World Health Organization aging expert honoured with KPU Distinguished Alumni Award

Thu, Jun 13, 2024

A healthy aging expert committed to raising awareness and changing the narrative about age and aging is being recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).

Yongjie Yon, a 2007 bachelor's degree graduate from the psychology program, will be honored on June 14 during the morning convocation ceremonies at KPU Surrey.

Yon is a Technical Officer for the Ageing and Health program at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark. Yon’s work focuses on supporting 53 member states in promoting healthy aging through national policy development, capacity building and advocacy. This includes spearheading campaigns against ageism and elder abuse and crafting age-friendly cities and communities to enhance the health and well-being of older individuals. 

Yongjie Yon receives KPU Distinguished Alumni Award
Yongjie Yon is being recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from KPU.

"Our population is aging very rapidly, including Canada and globally. This year, we see a historic shift where more older than younger people live in the WHO European Region," says Yon. "Now, it’s an opportunity for us to change how we think about population aging, our policies, how we live, how we work, redefine what retirement is and how we organize our society."

Yon's interest in aging was ignited during his time at KPU, particularly under the guidance of his psychology professor, Dr. Larry Anderson, who died in 2023. For Yon, receiving this award is an opportunity to honour Dr. Anderson's legacy and the work of KPU's psychology department. 

"Dr. Anderson was teaching psychology and aging, and he said that this is the field we need to go into because eventually, the world will start thinking about how it can respond to population aging, its challenges and opportunities," reflects Yon.  

"He gave me my first job as a research assistant conducting the first B.C. wide study on ageism, and it came back full circle. Now, I'm leading the work on aging and on ageism globally and regionally." 

After graduation, Yon earned a master's degree in gerontology from Simon Fraser University and a PhD from the University of Southern California. He worked with the Canadian government in policy analysis to address aging, including elder abuse, pensions and retirement income, and developing policies to support older workers, improve their financial literacy and support immigrant seniors. 

Yon is passionate about bridging the generational gap between older people and youth, advocating for a life-course approach to healthy aging. In his spare time, he actively volunteers with Soka Gakkai International, a lay Buddhist organization dedicated to peace, culture and education. He also engages with youth in North America and Europe, empowering them to believe in themselves and take purposeful action grounded in compassion.  

Elizabeth Anderson, who supported the nomination on behalf of her husband, Dr. Larry Anderson, believes Yon’s work is pivotal in bridging the gap between older persons and youth.

"It is heartening to witness his dedication to fostering healthy aging at the international level, particularly for those living with dementia," says Elizabeth Anderson. "Larry's teachings and Yongjie's work intersect in their shared commitment to enhancing the lives of older individuals."  

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes KPU alumni who demonstrate lifetime accomplishments in one or more areas: professional, entrepreneurial, innovation, service, exemplified resilience in the face of adversity, and significant regional, national, or international contribution.