Historic faculty hiring: Meet D. Michael Applegarth


Published March 1, 2024

Dr. Michael Applegarth.

This fall, UB welcomed 154 new full-time faculty in what is believed to be the largest cohort of new faculty since the university joined SUNY in the 1960s. The historic initiative, “Advancing Top 25: Faculty Hiring,” is considered transformative and has already attracted some of the most promising and established researchers and scholars from across the country.

UBNow sat down with one of those new faculty members — D. Michael Applegarth, assistant professor, School of Social Work — to learn more about his research, why he chose UB and what it means to work here during this exciting time of growth.

Can you talk about your research?

My research focuses on the intersection of the criminal legal system and mental health as part of an overall mission to reduce mass incarceration and improve the well-being of juveniles and adults. I aim to increase knowledge and inform policy surrounding strategies to prevent criminal legal involvement, provide treatment for those incarcerated and increase the effectiveness of reentry services.

How did you get into this field?

I earned my bachelor’s in social work from Brigham Young University – Idaho, master’s in social work from Brigham Young University and a PhD from University of California, Los Angeles. I found that the criminal/legal aspect was a common theme across all areas of the discipline. That’s often our default response to large social problems, but is that making a difference, or just exacerbating the problems?

When I was in my master’s program, I worked in a substance use treatment program in a county jail. I learned a lot about individuals’ circumstances and situations, the challenges and complexities of delivering services in a correctional institution and the many barriers persons face upon leaving. These experiences deepened my commitment to recognizing and promoting the self-worth and dignity of all individuals. We can focus on repairing harm and moving forward, rather than punishment, while also balancing public safety concerns.

Before coming to UB, I held research fellowships with both the National Institute of Justice and Rand Corporation, where I studied and co-authored reports on recidivism — being rearrested, convicted or imprisoned after being released from jail or prison — and the effectiveness of various support programs in reducing crime among at-risk and justice-involved youth.

What made you want to do your research at UB?

I met [School of Social Work] Dean Keith Alford and other UB faculty at a social work conference. I was immediately impressed by their sincere interest in learning about me and my work. Not only were they invested in my knowledge and what I could contribute to the school, but they were interested in me as a professional and supporting my continual development. I also heard great things from social work peers about UB — people would get excited when I would talk to them about the university. I knew this was a place people respected and liked working with. UB is clearly seeking to uplift and build on its foundation, rather than just fill a need.

What has your experience been like at the School of Social Work so far?

The university is a great fit for me academically, environmentally and culturally. From day one, Dean Alford has gone out of his way to make me feel welcome and show he’s invested in me both as a professional and an individual. Whether it’s sending cards to new faculty or bringing cookies for me to bring home to my kids, he takes the time to make me feel valued. That friendliness extends across faculty, as well. Co-workers will routinely stop by if my door is open — whether to introduce themselves or offer to help me navigate my first year.

I love working with UB’s social work students, too. Whether they’re from the area or not, they all have deep connections to the community and are really invested in the community. They learn with purpose and intent; they want to improve the community and are actively seeking the education and training to do so.

What do you believe makes UB stand out in the academic community?

The school’s Buffalo Center for Social Research stood out to me. Catherine Dulmus, associate dean for research and center director, has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. There’s a strong emphasis across the entire school to make an impact locally, nationally and internationally — uplifting not only students, but improving the area. I’m eager to make connections through the school’s community partnerships and interdisciplinary research opportunities.

How does it feel to be working at UB during this period of historic faculty hiring?

It’s exciting to join UB at this time — everyone is working together to move the university forward. I feel part of something bigger than myself. UB is investing a lot in faculty and strengthening its ability to meet its mission and make an impact. The result is better education and more rigorous, impactful research. We’re not just stationary, but always seeking progression. That notion of constantly improving is a motivational factor for me. I want to help continue to build that momentum and be an asset to the process.

How do you like living in Buffalo so far?

There’s so much room to grow and engage in Buffalo. My family — including my wife, our four kids and a baby on the way — moved here over the summer. It was a big change coming from Los Angeles, where it’s always so busy. Here, we can breathe. Buffalo is a place where my family can establish roots. We love the community and really enjoy the zoo, parks, bike paths and closeness to nature. My three elementary-age kids also love their teachers and are excited to go to school in the area.

Of course, I have a lot to learn about Buffalo and how the city responds to individuals experiencing mental health crises. I’m inspired by some of the local activists I’ve met so far. Hearing their personal experiences is humbling — I feel that passion. I want to understand the city’s dynamics and challenges, and figure out how the research we’re doing at UB can engage with and support the local communities — not just meet scholarly goals. I’m excited to share those meaningful connections and opportunities with students.