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Q&A with Interim Dean Melissa Sturge-Apple

Melissa Sturge-Apple headshot photo

Melissa Sturge-Apple ’92, formerly the vice provost and dean of graduate education at the University of Rochester, assumes the new role of interim dean of the Warner School. 
(University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)


Melissa Sturge-Apple ’92 started her new role as interim dean of the Warner School of Education and Human Development on July 1, 2024. She has worked at the University of Rochester since 2006 and has served in various leadership roles, including most recently as vice provost and dean of graduate education since 2019 and dean of graduate studies in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering from 2016-19. 

As vice provost and dean of graduate education, she oversaw academic policies, procedures, and the quality of graduate education across the University. An accomplished scholar, Sturge-Apple conducts research at the University’s Mount Hope Family Center, focusing on family processes, parental functioning, and child development with an emphasis on families at risk. 

Earlier in her career, she was a school counselor at the middle and high school levels for six years. Sturge-Apple holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics from the University of Rochester and a master’s and doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Notre Dame.

Learn more about Interim Dean Sturge-Apple, her vision for the Warner School’s future, and new and exciting opportunities within the School and University in this exclusive Q&A.


You have served in a dean role for the University for eight years, first as dean of AS&E graduate studies and then for University graduate education. What skills did you learn and acquire from these positions that will be especially helpful as interim dean?  
As vice provost and graduate dean, I have developed a deep understanding of and keen appreciation for the unique strengths and key challenges of schools and disciplines while working with constituents to determine our collective purpose and goal. As a faculty member and an administrator, I have expertise in identifying strategic priorities, realizing revenue opportunities and funding initiatives, and amplifying student success through data-driven decisions and evidence-based approaches. I have also demonstrated the value of the interpersonal aspects of these positions through my ability to foster relationships, consensus, collaboration, and proactive partnerships in my work.

What drew you to Warner? 
At Warner, I see an incredible passion and devotion to the impact that educators and education can have on changing lives and advancing research, policy and knowledge on the human condition. This resonates strongly with me and my own trajectory. After graduating from the University of Rochester in 1992 with my bachelor’s in psychology and economics, I took my first graduate course at the Warner School on child development. I continued my academic journey to earn my MEd in prevention science from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Subsequently, I worked as a school counselor for several years with students and families experiencing trauma and risk. These experiences drove me to return to graduate school and pursue my doctoral degree in psychology. 

What are you looking forward to most about the position? 
I am most looking forward to getting to know the Warner School community of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends and understanding the key strategic objectives of Warner. I’m also excited to be among faculty who are social scientists at heart and care about the human condition, attempting to make it ‘ever better’ through research, policy and scholarship.

What opportunities do you foresee to build upon and strengthen Warner’s connections and collaborations with other departments/disciplines across the University? 
First off, Warner faculty have already made some great connections! Nestor Tulagan’s joint appointment in human development at the Warner School and with the University’s School of Arts and Sciences in developmental psychology is one good example. There are some other new natural connections to be made with other social science departments across campus—psychology, economics, political science and anthropology, to name a few—as well as potential opportunities to collaborate with the Mount Hope Family Center and psychiatry. I hope to help Warner build upon and expand many of these connections to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations across departments and schools that lead to new research opportunities, knowledge sharing, and real-world impact.

Conversations regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) have been at the forefront of building access, culture, and community. How do you plan to expand on the EDI efforts at Warner? 
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in higher education are essential cornerstones of a more equitable and just society. Through my personal and professional experiences, I know that diverse viewpoints, life histories, perspectives, and orientations bring unique and important strengths to scholarship, teaching, research, and mentoring. I want to know and understand the efforts that Warner has already undertaken with respect to this and determine together how we can continue to build upon this work. 

What challenges and opportunities are you most looking forward to tackling?
I look forward to addressing immediate challenges and opportunities in several key areas, including faculty searches, student success initiatives, research initiatives, and strategic planning with the University of Rochester. Equally important, I look forward to hearing from the Warner community what they perceive as the most significant challenges and opportunities.

How will you engage with students, faculty, and staff to ensure voices are heard, particularly at Warner?
Engaging with students, faculty, and staff is crucial to ensuring that ALL voices are heard. I believe in simple yet effective methods for achieving this. At Warner, I will set up individual meetings with faculty and staff to provide personal attention and address their unique concerns. Additionally, I will attend student gatherings to connect with students in their own spaces and listen to their experiences and feedback. Lastly, I plan to be present in LeChase Hall regularly, making myself accessible and approachable to everyone in the Warner community. Simple actions like these can have a significant impact on fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment. 

In my previous role, engagement was something I’ve focused on regularly. I established the first council of graduate student and postdoctoral fellow leaders, the University Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows Advisory Council, whom I met with regularly to discuss challenges, concerns, issues, and opportunities. Additionally, in my five years as University dean, I initiated significant changes in my office’s partnerships with the broader university administration and the graduate education community by establishing new committees on graduate academic affairs, graduate student affairs, and University fellowships. My office expanded to include oversight of postdoctoral fellows. These actions during my administrative career have resulted in more inclusive policies, community-building programming, and supportive spaces in graduate education and postdoctoral training. Lastly, I have sponsored interdisciplinary programs, competitions, and networking opportunities for graduate student researchers and their faculty, including the Steadman Family Prize Competition, the 3-Minute Thesis Competition, and the Future Faculty Series. 

What do you believe are the most essential qualities of an effective leader in higher education?
I believe people enter administration with the aspiration to make an impact and leave the place better than they found it. That has been my north star as an administrator. I’ve learned much over the past eight years as an administrator from my interactions with faculty, staff and students across committees and working groups. I am inspired by their commitment to making Rochester ‘ever better.’  I take comfort in my successes, but more importantly, I have learned from some of my mistakes. Lessons learned include the necessity of patience, the checking of the ego, the importance of data-driven decisions, and the criticality of building consensus among stakeholders and colleagues. These lessons are guideposts for me that I try to adhere to daily in my administrative work and engagement with my colleagues and students.

How do you balance administrative responsibilities with your research and teaching commitments? 
Balancing administrative responsibilities with research and teaching commitments is challenging, but I approach it with dedication and organization. I remain committed to all aspects of my roles by maintaining a precise schedule, setting realistic goals, and being adaptable when unexpected demands arise. Ultimately, it’s about staying focused and dedicated to each responsibility, ensuring that I fulfill my roles as an administrator, researcher, and educator. 

What else would you like to share about you with the Warner School community? Do you have any special interests or hobbies outside of academia? 
When I’m not with my academic family, my focus is on my own family and our time together. My husband just retired from coaching after 23 incredible years as the Men’s Soccer coach at the University of Rochester. I am lucky to be the mom to two wonderful young men. Kellen will be entering his senior year at the University of Pittsburgh, and Braedon will be a sophomore next year here at Rochester. Whenever possible, we love to spend time together cooking, visiting interesting locations, or watching Buffalo Bills games.