The Many Faces of Gifted: Melissa

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted person has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts depicting the many faces of gifted by highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs. IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences.

Melissa Mai Headshot

Melissa M.
2013 Apprentice, Astronomy, California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

“Seeing the way the professors critiqued their students truly was an unexpected treasure of the Apprenticeship Program, as it revealed, unfiltered, the true dynamics of a research environment and showcased the intrinsically collaborative nature of research,” Melissa said about her four-week IEA Apprenticeship at Caltech last summer.

“I worked under Drs. Djorgovski, Donalek, and Mahabal in Caltech’s Department of Astronomy to create interactive, multimedia presentations using the WorldWide Telescope platform. My main job was to take data from my Mentors’ research about atomic emission spectra, Doppler shifting, and variability, and present it in a way that the everyday person can understand through ‘tours’ on the program. I worked with one other apprentice, Daniel Wright, who worked on a tour about asteroids.”

“Every few days I would meet with one of my Mentors to discuss my project and bounce around ideas, and they would give me corrections and suggestions to improve my project. Having these meetings was invaluable, as I had the opportunity to work with professionals in a workplace environment as opposed to in a classroom setting.”

Melissa, a high school junior, heard about IEA’s program from her brother, Nick, who was a 2010 Apprentice also at Caltech. Nick worked with Dr. Ravichandran and tested materials for aerospace vessels.

“I come from a small, all-girls school that has little access to sophisticated resources for the science curriculum. The contrasting plethora of resources and materials at Caltech gave me an invaluable experience that I would not have had the chance to have at school, and it further motivated me to pursue a career in the sciences.”

Though she loves astronomy, Melissa plans to major in biology in college and is interested in studying virology. “Apprenticeship revealed to me the beauty of a research environment, and I wish to pursue that after college. I really value education and research, so what better way to honor both than to work at a university?”

Mai Melissa Photo2Melissa is also a pre-professional ballet student, dancing approximately 15 hours a week. “I’ve been dancing ever since I was two, so ballet has become an integral part of me and has played a crucial role in developing my work ethic and worldview. Because my commitment to ballet became quite serious early on, I learned to manage my time very efficiently at a young age in order to juggle both school and ballet. As a dancer, I have to be able to memorize and perform a combination after a single cursory explanation, so following directions has rarely ever been a problem for me. Because the success of a dance depends on the precise execution of the details, I’ve naturally incorporated that attention to detail in my work. Ballet is all about performance and improvement, so I have to be quite open to critique and suggestions. Most importantly, since performances have no room for frustrated reactions to mistakes, I don’t have time to let problems and slip-ups compromise the quality of my work, so I’ve learned to accept, learn from, and use my mistakes to improve. My experience with ballet and the lessons it has taught me became crucial during my time as an Apprentice.”

Per Melissa, taking on the Apprenticeship Program from IEA is challenging but rewarding. “As long as you are willing to learn and aren’t expecting to be handed a major role in important research, I say go for it,” Melissa said. “Of course, your Mentor may entrust you with an important project, but don’t be disappointed if you aren’t allowed to handle the fancy equipment. Apprenticeship is about experiencing the daily life of a university researcher more than anything else. If you value this kind of experience, the Apprenticeship Program will be a treasure trove of learning for you. If you do become an Apprentice, it is essential that you keep your mind open to new ideas and suggestions. The program is meant to provide a unique learning experience for you, so I advise that you use that to your advantage.”

MelissaMNinaVKelseyBOver the summer, Melissa also found a community she values deeply. “Aside from the actual Apprenticeship, the IEA Apprenticeship community was so warm and welcoming; it’s almost like a second family. You’ll find yourself immersed in deep philosophical discussions with your fellow Apprentices during dinner and then laughing together over frozen yogurt. Sharing the program with other Apprentices in both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and industrial design will really give you a new perspective on everything – you’ll see not only the scientific mind, but also the artistic mind’s view of any given issue. Each person is unique and, obviously, gifted. I admired each and every one of my fellow Apprentices because they are all so talented, personable, and intelligent, and if you become an Apprentice, you’ll find that you, too, will form great friendships with other beautiful people.”

Do you know a high school student who would be interested in an experience like Melissa’s? We’re currently accepting applications for Apprenticeship 2014!

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