New human development and family science chair seeks to elevate students, faculty, and staff
When April Few-Demo looked into the eyes of the first graduating senior to walk onto the stage, she saw pure joy and a sense of accomplishment. She shook the student’s hand and smiled for the cameras, a scenario she would repeat many times that afternoon.
The memory of the positive emotions generated in Virginia Tech’s commencement last spring loom large for the past interim chair and now chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Science. Few-Demo, whose official term started in July, smiles as she thinks about her participation during the department’s graduation ceremony.
“It’s so wonderful to share in that milestone with students,” she said. “You don’t realize how emotional the moment is until you see it in their eyes — that human connection. With a handshake and a diploma, we’re saying, ‘You got this.’ That’s fulfilling. I underestimated the impact that would have on me.”
For the professor, who has been a Virginia Tech faculty member for 19 years, it seems fitting that this experience would sum up a philosophy she developed as the interim chair for the past academic year: facilitate and elevate.
But for Few-Demo, it’s more than helping and celebrating those two words with undergraduate and graduate students; it’s also how she sees her role with her colleagues.
“Position people where their potential shines brightest,” Few-Demo said, “whether they’re tenure-track, research faculty, or a senior faculty member who wants to teach graduate students. If they have vision, why not elevate them to a leadership position?”
She equates the department to an idea with which she is most familiar — a family. Few-Demo said her experience over the past year has taught her that success is all about relationships. What roles do the other faculty and staff members fill? Where does their sense of contribution lay, and what is the collective vision each member can get behind? By considering these factors, she believes she can be more strategic in her decision-making and better able to advocate for her colleagues.
“It’s been interesting to see things from this side of the table,” she said. “I’m able to witness all the invisible work my colleagues do to push this department forward, from our service to the local community to our scholarly contributions internationally.”
USA Today consistently ranks the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development and Family Science first or second in the nation.
As chair, Few-Demo’s primary goals are to position the faculty to continue to excel on local, national, and international levels and to provide students with a comprehensive foundation in child development, family science, adult development and aging, marriage and family therapy, and early childhood education.
To this effort, she is overseeing the addition of a new minor in disability studies and a new major in childhood pre-education. The major provides students interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education with a strong foundation in child development and an understanding of behaviors and how children navigate family processes.
Undergraduates are also eligible to work in the department’s award-winning Child Development Center for Learning and Research, as well as in Adult Day Services, a program that provides health monitoring, therapeutic activities, dementia care, and recovery assistance for older adults. Graduate students receive clinical training toward licensure as marriage and family therapists in two accredited programs: the Family Therapy Center based in Blacksburg and the Center for Family Services based in Falls Church, Virginia.
Few-Demo brings leadership experiences to her new role beyond those as interim chair. At Virginia Tech, she has served as chair of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Committee twice and as a Diversity Fellow. She has been an area coordinator for the department’s former master’s degree program, a leadership and design team member for Equity and Social Disparity in the Human Condition Strategic Growth Area, and an executive advisory committee member for the former Graduate Pipeline Program of the Graduate School.
Few-Demo’s work has involved writing about critical theories such as Black feminism, intersectionality, and queer theory; the study of intimate partner violence in different contexts and women’s decision-making processes; and the influence of racialized sexual scripts on sexual decision-making.
“As a family scholar,” she said, “my research reflects a long-time commitment to investigating how marginalized individuals experience disparities and inequalities and the processes in which they engage to be resilient.”
Currently, she is a co-editor of the “Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methodologies,” the leading authoritative handbook for interdisciplinary family scholars, which is edited by the most prominent scholars in the field.
Few-Demo has received many awards, including the Alexis Walker Award, Wiley Prize in Family Science in 2017. During that same year alone, she received the Alexis J. Walker Award for Mid-Career Achievement in Feminist Family Studies in the Feminism and Family Studies section from the National Council on Family Relations, the Sussman Award for Scholarly Contributions to Family Science at the Groves Conference on Marriage and Family, the Excellence in Advising Award in the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and the Outstanding Mentor Award from the Virginia Tech Graduate School.
Few-Demo holds a doctorate in child and family development from the University of Georgia, a master’s in international policy studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Georgia.
At Virginia Tech, she hopes that her department continues to be ranked among the nation’s top human development and family science programs. She plans to facilitate and elevate students, faculty, and staff to make that happen.
— Written by Leslie King