History of START

In 2018, START was provided seed funding by the Office of Undergraduate Research to develop and test the concept. The proposal was supported by the AHS Departments of Kinesiology and Community Health, Speech and Hearing Science, Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, the Center on Health, Aging, and Disability (CHAD), and by AHS faculty members with labs researching aging issues and questions.

Over the course of the past five academic years, START has trained 66 AHS undergraduate students, 10 in 2018-2019, 11 in 2019-2020, 13 in 2020-2021, 18 in 2021-2022, and 14 in 2022-2023. The majority of fellows were female (56) and from I-Health (24), followed by Community Health (15), Speech and Hearing Science (14), and Kinesiology (13), with no students from Recreation Sports and Tourism. The program welcomed first-generation undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds.


AHS is the University hub for learning, discovery, and engagement in the area of health and well-being across the lifespan and throughout a diverse society. The profile of our undergraduate students makes AHS an ideal place to implement START. Undergraduate students in our college include 66% women, 15% African American, 15% Hispanics, and 30% first-generation college students. AHS offers undergraduate students from across campus access to an “Interdisciplinary Minor in Aging”, as well as many opportunities for undergraduate students to become involved in research in the health sciences.

The Center on Health, Aging, and Disability (CHAD) at AHS provides leadership in interdisciplinary research and engagement to support health and well-being across the lifespan, livable communities, and optimal living with disabilities. AHS is home to a number of faculty and research labs with interests in aging, including the Diversity Research Laboratory; Aging and Health Policy Lab; Physiology of Aging Lab; Adult Development, Adaptation, and Technology Laboratory; Aging and Neurocognition Lab; Human Factors and Aging Lab; Motor Control Research Lab; Aging and Diversity Lab, Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and the Exercise Psychology Lab, among others’ research groups without a formal lab name.

START rationale

Increases in longevity and in the proportion of older adults in the population have generated important research questions in the areas of health and well-being. Demand for professionals with specialized knowledge, educational background, and passion for aging and the aged is strong across a number of disciplines and is projected to continue to grow at significant rates. The lives of millions of older persons have changed each year thanks to advances in our understanding of the diverse nature of aging.

Although most people will experience health declines in their later years, research suggests that the burden of diseases and disability is disproportionately high among disadvantaged groups (e.g., racial and ethnic aging minorities). For a variety of reasons, older adults from underrepresented groups experience the effects of health disparities more than their younger counterparts. Language barriers, reduced access to health care, low socioeconomic status, and differing cultural norms can be major challenges to promoting health and well-being in an increasingly diverse older adult population. The American older adult population is becoming more diverse as the overall minority population grows and experiences greater longevity. Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased steadily and are projected to grow to 21.1 million by 2030 (28.5% of older adults).

Our ability to train professionals with gerontology expertise continues to lag significantly behind the need. Limited access to gerontological training in many health disciplines results in an under-prepared workforce that is unable to address the needs of the older adult population, especially with respect to diverse populations. As the older adult population grows and becomes more diverse, there is a demonstrated need for culturally competent researchers and practitioners. Diverse teams working together and capitalizing on innovative ideas and distinct perspectives outperform homogenous teams. Scientists and trainees from diverse backgrounds and life experiences bring different attitudes, values, and creativity to address complex societal issues and challenges.

In spite of tremendous advancements in scientific research, opportunities to engage in research/training are not equally available to all. Across all scientific fields, racial and ethnic minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and first-generation college students are underrepresented among researchers. START was developed to address the incongruence between the increasing need for diversity in aging research and the limited participation of students from diverse backgrounds. Our overarching goal is to build a culture of appreciation for aging research among our undergraduate students and to provide them with opportunities to engage in aging research, while strongly encouraging participation from underrepresented groups.

What students have gained from participating in START?

Results from surveys, focus groups, and interviews with START students elicited positive views about their experiences in the START program. Focus groups and interviews confirmed students’ increased interest in aging and research and their interest in aging as a career path. Through START, fellows began to see themselves as potential contributors to the field of aging research. This was an important gain, especially for Underrepresented Minority (URM) students that could see their cultural background as an asset. Fellows also underscored the program’s long-term impact on their research career paths, as many began to consider attending graduate school programs. START opened doors for fellows to learn more about faculty research agendas. Lab work was clearly an important component of the program in which our fellows became inspired and motivated by their mentor’s research projects.

Pre-post surveys confirmed a significant increase in knowledge as a result of participating in START. Specifically, average ratings of familiarity among the various aging-research topics moved from 2.3 (“never heard of it”- “heard of it”) at baseline to 4.2 (“know a fair amount” – “know it well”) by the end of the program.

What faculty mentors have to say about START?

Results from interviews with faculty mentors elicited positive views about their experiences with the START program. An important aspect of the program – its focus on the inclusion of URM students – was extremely valued and motivated many faculty to participate as mentors. Also, the fact that the program provided weekly seminars and trained students on the foundation of aging and research was also valued. Faculty mentors reported that students were able to hit the ground running when they joined the labs. Students in START were perceived to be both talented and motivated. START also provided opportunities for graduate students in labs to mentor START students and gain leadership skills.