Teaching as a Way of Life
“There is no distinct line between textbook engineering knowledge and application,” says Melissa Richards. “Science is applied in everyday life, even though you may not be aware of it.”
Four years of engineering school has cultivated her belief that engineering is a way of life. Currently, Richards ’04, ’06 (ME, MS ME) is working on her Ph.D. with the future prospect of teaching this principle as a university professor.
For four years prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Richards spent her summers working as an instructor at Horizons, Clarkson’s week-long program for 7th and 8th grade females who have an aptitude and interest in math and science. “Engineering and Life 101,” Richards’ self-titled class at Horizons, explores the basics of physics and how they apply to life.
“The goal is not to tell them to go into a science-related field,” Richards says. “It is to help them recognize their strengths and weaknesses and pursue what they are good at.”
“Taking her own advice, Richards has pursued what she is good at – teaching. In addition to her work at Horizons, Richards spent her graduate years working with K-12, a partnership funded by the National Science Foundation that places graduate and undergraduate students in local schools to teach math and science. Three days after completing her master’s degree at Clarkson, Richards headed to southwest China on a church mission where she quickly acquired a job teaching English to professors at one of the top universities in China.
Born into a family of educators, Richards says becoming a teacher was her last professional choice. “I was certainly running away from that,” Richards says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was sure it was not teaching.”
The Long Island native completed her associate’s degree at Nassau Community College before transferring to Clarkson in 2004. At Nassau, she cemented her interest in science and established goals for her future. Those goals included completing her undergraduate degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. more importantly, she also realized that teaching might be for her after all. “I knew after completing my associate’s degree that I didn’t want a job in a practical engineering field,” Richards says. “I knew that I wanted to teach.”
As an undergraduate at Clarkson, Richards became involved in NSBE, C-Step, McNair, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and missions work through her church.
Now she is in the final phase of her education with the expectation that the day will come when she will no longer be a student, but rather a professor.