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Melyssa Hummel: “We show schools what MIT is like and how students learn there”

“I was first interested in mechanical engineering and started building robots when I was 10”

“I would like to continue learning new skills and developing technology to help make people’s lives easier and safer” says Melyssa

Pol Sese, Nuria Moreno i Matteo Ajavon

Melissa Hummel was born in Texas in a family of 6 members. She’s the second of 4 siblings. She is currently studying biological engineering with a scholarship in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Melissa is 22 years old but when she was 10 she was already showing interest for technology. Together with her robotics team, she was able to design a sticker that changed its colour when it detected changes in temperature in order to identify eggs that, due to the rise in temperature, could have developed salmonella bacteria. At high school she was taking some university subjects and worked on new projects related to medicine and robotics.

At what age did you start being interested in technology engineering?

When I was younger, I was first interested in mechanical engineering and started building robots when I was 10. A few years later I participated in a science competition through my school and developed an interest in biology and the human body. That interest led me to looking at the medical field and becoming a doctor as a potential career. However, I had no practical experience in the medical field at the time I chose my course of study for university, so I chose something that combined both interests and would allow me more career options once I finished university as opposed to a traditional biology or chemistry degree that most students who want to be a doctor pursue. So, in summary, no I didn’t know I wanted to study biological engineering until recently.

At the age of 10 you participated in a lego robotics competition. What was it about?

It was a lot of fun to have a real-life problem to solve. I was on a team of four students all 10- or 11-years old and we had to select a topic under the umbrella of ‘food related issues’. We brainstormed many ideas and chose salmonella as the problem we wanted to solve. We looked online for the general information first and to understand the problem. Then we talked to professionals who worked in the food industry with chicken and eggs (where salmonella is found). Eventually we decided on an indicator to show if the produce had been over 4 degrees Celsius (the temperature at which salmonella will start to grow) during its trip from factory to grocery store. Although we were only responsible for the theory and didn’t actually have to create a working prototype, I learned a lot about the research process and how to talk with experts to get their opinions. After doing research in university as well, I was surprised at how similar my university research process was to what I had done at 10.

Were you under a lot of pressure to study in one of the most prestigious universities in the world?

Initially yes, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform to the level I expected from someone at a top tier university, which is to say I expected myself to be perfect or near perfect. But more recently I have started to realize that even among the students at my university, it is normal for people to struggle in some areas, and it takes time to learn new information. Further even our professors make mistakes, so I have been able to decrease the amount of pressure I am putting on myself.

What are your plans for the future?

In the short term I plan to work as a mechanical engineer in industry for 2-3 years before returning to university to get a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. After that, I don’t have a detailed plan, but would like to continue learning new skills and developing technology to help make people’s lives easier and safer.

We know that you are currently volunteering in an ambulance project. Could you explain it to us in more detail

Sure. In my first year of university, I joined a program where I got trained as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and have been working on the university ambulance since then. On the ambulance I help students all over camps as well as mutual aid into the surrounding cities. This has given me a unique experience at university as it has given me the opportunity to see a large part of the community outside of the university bubble.

What’s the purpose of the program that brought you to Gem?

I am at Gem through the MIT program Global Teaching Labs (GTL) and MIT-Spain. The purpose of the program is to help MIT students learn through experience as one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else. As well as help show schools what MIT is like and how students learn there. Additionally, the program provides MIT students with the opportunity to experience another culture and expand our world view beyond what we have experienced so far.