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Pepper Institute Celebrates 40th Anniversary

October 6, 2017


The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, a unit of the Florida State University College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017, marking decades of vital research and policy work on aging issues.

The institute marks the occasion with a special invitation-only event on October 12. FSU President John Thrasher will introduce Bob Graham, former U.S. Senator and Governor of Florida, who will speak on “Aging and Public Policy: Reflecting on Our History, Looking Toward Our Future.”

The Pepper Institute got its start in the early 1970s, when William G. Bell, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, obtained permission to start a program in gerontology in anticipation of subsequently forming a center. In 1977, Bell received funding from the U.S. Administration on Aging to establish the Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology at FSU.

The goals of the center were to provide a focal unit within the university to stimulate collaboration and exchange among faculty and students of various disciplines, to recruit and train individuals for professional careers in the field of services to the elderly, to conduct and disseminate research on significant policies and practices affecting the elderly and to link the resources of the university to the state Legislature and organizations in Florida.

The center was given space on campus in the Bellamy Building within the College of Social Sciences Institute for Social Research. The center's activities expanded over the next several years with programs in teaching, continuing education, research, and service.

In 1984, the center entered a new era. When Bell announced he would step down as director, the provost appointed a campus-wide advisory committee to determine new directions for the Multidisciplinary Center on Gerontology. After a year, the committee nominated Professor of Nursing Marie Cowart to the director position. At the same time, initial steps were undertaken to secure funding from the Claude Pepper Foundation for the Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair.

During Cowart's term, 1985-1992, the name was changed to the Institute on Aging and the organization grew in its teaching, research, and publication functions. The new institute organized a national conference and its activities became linked with the Claude Pepper Foundation, eventually leading to the construction of the Pepper Center building on campus.

The staff grew to eight half-time faculty research associates, and grant funding increased markedly. A campus-wide group of affiliate faculty were named and met regularly. Professor Jill Quadagno was hired in 1987 to fill the Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair.

Faculty associates during this time developed strong research programs on such topics as cognitive aging (Neil Charness, Psychology), Alzheimer's (Michelle Bourgeois, Communication Disorders), retirement security (David Macpherson, Economics) and health care policy (Quadagno).

In 1992, the name was changed once again to its present title, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy.

Today, the institute serves as coordinator and facilitator for the multidisciplinary work in aging studies at Florida State University, supporting individual or collaborative research projects as well as graduate training and other campus-wide educational initiatives.

“For decades the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy has sought to carry forward Claude Pepper’s legacy of improving the lives of older adults," said Anne Barrett, current director of the institute. "In contrast to many aging institutes, which focus on aging’s biomedical aspects, the Pepper Institute focuses on the social aspects of aging and their policy implications. Our faculty and students are conducting research on many critical issues – like economic and health disparities in later life, the features of our social and physical environments shaping well-being in later life, and the early life experiences that influence our later years.”

The Institute also sponsors the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which encourages elders to return to campus to continue to learn, while participating in university research projects and intergenerational education.
For an overview of the extensive research and policy work currently conducted by the center, see the article in the 2017 Engage magazine at this link or visit the institute’s web site here.