Astronaut, scientist and author Leland Melvin urged an audience of more than 500 to persist despite obstacles and never to underestimate the power of community and encouragement.
“The path in life is filled with challenges,” said Melvin. “It’s important to persevere and realize that change will occur.”
Melvin served on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station as a mission specialist. He currently serves as NASA Associate Administrator for Education. While training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory to perform spacewalks, he suffered an injury that left him deaf. He remained with NASA, working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing. Melvin created optical fiber sensors measuring damage in aerospace vehicles. His work was published in numerous scientific journals. Melvin persevered, never giving up his dream of going into space. He eventually recovered partial hearing and was able to attain his dream.
The importance of community was another theme in Melvin’s address. He mentioned how the International Space Station’s crew consisted of individuals from countries often divided by politics and priorities. In space, each crew member’s life depended on the skills and expertise to carry out assigned tasks.
Melvin credits his family with instilling in him a sense that he could accomplishment anything. A gift from his mother of a chemistry kit in his youth sparked his early interest in science. He has achieved many roles in his multifaceted life – astronaut, scientist, athlete and author are a few. Melvin said it is important to be open to new outlets and possibilities in one’s professional pursuits. He stressed the importance of education and lifelong learning to open up areas that may have seemed out of reach.
Prior to his address in Collins arena, Melvin met with Brookdale students, faculty and staff.
Melvin earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond and a Master of Science Degree in Materials Science Engineering from the University of Virginia. A wide receiver at the University of Richmond, Melvin was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL Draft. Hamstring injuries in training camp cut short his professional football career.
Melvin holds four honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences and philanthropy. He served as the co-chair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force developing the nation’s 5-year STEM education plan. His presence extends into popular culture. Melvin hosted the Lifetime competition series Child Genius and served as a judge on ABC’s Battlebots.
Melvin’s memoir, Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances, examines how community, perseverance and grace enabled him to succeed and to turn his aspirations into reality.
A Publisher’s Weekly review of his memoir said: “For someone of such remarkable achievement, Melvin demonstrates impressive humility and depth of character as he discusses overcoming myriad setbacks… Melvin writes honestly about his mistakes as well as his triumphs, urging readers to pursue their dreams with determination and hard work.”