Published June 12, 2017
Ellen Volpe, assistant professor and researcher in the School of Nursing, died June 8 in in a car accident on the Thruway. She was 45.
A native of Rochester, Volpe is remembered for her dedication to her family and community, teaching, patient care, research and regard for her colleagues.
“Ellen was a caring, loving human being. Those special qualities were evident in how she valued and loved her family, friends, patients and colleagues,” said Darryl Somayaji, assistant professor of nursing.
“All of us at the UB School of Nursing so appreciated her enthusiasm and determination for excellence in nursing, teaching, doing research and participating in school and community service. She was truly a positive presence among us. She was a colleague and a friend. We will deeply miss her.”
Nancy Campbell-Heider, chair of the Department of Family, Community and Health Systems Sciences in the School of Nursing, called Volpe “a very generous and caring woman who touched many people in her short time on this earth. She was a brilliant researcher and expert clinician, but even more importantly, she was a wonderful mother, wife and colleague to many. We will miss her more than words can say.”
Volpe earned her doctorate in health practice research from the University of Rochester, a master’s degree in nursing from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Wake Forest University. She completed postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Equity Research.
She was the recipient of the Mecca S. Cranley Nursing Research Mentorship Award and grants from the National Institutes of Health, and was named a Gregory J. Dimitriadis Research Mentoring Fellow.
Volpe was among the first cohort of scholars in the Clinical and Translational Science Award’s (CTSA) KL2 Mentored Career Development Award Program, which brings together junior faculty and experienced mentors for research and professional development to help their transition into fully independent clinical and translational investigators.
Under the CTSA, she worked with an interdisciplinary team of scientists and mentors from the School of Nursing, the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
An accomplished scientist, Volpe’s research reflected a passion for enhancing the well-being of teenagers affected by traumatic experiences.
Her work to deliver therapy to low-income, urban adolescents affected by violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science and the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.
Her research focused on using narrative exposure therapy, an innovative, community-based intervention, to treat adolescents experiencing PTSD and concurrent substance misuse.
“Ellen was an excellent researcher, committed teacher and exemplary citizen in the School of Nursing,” said Marsha Lewis, dean of the School of Nursing.
“Her research with vulnerable, at-risk adolescents was informed by her practice as a family nurse practitioner. This is cutting-edge, important research. The hole she leaves will not be filled easily. We will miss her exuberance, her caring and her smile.”
Volpe’s dedication to underserved populations went beyond her research. She was a mentor and volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester and Camp DayDreams, founded by her husband, John McIntyre, in 2000. The weeklong, overnight summer camp gives Rochester children the opportunity to take part in traditional summer camp activities in the Finger Lakes.
She played a key role in the initial launch of the KL2 Mentored Career Developmental Award Program, in which she served as co-chair of the Community of Scholars, an organization that brings together junior scientists to network, discuss issues of common interest and enhance the mentoring experience.
“Dr. Volpe’s enthusiasm, tenacity, hard work and devotion to advancing science and helping others has been an inspiration for us all, and invaluable to begin understanding violence-related trauma in adolescents. She will be sorely missed by our team,” said Margarita L. Dubocovich, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and KL2 program lead.
Through the Community of Scholars, as well as her research and teaching, Volpe built lasting relationships in the UB, Buffalo and Rochester communities.
“Ellen is truly one of the best friends I have ever known,” said Laura Anderson, assistant professor in the School of Nursing. “She was one of the highlights of most of my days. No matter how stressful it became on the tenure track, we were enduring it together. We had sleepovers when she had an early meeting in Buffalo, we were pregnant and had our babies a few months apart, and I talked with her every day when arriving and leaving work.
“She was down to earth and could discuss everyday things while also being competent, smart and committed to her research,” Anderson said. “She truly aimed to help those in need with her research and practice, and she emanated everything that we at the School of Nursing represent. The void left in so many lives is devastating.”
Diane Dempsey, grants manager in the School of Nursing, said that when she thinks of Volpe, “I think of her passion and determination. She was determined to move forward and conduct her research, evidenced by us putting together a grant budget on a hard deadline while she was in early labor with her youngest son, and the subsequent grant application while she was in recovery and bonding with her family,” Dempsey said.
“A few weeks later, when it was safe to travel with her newborn, Ellen made sure to bring them in so that I could hold them. She said I was a part of their story now. That’s what Ellen did; just like her research, she made you a part of her narrative.”
Volpe’s love for her family — her husband and sons John Michael, 3, and Paul James, 2 — was one of the few areas of her life that transcended her passion for improving the lives of her patients and students.
“Ellen was infectious about her love for her husband and children, which shone through everything that she did, such as leaving a conference early in April so that she could fly home in time to kiss her boys goodnight,” Dempsey said.
Linda Paine Hughes, clinical assistant professor, noted that when she talks with friends and colleagues about Volpe, “everyone has had the same heartbreaking reaction: Our lives were better for knowing and loving her, and our hearts are now broken because of losing our beautiful, brilliant, beloved Ellen.
“Ellen was a one-in-a-million person who we were blessed to know and we will each cherish our own special memories of her,” she said.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. June 13 at St. Thomas Moore Church, 2617 East Ave., Rochester.
A GoFundMe page has been set up with a focus on contributing toward Volpe’s sons’ education.
The School of Nursing also has set up the Ellen M. Volpe Memorial Fund. Gifts also can be mailed to University at Buffalo Foundation, P.O. Box 730, Buffalo, NY, 14226-0730.