Melissa Moreno has been a secondary and post-secondary mathematics educator since 1995 and holds an M.S. in mathematics from the University of Texas and an M.S. in operations research from Florida Tech. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in operations research alongside her daughter, Megan, who is pursuing her M.S. in operations research at Florida Tech. Interestingly enough they are on the same research team with Dr. Subasi. A passion for STEM seams to run in the family.
Currently, Melissa is the President of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematicians (SIAM), Florida Tech Chapter, and Head of the Department of Mathematics for an international, online secondary school, NorthStar Academy.
What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?
Math and science always came easy to me and I had some great women, my mom and several teachers, who inspired me to pursue my strengths. They told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to.
What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?
While we still have not arrived where I would like to see the world be one day, in many STEM fields women are finally getting the recognition that they deserve. However, there are still some of our male counterparts who like to try to make women feel that they are less than or not as capable as men. It is also still a struggle for women to make it to high levels of leadership in some industries and companies. I will say that after having lived and worked in several states and different STEM industries that some of this seems to be regional. For instance, I felt more accepted based on my education and abilities in STEM companies in California than I have felt here in the south.
How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?
First by never believing the negativity that gets sent my way. My parents both taught me to always believe in myself and my abilities, and to work hard for what I want. Whenever I have encountered challenges and obstacles, I keep working at it. I am also not afraid to seek help and mentorship from those who can help me to overcome those obstacles. Second, by using any negativity that has come my way by a male counterpart as a challenge! It is so fun and rewarding to show them exactly how wrong they are in their prejudices.
Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?
I would tell her to work hard, follow her dreams, and to encourage every fellow woman working with her along the way. We need each other. But, I would also remind the younger me to remember to keep a good work/life balance.
What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?
You ARE capable! You can do anything that a man can do! Believe in yourself and your abilities! You WILL succeed!
What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?
That there still is a glass roof for women in some companies and in some industries.
In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?
I think we need more summer STEM outreach programs for middle school and high school girls offered by STEM companies and by local universities. I also think it would be a great idea for companies and organizations like NASA, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Harris, and others to work with local schools (especially the schools with critical, at-risk populations) to provide mentors, host career days, and host STEM Field Days or Camps for young women to show them how exciting the field of STEM can be.