Sidney Stahl, Ph.D., who has led the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs) since their inception 15 years ago, retired from the National Institute on Aging at the end of March.
Dr. Stahl came to NIA in 1996, lured away from a tenured position at Purdue University where he was a professor and researcher in gerontology and medical sociology. “I’ve had two careers,” Dr. Stahl said, “and both have been marvelous learning experiences.”
Looking back on the NIA experience, he has no trouble singling out a major highlight: the development of the RCMARs. The Centers, located at six universities around the country, mentor and train young investigators in minority aging research. Dr. Stahl was in at the birth of the RCMARs in 1997, and when he became chief of the Individual Behavioral Processes Branch in 2003, he asked to retain that project.
“It was too much fun and too rewarding to give up,” he said.
Part of the pleasure has been watching fledgling researchers develop projects that go on to qualify for independent funding. The Centers provide pilot grants to the young researchers, known as RCMAR Scholars, to conduct studies on minority aging under the guidance of mentors at their own institutions. The Scholars and mentors from the six Centers meet several times a year and have monthly phone meetings. “There’s a lot of cross mentoring and cross fertilization,” Dr. Stahl noted. “It’s a very active group.”
Most RCMAR Scholars have gone on to teach and conduct research in major universities. Arleen F. Brown, M.D., for instance, is Associate Professor of Medicine at UCLA. Stephanie Garrett, M.D., is Associate Professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
Some hold government positions, like Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the current head of the Indian Health Service. Margaret Moss, Ph.D., of the Mandan/Arikara/Hidatsa tribe, has served as chief of staff of the House Select Committee on Aging and is now an associate professor at the Yale University School of Nursing.
The RCMAR Scholars’ substantive areas vary; they may be newly minted physicians, psychologists, public health specialists, or basic science researchers. Most represent minority groups and all have a focus on minority aging.
The RCMARs aren’t the only minority-related projects Dr. Stahl has led at NIA. He’s worked with the Administration on Aging (now called Administration for Community Living) on a joint initiative to conduct research in community settings. And he’s been in charge of the REACH trial, which studied ways to help caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants in REACH (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health) were an equal distribution black, Hispanic/Latino, and non-Hispanic white. The materials and protocols developed by the program are now used by all Department of Veterans Affairs home care programs as a model for dementia caregiver support and by several state level Area Agencies on Aging, which are supported by the Administration for Community Living.
With two careers under his belt, what is next? Writing music, for one thing. Dr. Stahl studied music in college (a dabbler, not a major, he says) and plays trumpet with a brass quintet and community band in the Washington, D.C. area. He has composed several pieces and had his compositions performed at the University of Illinois, where he was an undergraduate.
But he’s not leaving the research field completely. “I’ll do a little bit of consulting in my areas of expertise,” he admitted. Like the RCMARs, the field is just too enticing to give up.