SmartState Endowed Chair in SmartHOME
Professor, College of Social Work
Adjunct Professor, School of Medicine
University of South Carolina

“The SmartState Center for Innovation + Commercialization is the ‘missing link’ of the SmartState Program. SmartState Endowed Chairs such as myself are developing a tremendous amount of technology in our labs and through our research. There’s a tremendous amount of demand to help us leap to the next step, commercialization. There is a huge need for Dr. Laura B. Cardinal and her center.”

Sue Levkoff, MSW, SW, SCD, SmartState Endowed Chair in SmartHOME, SeniorSMART® Center of Economic Excellence, University of South Carolina

When the SmartState Program’s newest endowed chair arrived in South Carolina in 2010, the excitement was palpable. University of South Carolina’s then-president, Harris Pastides, hosted a press conference to introduce the world-class researcher, Sue Levkoff, who had been successfully recruited from Harvard University to lead the SeniorSMART® Center of Economic Excellence and its efforts to develop technology designed to keep seniors in their homes.

It was a major coup for South Carolina. Over the course of her 25 years at the Harvard School of Medicine, Levkoff established a Center on Minority Aging Research and also served as the principal investigator and program director for the Harvard Geriatric Education Center for more than 15 years, where she developed training programs in aging for individuals across the health professions.

Levkoff had also served as the principal investigator and program director of a federally funded program designed to advance short-term training to increase diversity in the health professions, partnering with two historically Black colleges and universities, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi Medical School. She has been particularly committed to the training of minority students in aging across the spectrum of education levels, from high school, to undergraduate, graduate, and professionals.

For Levkoff, her SmartState appointment was a homecoming of sorts. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, she had a desire to continue her prolific research and teaching career, carefully honed over 25 years at Harvard, in Columbia, S.C. Being named a SmartState Endowed Chair, one of the first women to be awarded such a prestigious position, was a dream come true.

Since joining UofSC as the Endowed Chair in SmartHOME, Levkoff has continued to excel in research, teaching and building bridges across academic departments, universities and among ethnic minority community groups. Over the course of her career, she has secured in excess of $10.1 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, 22 in all, serving as co- investigator on most of these. What’s impressive is SBIR grants are awarded to technologies deemed to be disruptive and have strong commercial potential.

Levkoff explains her research this way: “Throughout my career, I have focused my research on the reduction of health disparities for older adults. I have over 30 years of research directing research programs with multicultural community groups, implementing health interventions, and in providing technical assistance to community-based agencies seeking to expand their programming for ethnic minority older adults. I’ve relied on mixed methods, combining focus groups and informant interviews with quantitative clinical and survey data. I have been committed to translational research and working with multidisciplinary teams in real world contexts.”

She admits one of the challenges of academic research is commercialization. Too often researchers are so embedded in their work and with developing the next generation of scientists through their teaching, there is little time left to put on their “business hat” and bring new technology to market. Levkoff is grateful for the work being done by her colleague, Dr. Laura B. Cardinal, the SmartState Endowed Chair and Director of the SmartState Center for Innovation + Commercialization.

“The SmartState Center for Innovation + Commercialization is the ‘missing link’ of the SmartState Program. SmartState Endowed Chairs such as myself are developing promising technology through our research. There’s a tremendous amount of demand to help us leap to the next step by commercializing these promising technologies. There is a huge need for Laura and her center. She is such a great resource; I have even encouraged fellow faculty in the College of Social Work to take her class, the Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation, to support their innovative activities,” she says.

Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, Levkoff has not slowed down her rigorous schedule of research and teaching. If anything, she has enjoyed spending more time with her husband, a health policy expert in Boston, and her French Bulldog Lily, who often joins her online classes.

“If anything, I am getting more work done,” she says with a smile.