Student Spotlight

Here at CATR, we put a lot of energy into creating quality courses, certificates and programming for our students to learn about aging, and we love seeing them do great things with their knowledge. Here, we acknowledge students who have gone beyond expectations, and are destined to do great things.
If you are or know someone who deserves to be recognized in our Student Spotlight, contact Meg Zimont at

Learn more about our Undergraduate Certificate in Healthy Aging or our Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology!

Jeffrey Peterson
Graduate Certificate Student

Jeffrey Jordan Peterson is working to get his PhD in Kinesiology. He is also working towards his Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology. Jeffrey has already received his Masters degree in Kinesiology, and should be finishing up his PhD in under a year.

Jeffrey hasn’t always gone to UWM however. He first acquired an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and then worked a few different jobs upon graduation.

“I first worked for Royal Caribbean after graduation, traveling all over the world. I then moved back to Racine with my wife and worked as a personal trainer for a little while. I then decided it was time to go back to school, so I went to University of Wisconsin Milwaukee to get my masters in degree in Kinesiology.”

It was through Jeffrey’s time as a Masters Student that he learned about UWM Center for Aging and Translational Research and the Certificate in Applied Gerontology. He was able to use the participant registry that CATR is an important part of putting together in order to find individuals that would be willing to participate in some of the tests that he was performing.

Jeffrey’s work is now focused on balance and fall prevention in older adults. His team is trying to find out why older adults fall when they do and how to prevent it from happening again.

“My team and I have been looking at the underlying motor mechanisms that are driving the increased falls risk in older adults. We have been doing studies that revolve around older adults doing a secondary task.”

Jeffrey originally decided to research aging after working as a personal trainer.

“When I was working as a personal trainer most of my clients were older adults. There is a lot of info related to how to gain strength when you get older, but not as much research related to increasing balance as you age. I found that frustrating and wanted to research that subject more.”

Jeffrey would like to stay in academia in some capacity after attaining his PhD. He enjoys traveling with his wife, biking and hiking, listening to music, and watching sports.

Interview and photo by CATR intern, Evan Casey. October 2017.

Brittany Heintz 
Graduate Certificate Student

Brittany Heintz was awarded the Helen Bader Age and Community Scholarship in May 2017! Brittany is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in the Kinesiology Department at UWM. She just completed her coursework in the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology offered by CATR.

Brittany is 28 years old and is originally from Greendale. She completed her undergraduate degree at UWM as well, getting her Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology. She originally decided to focus her studies on Kinesiology because of her Grandma.

“I started to get interested in the study of Kinesiology when my Grandma was sent to the hospital when I was in high school. She had cancer, and unfortunately never left the hospital until she entered hospice care. I was able to see the effect that her doctors had on her, and how they were able to take this negative situation and try to make a positive impact out of it.”

Brittany also spent time working at an assisted living home. This experience led her to enjoy being around and working with the aging population as well.

Brittany is now researching how motor control changes with aging. She is specifically looking into how older adults use touchscreen devices.

“Although using touch screens might be challenging for some older adults, the benefits are endless for them. I want to make these devices easier for them to use.”

Brittany was very excited to get to work with CATR in order to achieve her goals as a Masters Student.

“I was able to get more of a holistic experience regarding the aging community. This certificate helped me focus on my research and helped me attain a better perspective about aging.”

Interview and photo by CATR intern, Evan Casey. September 2017. 

Austin Holik
Graduate Certificate Student

Austin Holik is a second year graduate student at UWM. He will be graduating this spring with a Masters Degree in Social Work. Not only did Austin receive the UWM Helen Bader School of Social Welfare Age and Community Scholarship award, but he also received the Irene Frye Scholarship for Gerontology.

Austin is originally from the Chicago area. He found his way to UWM as an undergraduate student 5 years ago. Austin decided to pursue a major in social work, but this wasn’t his original intent.

“I was a music major at first because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I basically threw a dart on a map and after looking at the opportunities and the job outlook said, ‘social work it is!’”

At first Austin loved his major, but it wasn’t until he took a course on aging that he learned that he might want to pursue working with older adults.

Austin originally didn’t even know that CATR existed, or what it was. It was through the guidance of his counselors that he decided to pursue CATR’s Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology.

“I really enjoy working with older adults and CATR provides me the opportunity to take more classes and learn more about the aging population. It’s a great resource, and I am able to learn more about the aging community because of this certificate.”

Because of the scholarships and the certificate, Austin has been able to take a wide breadth of courses.

“I really enjoy that I get to take a lot of classes with a variety of majors at the graduate level. My first class was a nursing course. I’ve never taken a nursing course before and I learned quickly that their perspective was a lot different than mine. I’m in an education class right now, learning better ways to teach adults. It is important to meet the older adult where they are at. You have to be flexible when teaching the aging population as well.”

Although Austin is still unsure of what it is exactly that he wants to do when he graduates, he is planning on working with older adults in some capacity.

“I am really happy that I chose this path. Overall, I am passionate about providing quality healthcare for everyone. Whatever I can do to genuinely help the aging population in this way is important to me.”

Interview and photo by CATR intern, Evan Casey. September 2017. 

Diana Vang-Brostoff
Graudate Certificate Student

Diana Vang-Brostoff, Certificate StudentDiana Vang-Brostoff was born in Milwaukee but raised in cities throughout the Midwest. Her family followed her father’s career trajectory as he completed the internships necessary to becoming a Lutheran minister. In all total, they moved 7 times. They finally settled in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where she attended Sheboygan Lutheran High School before starting as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She completed her bachelor’s degree in social work, becoming a certified social worker in 2011.

Since graduation, she spent 10 months working for AmeriCorps Public Allies as a Community Outreach Specialist in the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative. Soon thereafter, she was an Administrative Assistant and MPS tutor for Wisconsin Education Matters, Inc. and also worked as a therapist for a child with autism.

Wanting to further her education, Diana chose to return to UWM to complete her Masters in social work. She will graduate in December 2014.

“I knew the quality of the [social work] program at UWM very well. They serve their students well.”

She also wanted to go to school in Milwaukee to stay close to her husband. She’s committed to using her skills to invest in the city of Milwaukee.

“I think there are so many benefits to returning to UWM. I’m getting to know future employers and coworkers and I get to build my network here. I’m planning to stay in Milwaukee.”

While the graduate program only takes three semesters, Diana is opting to stay four semesters so she can finish her Master’s degree in Social Work with a certificate in the Applied Gerontology program.

To complete the Social Work Master’s program, all students must complete a year-long internship. Diana was assigned to the VA Medical Hospital in Milwaukee. As a result of this experience, she hopes to work with veterans.

Social work has always been a passion for Diana, especially the area of mental health. She became aware of mental health issues when she was young. She had an elementary school friend who struggled with mental illness and needed hospitalization.

“Mental health is a serious issue in the US that needs addressing.”

Geriatrics has become a recent interest in the last few years for Diana.

“Looking at the job market, there is a need for more geriatric social workers. Studies show there will never be enough social workers for this upcoming population shift we’ll have in the next 30 to 40 years, so it’s really important that we keep working to understand how to serve the older adult population.”

Diana received the Helen Bader Age and Community Scholarship, which was a big motivation to attend UWM for her master’s degree. While the scholarship was a motivator, Diana says that it was her mother-in-law, Phyllis Brostoff, who encouraged her to complete the program. Brostoff is a pioneer in geriatric care management and the founder of Stowell Associates and Select Care Staff where they work with families to find the best action of care for their loved ones.

Diana’s goals are to become a licensed clinical social worker, working with adults in a clinical capacity, and to be an advocate for those with mental health issues. She is new to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Milwaukee Chapter board and hopes to work on mental health policy reform in the future with leaders, such as Assembly woman Sandy Pasch. Anxiety disorders and depression are very common in the older adult population and can be masked by other symptoms. The Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology will, no doubt, make Diana a better clinician, especially when working with the older adult population.

“Working with adults will only become a bigger, and bigger field.”

She offers advice for anyone that is considering the gerontology graduate certificate program.

“Work hard to be successful in your studies, and get to know your classmates and professors, because they are your references in the future. Social workers need everyone in the community to be the most successful.”

Interview by Mark Lee, Fall 2014 CATR Communications Intern