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Women on Grounds: Melissa Levy

Melissa Levy obtained her Ph.D. through the Curry School and became influential in creating the Youth and Social Innovation major, which she now teaches in. Levy also collaborates with the Women’s Center on the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP).

1. Tell us about your path to UVA. How did you get to where you are now? What opportunities and decisions have determined your career?
I loved my high school band experience and headed to Indiana University to major in Music Education. After graduation, I was a middle school band director for three years. While there were some aspects of that experience that I loved, the position wasn’t the right match for me. Next stop: American University Hillel Program Director and Assistant Director. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the college students but knew I wanted to be involved in the world of education more directly. I did a lot of researching of what that could mean for me, which included many informational interviews. Then I stumbled upon the Social Foundations of Education Master’s at UVA because a friend of mine was working on that degree.

I came to the Curry School for that same program and stayed for the Ph.D. While in graduate school, I became involved with the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) research team, then became the first full-time staff person with YWLP, then had the opportunity to help create the new Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) major and Curry, and now am a professor in YSI, which includes teaching the college women in YWLP. 

2. What most excites you about your work at UVA?
There are a number of things! One of them is teaching – in particular, creating, shaping and refining learning experiences. I can really lose myself in course design and love to work with others to figure out how to improve my teaching and others’ teaching. 

3. Tell us about a defining moment in your research/work at UVA.
Having the opportunity to be part of the team creating YSI and seeing it come to life has been an extremely gratifying experience. 

4. What’s something you learned in school/college that turned out to be useful later, in some way you didn’t expect?
Event planning! Because of my involvement with Hillel at Indiana University and my status as a School of Music student, I became a logical choice to organize and run Jewish Music Night. I think that was my first big event. The organizational skills, communication skills and relational skills required for event planning carry across into other event planning, of course, but also many other aspects of work and life.

5. Work/life balance: how do you practice that?
This is so important and is a constant practice. I try to take at least one weekend day for myself with no work. I prioritize family and friends and make sure to schedule enjoyable activities and exercise, even if I’m feeling crunched for time. I’ve found that if I take a step back, I can almost always find another way forward through the mountain of work that is more effective and more efficient. I aim to meditate each day (though fall short of every day), and I’m also a big planner so I can spread my work out over time. 

6. What impact has the Young Women Leaders Program had on your life?
YWLP has had a tremendous impact on my career. I certainly would not be where I am today without it. I’ve learned so much from the YWLP staff, college students, middle school girls, and school personnel we work with. The most valuable lessons have been about relationships, which I think are central to YWLP. The Young Women Leaders Program and the Mens Leadership Project pair undergraduate students with a local middle school student in a big-little relationship. As a big, students take a course through the Curry School and spend time bonding with their little to help them through the various developmental challenges they are facing. Applications for the Young Women Leaders Program can be found here. Applications for the Men’s Leadership Project can be found here.

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