Knowledgeable on health disparities among aging minority populations, the parents of Valentine M. Villa, PhD, cared for her grandparents in their old age, with her grandfather being an amputee and her grandmother being diagnosed with cancer. She feels that watching her mother care and advocate for her elderly grandparents, as well as being exposed to the environment of older adults in general, resonated with her by causing her to want to pursue gerontology. She is a Mexican-American individual who grew up in a middle class family with hard-working parents. Because her parents provided her with so many tools to succeed while growing up, Dr. Villa takes every chance she gets to look toward the sky and thank her parents for any raise or promotion that she gets.
Dr. Villa currently serves as a professor in social work at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and an adjunct professor at the Fielding School of Public Health of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) since 2003. She began her professional career at UCLA’s School of Social Welfare as a lecturer in 1993, remaining in this role for four years before joining the university’s School of Public Policy and Social Research as an adjunct assistant professor from 1997 to 2000. Dr. Villa then transferred to the university’s Fielding School of Public Health from 2000 to 2003.
In addition to this tenure, Dr. Villa was the program director for the American Association of Retired Persons at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1984 and a congressional intern for the U.S. House of Representatives’ house select committee on aging in 1985. Following this, she directed the administration and corporate development section of Community and Human Resources, Inc., for one year and was a pre-doctoral trainee and National Institute on Aging (NIA) demography of aging grantee of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology from 1989 to 1993. She also served the Department of Social Welfare of UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Research as a research associate and project director from 1993 to 1996, and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration’s veteran health service utilization project as senior health researcher from 1998 to 2003. Today, Dr. Villa is a senior researcher for UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research since 2000 and director of CSULA’s Applied Gerontology Institute since 2006. Throughout her career, she has chaired over 200 theses of master’s students in social work and public health.
Prior to the start of her professional life, Dr. Villa pursued a formal education at USC, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication arts and sciences in 1983, Master of Public Administration in 1985, Master of Science in gerontology in 1985 and PhD in gerontology in 1993. Notably, she was the first person in the nation to receive a PhD in gerontology, the study of aging.
Since graduating, Dr. Villa has contributed her time to several civic endeavors. A facilitator of the White House Conference on Aging in 1995, she has consulted for the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles from 1996 to 2010, the Los Angeles City Department of Aging since 1996 and the Veterans Administration’s veteran identity program since 1998. Additionally, she has been an executive committee member of the Los Angeles County Council of Aging Organizations from 1996 to 2010 and leadership committee member of the Healthy Aging Initiative of Los Angeles County since 2013, as well as active with the Aging Advocacy Coalition of Los Angeles since 2014. Recently, Dr. Villa serves as the lead editor for the Purposeful Aging Initiative in Los Angeles since 2016 and serves on the advisory board of the AARP Latino Caregiver Initiative since 2016.
An active speaker in the field, Dr. Villa is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and maintains involvement with numerous organizations related to her field including the American Society on Aging and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. In light of her achievements, she received a Certificate of Commendation from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Dr. Villa attributes her success to working hard, in spite of setbacks or road blocks. She focuses on putting one foot in front of the other at all times. She also credits her incredible colleagues and mentors, who have opened many professional doors for her. Their support means a lot to her.