Rose Wesche joined Virginia Tech as a new assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science in the fall of 2019. She had earlier studied at Penn State University, where she graduated in 2017, under the mentorship of Eva Lefkowitz. Wesche’s expertise and research center on adolescent and young adult interpersonal relationships and health. She addresses how diverse interpersonal relationships — such as friendships, romantic relationships, and casual sexual relationships — confer risks and benefits for emotional and physical health.

What is your background?
I earned my doctorate in human development and family studies from Penn State University in 2017. I received my master’s in the same field from Penn State and my bachelor’s in psychology from Oberlin College. After completing my PhD, I did a postdoc in Milwaukee at the Center for AIDS Intervention Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

I grew up in Chicago, and Virginia is the farthest south I’ve ever lived. But I have found things I enjoyed just about everywhere I’ve been, from big cities to the middle of nowhere, so I think I’m pretty adaptable to different environments.

What are your research interests and why are you passionate about these topics?
Broadly, I research relationships and health in adolescence and young adulthood. That umbrella includes diverse types of relationships such as friendships, romantic relationships, and casual sexual relationships. It also includes diverse outcomes, such as mental health, alcohol use, and sexual health.

I became interested in this topic as an undergraduate when I worked as a peer sexual health counselor. I noticed the wide variety of sexual relationships my peers had, and I was curious about why some of them seemed to work out well while others seemed to be stressful, contentious, and emotionally fraught. Ultimately, I wanted to help people navigate their relationships in a healthy way.

I’m passionate about my research area because relationships are important to everyone—virtually nobody goes through life without forming bonds with other people. By learning how our relationships affect us and working to promote healthy relationships, researchers have the potential to positively affect many people’s lives.

What would you like the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
When I mention in conversation that my research focus includes adolescent sexuality, people often express their concerns about teenagers’ sexual development and the negative health outcomes that can result from sexual activity.

While it’s true that adolescents and young adults are at heightened risk for health consequences like unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, most young people do not experience these consequences. In addition, most adolescents and young adults experience loving and fulfilling sexual relationships.

In my research, I integrate the risk-focused perspective with a more normative outlook on sexuality.  Combining these perspectives is important because we have to recognize both the positive and negative aspects of sexuality in order to understand and improve adolescents’ sexual health.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Virginia Tech?
I look forward to forming collaborative relationships with faculty and students. The products of our work are so much better when multiple people contribute their expertise. Virginia Tech and the Department of Human Development and Family Science are full of researchers who think critically and have thoughtful and innovative ideas. I’m excited to improve my work by learning from others who share overlapping interests. I also look forward to contributing my own knowledge to others’ work.


What goals do you hope to accomplish in your first couple of years in the department?
In my postdoc, I worked toward addressing issues of diversity in my field by focusing on LGBTQ adolescents’ romantic and sexual relationships. I plan to continue that trajectory here by submitting an external grant application related to the sexual health of young women who have sex with women and men. I’m also interested in discovering ways to translate my research into prevention and health promotion programs that will be useful to nearby communities. To accomplish that goal, I plan to make connections with youth-serving community partners and learn how I can contribute to their missions.

I also plan to gain experience teaching and mentoring students. This semester, I’m teaching Middle Childhood and Adolescence. In the future, I look forward to teaching additional classes and contributing to the advancement of the Human Sexuality Studies Graduate Certificate. I plan to build an active research team and mentor graduate and undergraduate researchers.

What is your favorite part about mentoring students?
Seeing students master something they previously weren’t confident about makes me feel proud. The goal of mentoring is to foster growth, and that includes celebrating the growth we achieve. I love big and small celebrations of progress.

How do you like to spend your free time?
Well, I’m not embarrassed to say I love a good nap, especially snuggled up with my dog. I also enjoy baking and occasional light exercise, and I watch more reality shows on Bravo than I care to admit. One interesting note about me is that I am very good at finding four (or more) leaf clovers. I estimate that I have found more than 200 clovers since 2015, including some in Blacksburg.

What is the most helpful advice you have received?
“If you want something, you have to ask for it.” People generally want to help you succeed, but first they need to know what you need.

Interview by Casey McGregor