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Plenary and Featured Speakers

A highlight of every GSA Annual Scientific Meeting is the opportunity to hear award-winning researchers at the top of their field share their latest discoveries and insights. And that’s certainly true with GSA 2021. The Award Symposia lectures feature some of the most accomplished and innovative researchers in aging.

GSA fosters new ideas, recognizes leadership in gerontological teaching and service, and salutes both outstanding and potential research through a host of awards. The Society's awards program has a dual purpose: honoring outstanding leaders in the field of gerontology and focusing attention on new developments in the area of aging. In a way, the Society's award recipients serve as milestones in the history and development of gerontology.

The multidisciplinary span of the Society's membership is reflected in the awards maintained by GSA. Some awards honor outstanding achievement in gerontology irrespective of discipline, other awards are limited to each of the Society's six members groups; the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education, Biological Sciences, Behavioral and Social Sciences, Emerging Scholar and Professional Organization, Health Sciences, and Social Research, Policy, and Practice.

Speaker Schedule for GSA 2021

NOTE: All times are listed as Eastern Time. Check back for updates as additional award winners and featured speakers are announced leading up to the Annual Scientific Meeting in November.

10:00 AM (ET)

Clark Tibbitts Award Lecture: “Kathryn Hyer's Lasting Legacy in Gerontology Education and Aging Policy Research” presented by Dr. Debra Dobbs in memory of 2021 recipient, Kathy Hyer

This award is given to individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of gerontology and/or geriatrics education.

Hiram J. Friedsam Mentorship Award Lecture: Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, University of North Georgia

This award recognizes individuals who have contributed to gerontological and/or geriatrics education through excellence in mentorship to students, faculty, and administrators.

5:00 PM (ET)

Joseph T. Freeman Award Lecture and Presentation: Dr. Pamela Cacchione, University of Pennsylvania

This award acknowledges a prominent clinician in the field of aging, both in research and practice.

Excellence in Rehabilitation Award Lecture and Presentation: Dr. Gregory Hicks, University of Delaware

This award acknowledges outstanding contributions in the field of rehabilitation of aging persons.

10:00 AM (ET)

Rising Star Early Career Faculty Award Lecture: “Creating 'This is It' Moments in Gerontological Education” by Dr. Candace Brown, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

This award recognizes new faculty whose teaching and/or leadership stands out as impactful and innovative.

12:00 PM (ET)

Maxwell A. Pollack Award Lecture Presentation: Dr. Karl Pillemer, Cornell University

This award recognizes instances of practice informed by research and analysis, research that directly improved policy or practice, and distinction in bridging the worlds of research and practice. This award is funded by the New York Community Trust through a generous gift from the Maxwell A. Pollack Fund.

3:30 PM (ET)

Irving S. Wright Award of Distinction Lecture: Dr. Melene Hansen, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

The Irving S. Wright Award honors exceptional contributions to basic or clinical research in the field of aging by member of the scientific community. This award is sponsored by the American Federation for Aging Research.

Vincent Cristofalo Rising Star Award Lecture: Dr. Morgan Levine, Yale University

This award honors younger scientists to investigate important problems in the biology of aging. It is sponsored by the American Federation for Aging Research.

Terrie Fox Wetle Award Lecture: Dr. Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi, University of Wisconsin, Madison and Dr. Kali S. Thomas, Brown University

This award honors a younger health services researcher who has made important contributions with work that respects the value of multidisciplinary health services science and that is likely to be highly influential in shaping practice and research for decades to come. It is sponsored by the American Federation for Aging Research.

4:00 PM (ET)

Margret M. and Paul B. Baltes Award: Dr. William Chopik, Michigan State University

This award acknowledges outstanding early career contributions in behavioral and social gerontology. This award is given by GSA in conjunction with the Margaret M. and Paul B. Baltes Foundation.

12:30 PM (ET)

Donald P. Kent Award Lecture Presentation: Dr. David Ekerdt, The University of Kansas

This award is given annually to a GSA member who best exemplifies the highest standards for professional leadership in gerontology through teaching, service, and interpretation of gerontology to the larger society.

Robert W. Kleemeier Award Lecture Presentation: Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, University of Washington

This award is given annually to a GSA member in recognition for outstanding research in the field of gerontology

4:00 PM (ET)

M. Powell Lawton Award Lecture Presentation: Dr. Sara Czaja, Weill Cornell Medicine

This award honors contributions from applied gerontological research that have benefited older people and their care. This award is sponsored by the Abramson Senior Care’s Polisher Research Institute.

Opening Plenary

A program featuring a screening of Caregiver: A Love Story followed by Dr. Zitter’s keynote describing the rising public health crisis of family caregiver burden.  Her talk delivers a comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by family caregivers as they navigate medical, financial and personal obstacles in their roles as caregivers.

Audience members will...

  • Leave with a better understanding of the issues facing family caregivers in many sectors
  • Be better prepared to initiate conversations around family caregiver support strategies
  • Leave with a few key action items to better support family caregivers


Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH calls for a new approach to caring for the dying.  Practicing the unusual combination of ICU and palliative care medicine, she has come to view our indiscriminate use of technology in dying patients as a public health crisis.

Dr. Zitter uses story to promote a new approach.   Her book Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life, offers an insider’s view of intensive care in the U.S. and its impact on how we die.  Her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Time magazine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and other publications. Her work is featured in the Oscar and Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary Extremis, as well as Caregiver: A Love Story, which explores the rising concern of family caregiver burden. 

Dr. Zitter attended Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University Medical School and earned her Master of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her medical training includes an Internal Medicine residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a fellowship in Pulmonary/Critical Care at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2005 Dr. Zitter co-founded Vital Decisions, a telephone counseling service for patients with life-limiting illnesses.  She practices at the public hospital in Oakland California.

More information at


The Gerontological Society of America is the oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. GSA’s principal mission — and that of our 5,500 members — is to promote the study of aging and disseminate information to scientists, decision makers, and the general public. Founded in 1945, GSA is the driving force behind advancing innovation in aging — both domestically and internationally. Our members come from more than 50 countries. To further fulfill our mission, GSA assembles more than 3,500 professionals from around the world to an Annual Scientific Meeting. This monumental event now features more than 500 sessions each year. Additionally, we publish the field’s preeminent peer-reviewed journals.



The Gerontological Society of America
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