 2 references.
Required Application Materials
In addition to the online application form, we require two (2) letters of recommendation. For your application to be considered complete, everything must be submitted by February 1.
- The letters of recommendation should address something important about you, including a description of your academic and personal characteristics, especially related research aptitude.
To leverage the strengths of PARC’s and Penn LDI’s research, GEAR UP focuses on six themes, which are closely aligned with the research themes and networks of both PARC and LDI. Those themes are:
- Health Care and Long-Term Care at Older Ages
- Cognition and Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (AD/ADRD)
- Health Disparities in Aging
- Early Life Conditions and Older Adult Health, Behavior, and Well-Being
- Global Health and Aging
- COVID-19 and Aging
GEAR UP training in these six themes is further enhanced through existing Research Networks that are supported by PARC and LDI and designed to foster interdisciplinary and innovative aging research, not only at Penn but nationally and internationally, with important outreach activities that will encourage and nurture development of younger researchers. Each network includes workshops, collaborations, harmonization of large-scale data collection efforts, and the development of common resources.
GEAR UP Summer 1
Summer 1 will be an intense twelve-week program (from June through mid-August) that includes research, mentoring, skill building, and networking. This program will be run in conjunction with SUMR, which has developed and honed a curriculum over the last 22 years. It includes the following:
- One week of classroom training
- 11 weeks of mentored research
- Research seminars
- Skills trainings (ex. Stata, R, economics, and demography methods)
- A seven-week writing course
- Attendance at a national research conference
- Career counseling and GRE preparation
- Networking activities
- End-of-Program Symposium
The mentored research experience will consist of some combination of the following: conducting interviews with subjects according to established protocols, skill building (e.g. learning data analysis), designing surveys, data entry, and conducting literature searches and assistance with abstract and manuscript preparation. The GEAR UP Scholars will be fully integrated into the research team and participate in all team meetings. The research team will train the students to use existing protocols and monitor their work to ensure quality and consistency.
Academic-Year Programming: The GEAR UP Club
GEAR UP Scholars will continue skill-building, cohort-building, and interest-building in aging-related research throughout the academic year from September to May. The GEAR UP Club is a unique way to harness all that is available at Penn within PARC and LDI, including activities at the School of Arts & Sciences, The Wharton School, and the Perelman School of Medicine. Students will participate in several program activities that will allow them to interact with fellow GEAR UP Scholars and other members of the academic community throughout the school year. These activities will include lunches, dinners, workshops, and panels. These activities will occur at least twice per month, build social cohesion with people of similar interests to help create a supportive community, strengthen research skills, and help students learn to navigate academia.
GEAR UP Summer 2
Summer 2 of the program will run June through August of the second summer. During Summer 2, Scholars will be expected to work on one research project for 12 weeks. Summer 2 will serve as an essential opportunity for students to build on the research skills and knowledge formed in Summer 1, which will help solidify their interest in and comfort with the field. It will also give students a chance to take on a more in-depth project, play a role in leading that project, and, if desired, conduct that work internationally.
GEAR UP Programming
GEAR UP programming will offer benefits to students in three areas, with the goal of giving students a passion for research and the desire to continue to graduate studies and enhance the diversity of the research workforce:
Career Socialization, Leadership and Networking
- Regular interactions with academic leaders, researchers, and experts from diverse backgrounds
- Attending national conferences with the opportunity to meet others in related fields
- Strong peer networks through academic and social activities, and online communities
- Leadership-building through experiential learning
Research and Academic Skills Development
- Two summers of targeted training and hands-on experience in research with Penn faculty aligned with GEAR UP themes
- Statistical programming sessions on an as needed basis, e.g., Stata, R, and statistics
- Exposure to presenting scientific results in oral presentations and written manuscripts
- Six-month online GRE prep course
Presentation and Writing Skills Development
- Presentation of self, resumes, and cover letters
- Develop professional identity on LinkedIn and Research Gate
- Coaching in presentation skills
- Opportunity to present mentored research at campus-wide and national conferences
- Receive training to write blogs and op-eds via the Penn Critical Writing Program and LDI’s team
Have questions about the GEAR UP program? Contact Chinwe Nwadiogbu.
Application Review Process
Only complete applications will be reviewed. Applicants will be selected for interviews and will be contacted to schedule a phone or in-person interview. A final admission notice will be sent to interviewed applicants within two weeks of the interview and to non-interviewed candidates at the time of interview decisions.
Can I apply through Handshake?
No, please fill out the full application using the link specified beginning October 15, 2022. Applications received through Handshake will not be accepted.
Will I receive a confirmation that all pieces of my application have been received?
Yes, you will be notified as soon as you submit your application that it was received.
How many letters of recommendation are required?
Two, as specified under “Required Application Materials.”
Is housing provided?
No, but SUMR/GEAR provides discounted housing through The Axis, a local apartment complex.
How do we go about finding housing?
There are many affordable housing options available during the summer in Philadelphia. We recommend Axis Apartments, so you are housed with other SUMR/GEAR UP Scholars, however, you can search for summer sublets through off campus housing sites, Facebook groups, or rooming with other SUMR/GEAR UP scholars.
Will SUMR/GEAR UP pay for transportation costs to the University of Pennsylvania?
No, we suggest that you request a stipend from your university if transportation will be an issue.
Who is eligible to apply?
Program participants should have an interest in health care and strong quantitative skills. Candidates from minority groups that are underrepresented in the field of health services research (African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander), first-generation college students, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, individual with disabilities, and individuals who identify as LGTBQIA+ are particularly encouraged to apply. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be considered for GEAR UP. Prospective participants do not have to make a commitment in advance to attend graduate school to be accepted into the program, but an academic or research career should be something they are considering. A committee of Penn faculty selects each year’s SUMR/GEAR UP scholars from a competitive applicant pool[CN1] [NC2] .
What do SUMR/GEAR UP scholars do?
- Work with Penn faculty mentor(s) full time on health services research project(s) of the student’s choice.
- Gain practical advice about graduate school opportunities and assistance with the graduate school application process, including a GRE prep program.
- Take a 7-week writing course taught by Penn’s Critical Writing Program faculty.
- Attend weekly lunch meetings with program staff and Penn faculty to discuss their projects and learn more about the broad range of health services research at Penn.
- Present a final presentation on mentored health services research project(s) at the End of SUMR/GEAR UP Research Symposium.
- Attend health services research conference as a group, all expenses paid.
- Take part in various extracurricular activities/social functions sponsored by the SUMR/GEAR UP program.
- GEAR UP scholars will have an additional 12 months of formal and informal activities, incorporating online components that increase program flexibility and increase access to the academic-year program for students outside of Philadelphia.
What is the difference between SUMR scholars and GEAR UP scholars?
- The GEAR UP program aims to provides undergraduates an opportunity to grow their skills in research, enrich their relationships with mentors and colleagues, and become more deeply involved in research that addresses the nation’s aging-related biomedical, behavioral, economic, and clinical research needs.
- The SUMR 2023 program will run for 12 weeks, while the GEAR UP program will run for 15 months.
- The SUMR 2023 program will end August 18, 2023, while the GEAR UP program continues through August 17, 2024.
- The GEAR UP program will offer a sustained experience, focusing on formal and informal activities, incorporating online components that increase program flexibility and increase access to the academic-year program for students outside of Philadelphia.
- You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be considered for GEAR UP.
- For more info about GEAR UP, please contact Chinwe Nwadiogbu.
What time commitment is necessary, and how are SUMR/GEAR UP scholars compensated?
SUMR/GEAR UP scholars earn $15/hour during the summer months for a time commitment of 40 hours/week. Students work with their mentors to devise their summer schedule.
Can I take a summer class while participating in SUMR/GEAR UP?
Although possible, it is NOT recommended as SUMR/GEAR UP is a full-time position.
How can I learn about current and past SUMR/GEAR UP scholars?
Visit our GEAR UP Scholars page to learn about the current cohort.
How can I become a SUMR/GEAR UP faculty mentor?
Who should I contact if I have other questions?
Please contact Joanne H. Levy, MBA, MCP, Founding Director, SUMR and Chinwe Nwadiogbu, MLA, Deputy Director of GEAR UP.
Current GEAR UP Fellows
For LDI Senior Fellows and PARC Fellows: Mentorship Opportunities
Faculty involvement is a crucial element of the Get Experience in Aging Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP).
If you are interested in mentoring and collaborating with a GEAR UP Fellow on a specific project, please send a brief summary of the project and how much effort it would require to Chinwe Nwadiogbu. Mentors are recruited annually and abstracts are due by March 1.