As part of our celebration for Black History Month, we highlighted Black STEM Heroes in the MESA Community. They included Renee Anderson (Oregon MESA’s first Director), Dr. Arlyne Simon (inventor, author, and MESA speaker), Dr. Lemmy Meekisho (professor, engineer, and MESA volunteer), and Melanie Ramsey (teacher and MESA Advisor). Read below more about Melanie, one of Oregon MESA’s most active Advisors whose impact on students in North Portland has resonated throughout generations. This is Melanie in her own words.
WHO AM I?
African – American woman
Inspiration to the Next Generation
Always Growing & Learning
Compassionate & Empathetic
Creative…thinks outside the box!
My name is Melanie Ramsey and I am a proud African-American scientist/teacher born in Pennsylvania and raised in New Jersey. I have 4 brothers and I am the only girl (2nd oldest). I believe that I have always been a teacher/scientist since I was a little girl. I was never into dolls or playing house, I always wanted to go outside to explore nature; everything from my backyard, forests, the sky and the ocean. I would always share findings with my family. A few of my favorite pastimes are reading and watching science fiction and horror movies and books, reading comic books, anime, Star Wars, Star Trek, Cosmos, of course, anything related to science. Outdoor activities like just sitting and enjoying nature, swimming,watching sports and being around my nephews. Still trying to navigate the different types of technology using Smartphones and a whole lot of cool features on my computer. My students and nephews are still helping me with this, still a work-in-progress!
I was never encouraged by my teachers in elementary or high school. I believe it was my burning desire to ask questions and find answers myself that led me to become a science teacher. My search for answers and my curiosity led me to become a voracious book reader who could just sit down and read encyclopedias (no internet then) for hours at a time to satisfy my curiosity about the world around me greatly influenced me then and now, but now, I use the internet and I still read a few books a month. I even read my mother’s medical books when she was studying to become a nurse. Science-fiction, fantasy and anything related to science is what I still gravitate towards reading right now. My first, real science teacher was Mrs. Pfeiffer, my 6th grade teacher who nurtured my curiosity in science told me that I could do and become whatever I wanted in life. I was hooked! From that moment on I set a goal that I wanted to study science.
Throughout high school I was still laser-focused on science and participating in sports for 4 years; track and field. I took as many science classes including a few advanced ones in science and volunteered to tutor others in science. My brothers and I were part of a group of twenty black students in a predominantly white Catholic high school of 600-750 students. We had to overcome and navigate racism in school, our neighborhood; and being the first black family to live in our housing development and even during sports and music/band. It was rough growing up at those times, but at least I had my family to rely on. I believe those experiences helped shape who I am right now; my resiliency and perseverance to overcome whatever obstacles or barriers that I encountered.
Growing up both my parents were hard workers. My mom was always busy working full-time since the age of 14 and continued to do so while taking care of myself, my brothers and father, all while going to nursing school full-time to become a RN. My father worked hard after being in the US Air Force building and welding metals for trucks and trains for more than 30 years. It was hard work, but he took many classes and eventually owned his own business.
Eventually, I attended Rowan University in New Jersey and received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Environmental Science. One of my outlets for me was still sports where I could challenge myself with new things. I joined the track team, swimming, field hockey and eventually softball teams throughout the year where I was able to maintain a B+ average in all my classes. I was the first in my family to graduate from college along with 3 of my brothers. My last year in college I decided that I wanted to become a science teacher and so I went back to school to get my teacher’s certification.
One of my brothers, Reynard, graduated from Rutgers School of Law and began working here in Portland, Oregon. He invited me and the family to visit him from New Jersey and encouraged me to look for a teaching position here. I did so when I came out to visit bringing my resume and was offered jobs teaching in Oregon. I decided on Harriet Tubman Middle School in Northeast Portland where I was the 6th grade science teacher. I loved it so much that I stayed there for 20 years teaching science and other science enrichment classes. I was fortunate to have as my first principal, Mr. Coakley, an African-American man. He encouraged and guided me to take risks and challenge myself as a teacher and a young woman of color who would be seen as a role model for the future generation. I took this to heart and everytime that I step in front of my students, no matter their age, I give my best to motivate and encourage them to learn to do their best and to take away something positive and new.
Now, I am teaching at Faubion PK-8 School in Portland approaching 15 years there. I have always taught middle school believing that it was just as important to getting students ready for their high school journey. I’ve taught biotechnology, anatomy & physiology, zoology, engineering, marine biology and even forensic science over my 35 years of teaching. Anything to keep my brain stimulated as well as my students!
Now that I reflect on some of my accomplishments I see a pattern of constant growth on my journey for sharing my knowledge; from being a presenter at numerous conferences and workshops, during summer research at OHSU, the Primate Center, Battelle Labs, etc. I even had a chance to represent Portland, Oregon in NASA’s Zero Gravity Program. I was a member of a 4 person all-female team, the “Fly Girls” to conduct an experiment in zero gravity…being weightless. Floating on the plane was as close to space as possible was one of my greatest accomplishments. All the organizations I have joined, from NSTA, OSTA, OABSE, STEM councils, PPS Science Cadre, science advisory councils, etc. And the list goes on and on….everything geared towards my pursuit of scientific knowledge to share with others.
Of course being passionate about science, I immediately joined MESA as an advisor in the late 80’s in my early years of teaching and again in 2019. I view MESA as a means to encourage young thinkers, students of color and females to constantly strive to learn and have fun while doing so. To try and do new and wonderful things. Stimulating their minds and exposing them to all the possibilities that this world has to offer.
Throughout my teaching career I believe that I have always tried to teach using the best practices and strategies to motivate students, remembering how I was taught and what needs to be done Now to encourage and empower them. One of my goals was to never ever “teach” like I was taught when I was their age. To use these experiences to mold myself into someone who will do better! Another goal was to teach science (and other life skills) through a lens of culture, equity and social justice, and I know that I will always strive to make this so in everyone of my classes and interactions with everyone that I meet.
I am always striving forward to do my best and try to encourage others to do their best no matter what their goal is in life. I am passionate about teaching no matter what and to whom my audience is. I want to share what I have learned so that they can pass this along to their family, friends and community. To make a positive impact on their lives. To share my journey on what education has done for me .To instill trust in me that I will always tell them that they can be whatever they want. To help them on their journey of knowing who they are!
My Legacy of Learning!
– Melanie Ramsey