Honored as America’s Top Young Scientist by the Discovery Channel 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2008, 16-year-old Melissa Rey took the prestigious title after two days of grueling competition at the NASA Goddard Space Center. In the culminating event, three finalists were asked to conduct an improv experiment with only five minutes of preparation, while a room full of 300 audience members stood by watching. Melissa aced it, remaining calm, cool, and collected while the other finalists wilted under the pressure.
Melissa didn’t always possess the stunning self-confidence that earned her America’s Top Young Scientist honors. As a first grader, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, and for the next three years struggled with what seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to learn how to read. Leaving class to see the reading specialist, she would often arrive in tears.
Nowadays, after learning to read by breaking down the process into a series of simple, manageable tasks, she considers dyslexia her secret weapon. Conquering her reading disability gave her the skills to meet other challenges in the fields of sports, music, drama, and of course science.
Winning the Discovery Award has enabled this budding scientist to fulfill her dream of teaching other students about her field. Today Melissa is on a mission to persuade other students that “science is everywhere, and, yes, it is also very cool.” She spreads the word through webinars for middle-school students nationwide as well as weeklong summer camps for disadvantaged girls in St. Louis, near her hometown of Chesterfield, MO.
In addition to just how cool science can be, Melissa also teaches young people that enthusiasm, dedication, and a systematic, organized approach will help overcome any challenge. “If I can win,” she says, “so can they. All they need to do is discover their own secret weapon.”