By Amber Troy
Thom Melendez is passionate about education and passionate about kids. His job as Associate Director of Development for the BIO5 institute is to make community outreach and specifically science education possible by working with the groups that share his passion.
“As a development professional, I listen to people’s passions and find ways to get them connected to groups or researchers that can help them reach their goals,” says Melendez. One group that Melendez is heavily involved with is the Bio 5 Ambassadors. This student club takes part in outreach in local K-12 classrooms, and through field trips to places such as Biosphere 2, assisting with BIO5 tours, and visiting BIO5 labs to learn more about collaborative research; increase science literacy in the community; and foster interaction among faculty, students, bioindustry and the public.
“In the club we train in outreach activities that college students can then go and teach at schools and community outreach events. This is the club’s mission,” explains Melendez. “One activity we had last semester was that the ambassadors were pen pals with 6th graders at Homer Davis, and the main message I urged them to get across to the kids is it’s not if they go to college, but when they go to college,” said Melendez.
Melendez is also involved with finding financial support for groups, such as KEYS (Keep Engaging Youth in Science). “I listen to the goals of the directors and try to engage community members whose philanthropic passions match our program’s goals and needs.” The key word that describes Melendez’s job seems to be listen; this is an important skill for a development professional and educator to posses. “I taught 3rd graders for 9 years and when I think about how that experience has prepared me for my leadership position here, I think the most important skill I acquired is communication, and more specifically, listening,” says Melendez.2/1/
Melendez’s job seems then to involve listening and passion. Where does his passion come from? “As far as science education is concerned, back when I was teaching, I didn’t know as much about science as I know now, and in working here, I have learned so much and am excited about research opportunities we have here for students,” says Melendez. “The University of Arizona belongs to all of us as tax payers, and through outreach, I try to convey to the kids the University is theirs as well and that there are a number of opportunities available to them.”
Melendez’s job wasn’t always to help provide these opportunities as a Director of Development; he has been involved in a variety ways in the world of education that lead him here. “As far as why I became involved in education, I think I’ve always had an intrinsic desire to educate. When I started college, I knew that I wanted to be involved in education, but I didn’t know in what capacity. So first I worked in the welfare system, and then from there I started teaching 3rd grade; now as Associate Director of Development, I am helping to create opportunities to continue education outreach. I think my desire to educate comes from being a life-long learner myself.”
Melendez’s intrinsic desires might also come from him being a child at heart. When he is not working hard to reach out to the community and its children, he enjoys comic books, specifically the X-Men. Perhaps if Melendez could have his own mutant power, it would be the ability to change the world through education, but some could argue, he has this power already.