As the second post in the Student Leader Spotlight Series, I’d like to highlight a student from the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) program. The BMMB graduate program is housed under the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department as part of the Eberly College of Science and works closely with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences – in fact, the Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee (HGSAC) has two seats for BMMB graduate students.
Melanie McReynolds, a fifth year student in the BMMB program, is president of the Penn State Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA). She has been active in the organization since she came to Penn State, serving as social chair from 2011-2013 and vice president from 2013-2015.
The BGSA provides a cross-academic line and support network for students of color at Penn State by taking an active role in initiating peer support, professional development, networking, and advocacy. It also serves as a social change agent that addresses the needs of the campus as well as the local community. Activities that the BGSA organizes and sponsors include social mixers, informational sessions, developmental workshops and conferences, community service activities, and mentorship through outreach endeavors and cultural celebrations.
As the President, Melanie is actively involved in working with the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs (OGEEP) and Council of College of Multicultural Leaders (CCLM) for the recruitment and retention of students of color. She also plays a large role in community engagement and strengthening public relations with the University and other student organizations.
As her first semester as president of the BGSA, Melanie is honing her time management skills more than ever. In addition to her work with the BGSA and her research, she is teaching and writing manuscripts/her dissertation. She handles this abundance of responsibilities by setting priorities each week to determine what the most important tasks are that need to be handled first. “I tend to link all the responsibilities I have with my future aspirations,” said Melanie. “I believe that as a PI/team leader in the lab, whether that be in academia, industry, or government, I will have to balance many responsibilities and do it all. The leadership skills and balancing act I’m learning now are only preparing me for my future career opportunities.”
Melanie is no stranger to leadership, though, as she held multiple positions as an undergraduate at Alcorn State. She served on the Student Government Association and was the president of the Resident Hall Association. She was also active in greek life, acting as vice president of the Beta Kappa Chi National Honorary Scientific Society and historian of the Beta Beta Beta National Honorary Biological Society. She also led the tenor saxophone section in the school’s band.
Melanie believes that all leaders should possess vision and passion — they need to be visionaries to take their organization to new levels but also be passionate about the organization and the work that it is doing. She also noted the importance of leaders to understand the difference between being a leader and a boss and recommends this article.
When asked what advice Melanie would offer to someone going into a leadership position for the first time, she had this to say: ensure that you have the best support system possible surrounding you – support and trust are key.
Melanie has been fortunate to have two tremendous mentors during her time at Penn State: Dr. Wendy Hanna-Rose and Dr. Stephanie D. Preston. As her thesis adviser, Dr. Hanna-Rose has helped to foster Melanie’s leadership skills both inside and outside the lab and has served as a role model for balancing the responsibilities of academia and being a mother. “I have the best adviser in history. Wendy is the best PI hands down!” added Melanie. Dr. Preston, Senior Director of the OGEEP and Sloan Program and adviser of the BGSA, has been a mentor to Melanie since her first day at Penn State and has been a great example of how to navigate the ins and outs of academia.
Melanie works in Dr. Wendy Hanna-Rose‘s lab studying the NAD+ biosynthetic pathways in nematodes, specifically Caenorhabditis elegans. “NAD+ biosynthesis has proven to be a useful therapeutic target for influencing health-span and obesity-related phenotypes as well as tumor growth,” said Melanie. “However, exactly how manipulating NAD+ biosynthetic pathways leads to therapeutic benefits remains to be fully elucidated. The goal of my research is to understand how NAD+ homeostasis is maintained to support its core metabolic roles as well as its signaling and regulatory roles involving NAD+ consumers.”