Class of 2020: Theresa Melton


Theresa Melton is originally from Newark, California, and is graduating with a Ph.D. in Research, Statistics, and Evaluation.

How did your journey bring you to Curry?

I studied Sociology and Psychology as an undergraduate and spent a lot of time working with youth. As part of my major, I was required to take a methods course and developed a strong interest in research methodology. I had not planned to apply for graduate school, but with the support of my methods professor, Dr. John H. Evans, I decided to try a master’s program. Curry was unique in that it supported the development of skills associated with rigorous research methodology, but within an applied research framework focused on development. Curry also offered the opportunity to work with amazing professors. After completing my master’s, I decided to pursue my doctorate to further my research abilities.

What is the most significant thing that has shaped your time here?

Having the opportunity to engage in a lab setting has had the most impact on my time at UVA. The ability to navigate the research process with individuals I respect that share a common interest, but often with a different skillset or research perspective, has been incredibly refreshing and inspiring. I could not imagine my experience without it.  

Is there someone at Curry who has made a special impact during your studies?

I have had so much support from professors and peers during this process that it would be difficult to name just one. Dr. Nancy Deutsch has been a constant source of support and guidance throughout both my master’s and doctorate programs. She consistently provided hands-on opportunities for me to develop my research skills and interests. Dr. Deutsch also has an amazing ability to pull out the best from her students while supporting the “whole person.” When I think about everything that I’ve experienced and processed with her support, it’s overwhelming. She has had the largest overall impact on me personally and professionally. Additionally, Dr. Joanna Williams' course on racial and ethnic identity development completely changed the way I approach developmental research, and Dr. Diane Whaley’s course on motivation really impacted the way I think about structuring a course to promote student engagement and success. 

What is one thing you learned here that surprised you?

I was surprised to learn how communal the process is. I had anticipated spending my time buried alone in my research. However, I quickly learned that I needed the support of my peers. Engaging with others was not just important for emotional support, but also improved the quality of my research.

What will you be doing next?

I have accepted a position at Penn State University as a postdoctoral scholar, where I hope to explore new contexts in which youth develop, researcher-practitioner partnerships, along with new methodology that can improve our abilities to examine both.

How are you feeling about being a member of the Class of 2020 in the middle of these unprecedented times?

If anything, experiencing this pandemic reinforced how much I love my research lab. I remember at our first remote meeting after everything shut down feeling an overwhelming experience of relief and happiness in just seeing everyone’s faces.