Knowledgeable on health disparities among aging minority populations, Dr. Valentine M. 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). She 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. Dr. Villa has authored and co-authored 60 peer-reviewed publications including “Hispanic Baby Boomers: Health Inequities Likely to Persist in Old Age,” “Racial/Ethnic Variations in Veterans’ Ambulatory Care Use,” “Equitable Health Systems: Structural and Cultural Issues for Latino Elders” and “The Health and Functional Status of U.S. Veterans Age 65+: Implications for Health and Long Term Care Planning for an Elderly Diverse Veteran Population.” Along with other scholars in the field, she has been published in such journals as The Gerontologist, Home Health Quarterly, the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, the American Journal of Law and Medicine, the Journal of Health and Social Policy and the American Journal of Medical Quality, to name a few. She has also received millions of dollars in grants to pursue her research.
In addition to her scholarly work, Dr. Villa has lent her time and expertise to the development of city, county and national programs that improve the health and social circumstances of older adults, disenfranchised communities and the veteran population. A facilitator of the White House Conference on Aging in 1995, she has consulted for the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles, 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 for the Healthy Aging Initiative of Los Angeles County since 103, as well as active with the Aging Advocacy Coalition of Los Angeles since 2014. Recently, Dr. Villa served as the lead editor for the Purposeful Aging Initiative in Los Angeles, and has served since 2016 on the advisory board of the AARP Latino Caregiver Initiative. Her work on improving the health and well-being of Los Angeles County’s older adult populations has received commendations from the Los Angeles City Council in 2009, Mayor Antonio Villarigosa in 2009 and Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2018. An active speaker in the field, she is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and maintains involvement with numerous organizations related to her field including the American Society on Aging and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.
Prior to the start of her professional life, Dr. Villa pursued a formal education at the University of Southern California (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. During her tenure as a student, Dr Villa served as a congressional intern for the U.S. House of Representatives’ house select committee on aging in 1985. Following this, she was a pre-doctoral trainee and National Institute on Aging (NIA) demography of aging grantee at the USC Leonard David School of Gerontology from 1989 to 1993.
Dr. Villa credits her success to the amazing and supportive professors she had as a student at the USC Leonard David School of Gerontology, her colleagues, family and friends. She reports that it was the professors at USC that taught her the importance of critical thinking, doing research that informs broader policy and programs that will improve the lives of aging diverse populations, and maintaining the highest ethical standards in teaching and practice. Dr. Villa is forever grateful for the training, support and encouragement she has always received from the faculty at the USC Leonard David School of Gerontology. She has also been fortunate to have formed collegiate relationships with professors and scholars, who have been kind and generous in sharing opportunities, knowledge and wisdom.
Lastly, Dr. Villa maintains that none of what she has accomplished would have been possible without the support of her friends and family, particularly her parents Billie and Eddie Villa. Both of Mexican American ancestry, they were born into abject poverty in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles and were the product of single families. Their goal as parents was to provide Dr. Villa and her brothers every opportunity they did not have growing up. Together, her parents worked to provide a seemingly middle-class life for their children with the message that “If you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.” That message provides the core foundational belief that she holds dear, and she credits every major accomplishment of her career and her life to her parents.