Completing a PhD is a feat in itself. Yet Kimberly Johnson, who is visually impaired, did not let this challenge get in the way. In fact, she not only completed her doctorate in gerontology, she earned the program’s top honor at this year’s convocation.
Kimberly Johnson was selected as the recipient of the Gerontology Award for Outstanding Achievement on the basis of her dissertation, “Volunteering among Surviving Spouses: The Impact of Volunteer Activity on the Health of the Recently Widowed.”
Johnson also earned a highly-competitive, merit-based fellowship from the Hartford Foundation that offered two years of funding to complete her dissertation.
Johnson’s dissertation research examines the relationship between widowhood and health outcomes, specifically self-rated health and depressive symptoms. Her dissertation examines that relationship, but also focuses on the ways in which volunteer activity may help to offset the reduced health outcomes frequently experienced by recently widowed adults. Johnson’s study uses longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study to explore this complex set of relationships. Her results indicate that volunteering decreases the probability that older adults will be in poor health or experience depressive symptoms. However, volunteering does not reduce the health risks of widowhood. Her findings support the idea that participating in volunteering helps older adults remain socially integrated through playing meaningful roles in their communities, but no special advantage for recent widows was established.
Prior to entering the PhD Program in Gerontology, Johnson received a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Evansville, and an MSW in clinical social work from the University of Southern Indiana. Her major interests include the association between productive activities (such as volunteering) and health outcomes, public policies and programs associated with economic security, and ways of enhancing opportunities for social engagement and productive activity for adults.
According to department chair Jeffrey Burr, “Kim has overcome significant hurdles to be one of our most successful PhD students. Interestingly, the department never made any exceptions for Kim regarding program requirements and she never asked for any special help. Her determination, native talent, and courage are among the reasons she is where she is today – on her way to a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Indiana. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”