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A woman standing with a student in front of greenery, they are leaning towards each other and smiling at the camera.

Shelley Maher is the dean of students at Emma Willard and joined the school in the fall of 2013 as director of athletics and wellness. Before coming to Emma, “Ms. Maher” (as she’s affectionately known around campus) worked in physical education at Sage College and as manager of participation and equity for health at the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (in Australia). We asked Shelley four questions about her role at Emma Willard.

#1 — What brought you to Emma Willard School?

I was very intrigued by the notion of working at a school specifically for girls, and the prospect of bringing my skillset and perspective into an American educational setting felt like an exciting challenge to me.


Three women (associate head of school, head of school, dean of students) smiling and leaning towards the camera together.

Shelley Maher with Associate Head of School Dr. Meredith Legg and Head of School Jenny Rao during opening day.

#2 — What is a typical day in the life at Emma like for you?

Above all else, my day must start at the Starbucks drive-through on Vanderburgh Avenue (by Hudson Valley Community College) getting “The Shelley”—which is a venti chai latte, non-fat, extra hot, no water, light foam, cinnamon powder steamed into the milk and on top—and a spinach and feta wrap. Only after I've had my "Starbies" can my day truly begin!

I typically arrive early in the morning and might walk my dog on the “Back 40” (the forested trails behind campus), then I will attend some meetings, try to catch up with my students (advisees), and then I may teach a class, probably attend more meetings, coach a sport (both varsity lacrosse and badminton this season), and I will look forward all day to playing pickleball in the evening on the courts at Mott Gymnasium.


Shelley Maher, in academic regalia, hands an award to a student on stage.

Shelley presents Madie Monteith '23 with the EW Award during Honors Convocation 2023.

#3 — What is one thing about working in student life at Emma that would surprise people?

What would probably surprise most people is the breadth of activities and tasks that I do and that we collectively cover in student life. For example, managing and overseeing athletics is a bit of a unique role for a dean of students but I love that facet of my job and value it as an essential part of what makes it work well for me.

In a broader sense, I would imagine most people think of a “dean of students” as being very serious and “just so”/proper, but I like to have fun! As our community knows, I have a passion for Halloween and am known on campus as “The Queen of Ween.” It’s also important to me to be doing things with our students as much as possible. For example, I love to get out on the dance floor with students at parties or to take part in the “Ragnar” (200-mile relay road race) with our seniors. I want our students to have a relationship and connection with me, and vice versa.

Shelley and Liz Parry stand with a student holding Skidmore merch in front of greenery.

Shelly and Athletic Director Liz Parry stand with a student heading off to Skidmore College!

#4 — What is your favorite space, place, or tradition on the Emma campus?

It’s hard for me to look past “Emmaween” (Halloween at Emma) as a favorite tradition...however, a close second would have to be Revels. My advisees just graduated this last year so I enjoyed the opportunity to see them in the play and it's so central to the Emma experience overall.

I also enjoy being anywhere outdoors on campus. Mount Ida is second to none in its natural beauty and architecture—I love it!

A person in a clown costume standing menacingly at an archway on campus.

Shelley as a terrifying clown on Emmaween.


Find more interesting stories about Emma Willard School on our Newsroom page.