Appalachian Gerontology Experiences: Advancing Diversity in Aging Research (AGE-ADAR) Specific Aims Appalachia is a predominantly rural area in which 25 million Americans reside. The region includes all of West Virginia and portions of 12 other states. Relative to the rest of the United States, West Virginian Appalachia is rugged and mountainous, which creates geographic barriers to medical and psychosocial services. Residents of the region also live with lower annual incomes, higher poverty, higher unemployment, and higher morbidity and mortality rates than other areas of the nation (Appalachian Regional Commission, 2017). Thus, it is a region marked by significant health disparities. Health disparities are more pronounced in the rural areas of Appalachia and are a complex result of health behaviors, personal resources, and macro-environmental influences. Although rural-dwelling adults have many of the same needs as adults aging in other environments, there are unique issues presented by a rural context. Thus, as we have argued elsewhere, aging is harder in rural areas (Hash, Jurkowski, & Krout, 2015). For many Appalachian residents, there is a strong sense of place-identity, with an historical mistrust of ?outsiders? who often lack the cultural competence to address the nuances and complexities of Appalachian culture. Thus, what is needed is a cadre of health professionals and researchers who are well-versed in the science of aging, the science of health disparities, and the culture of Appalachia. To that end, we propose a highly-scaffolded education experience to increase interest in and diversity among researchers in aging and health disparities in Appalachia. The overarching goals of this project align with the goals of the NIA to increase interest in reducing health disparities and increasing the representation of historically underrepresented scholars in the fields of aging and health disparities research. To accomplish these goals, the proposed educational program would provide: focused educational content on research methods, aging, health disparities, Appalachia and other rural areas. The program would include structured, hands-on research experiences and mentored research experiences. We would nurture an appreciation for applied/translational research and community-based dissemination, thus increasing the health literacy and scientific literacy in the region. Together, these experiences would prepare scholars to infuse a healthy aging approach to their work. Specifically, the proposed program would: 1. provide culturally- and regionally-relevant educational content on aging, health disparities, Appalachia and other rural areas; 2. provide an intensive introduction to research methods, including completion of at least one structured group research experience focused on health disparities and a second mentored, health-related aging research experience with a faculty sponsor in the student's home discipline; 3. create and reinforce an identity of being an aging and health disparities researcher who will contribute to the research workforce in aging; 4. coach students on scientific writing and professional development; and 5. increase scientific and health literacy in the community through broad dissemination of research findings.
Diversity among scientists increases our ability to solve the problems facing society. The proposed educational program seeks to increase the diversity of the workforce in aging and health disparities as a means to reduce such health disparities. Focusing on students who are typically underrepresented in the MSTEM fields, the Appalachia Gerontology Experiences (AGE) Scholars Program would provide content knowledge and hands-on experiences in aging and health disparities research.