Focus on Faculty: Glenn Ostir

Glenn Ostir, a professor in the College of Public Health and director of the university’s Institute of Gerontology, conducts research that promotes healthy aging throughout the life course.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned degrees in psychology and mathematical statistics from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, respectively. I also completed a clinical degree in respiratory therapy from the University of Manitoba Health Sciences Center. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Texas Medical Branch and completed postdoctoral training at the National Institute on Aging.

As director of the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health, my responsibilities include administration, research, education and community engagement. The Institute of Gerontology includes seven faculty members and two administrators.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I spent 17 years at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where I held the Sheridan Lorenz Distinguished Professorship in Aging and Health. My primary appointment was in the Division of Geriatrics, with a secondary appointment in the Division of Rehabilitation Sciences. I relocated to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2013, where I directed the Division of Gerontology. In January 2017, I moved to UGA to become the Director of the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health.

Several factors drove my decision to relocate to UGA, but, in particular, it was the opportunity to build a strong and sustainable institute, actively engaged in research, education and community outreach to benefit older people and the surrounding communities.

What are your favorite courses and why?

My favorite courses are those that engage the student and promote learning and understanding rather than memorization. Because of my interest in mind-body health, I plan to offer this course late in 2017.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

In my limited time at UGA, I was fortunate to be part of a group of scientists from the College of Public Health who visited the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Nanjing, China.  As part of this trip we also were able to meet scientists from Shanghai and discuss areas of mutual research interest.

I am also very excited about having two new faculty members join the institute in August 2017.  Dr. Lisa Renzi-Hammond is interested in the functional relationships between underlying brain structure, sensory integrity, plasticity, cognitive function and risk for disease, and the behaviors that promote cognitive vitality across the lifespan.

Dr. Jenay Beer has a Ph.D. in engineering psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her work focuses on the application of assistive technology to help future generations of older adults maintain their independence. Her research agenda includes a range of projects, including smart home technologies for aging-in-place, health communication technologies, and intervention applications for cancer survivors and older adults with impairment.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?

My research focuses on positive healthy aging throughout the life course. This research considers mind-body interactions and how external factors are linked to biology, thereby affecting health and well-being. Another research focus is the exploration of happiness or positive emotion and how this multi-dimensional psychological construct is empirically linked to disease and disability risk, as well as recovery. Finally, I am interested in telemedicine (including telehealth, eHealth, mHealth) and how new technologies can be used to improve the quality of life and well-being of older people in the state of Georgia.

I am fortunate to have been funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 20 years and to work with some of the finest research scientists in the country.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

I believe research and teaching go hand-in-hand. New discoveries can be quickly disseminated in the classroom. And the classroom can be a place to discuss new concepts and potential areas of investigation.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

The ability to think creatively and put forth innovative solutions to new problems.

Describe your ideal student.

One who wants to learn and is passionate about a topic.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

To walk around campus and read/discover the history of the UGA campus.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

Try new restaurants and visit unique stores in the area.

Community/civic involvement includes…

… working with community groups such as the Athens Community Council on Aging to develop programs that directly benefit older persons in the community.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I have three favorite books: “Freedom from the Known” (J. Kristnamurti), “The Alchemist” (P. Coelho), and “Perceval or Le Conte du Graal” (C. de Troyes). All three relate to self-discovery and self-knowledge. “Freedom from the Known” is about awareness of thought and how self-understanding comes when thought is not; “The Alchemist” is about a young Spanish boy who finds his personal legend; and “Perceval” is a mythical quest for the Grail. Perceval strives toward an unknown external end, not knowing what to look for or how to look for it, while turning inwards for a similar quest of self-discovery and awareness.

Originally published Sept. 11, 2017 for UGA’s Focus On Faculty feature: http://www.uga.edu/faculty/profile/ostir-glenn/.