A Tribute to Melanie Fields
By Tom Donley

A Tribute to Melanie Fields

Melanie Fields, an icon of our science department for 34 years, will be retiring at the end of this year. There is no greater testament to Melanie than to hear from the alums, stretching back decades, who had her as a teacher and whose lives were forever changed. Countless have chosen a career in the sciences or in medicine because of Melanie. And to anyone who has ever walked in or by her classroom it is no surprise why. She empowers her students with such grace and ease to, as she would put it, “speak the language of science,” to solve problems collaboratively, and to engage in original research. Her classroom has been a hive of activity and investigation, a place to where students return during their free periods or, as we have seen, many years after they graduate. Behind this remarkably effective buzz of scientific activity was Melanie’s steady encouragement of her students, as well as the incredible labor that went into maintaining her classroom. She believed in creating opportunities for students and helping them find their intrinsic capacity to understand the natural world. Each day upon arriving at school, it seemed, Melanie would be hauling lab materials up to Room 200 and, if her students and her colleagues were lucky, delicious baked goods as well. 

Melanie’s work with students extended well beyond the classroom. She led for many years the BRAIN Club, which allows students interested in science and particularly neuroscience the opportunity to be involved in self-directed scientific research. The students she has mentored in this club have participated in and presented at scientific meetings such as the American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for Neuroscience, and various zebrafish conferences—again, truly life-changing opportunities for these students. Outside of science, Melanie was a beloved coach of JV Volleyball, Swimming, and Ultimate Frisbee for many years. She taught a winter PE Health Class as well. And she has been the sponsor of the Outing Club, taking students on transformational excursions across the United States, instilling in them a lifelong love of the outdoors and of environmental stewardship. 

In October 2018 we held a collection where students from the BRAIN Club and Outing Club spoke about just how powerful these experiences have been for them. To students these two presentations were individually fascinating and offered rich insights into the extracurricular lives of our students. But to everyone who knew Melanie’s leadership in these two clubs, it was a beautiful tribute to her and to all she has accomplished. More significantly, perhaps, was how the work described in the clubs captured how she herself believes a life should be lived: committing yourself to what you love to do fully and without apology; taking risks—whether in a scientific experiment or in climbing rock; and appreciating that regardless of what you are doing, it’s always better to do that thing with others.

Melanie’s retirement affords her the opportunity to do just that: to be with her beloved husband (her true “scientific colleague”), Doug, to spend more time with her children and (new!) grandchild, and to do all of that and more in her fabulous new house on the eastern shore of Maryland. Thank you, Melanie, for your devotion to your students, for creating spaces and opportunities for students to discover their interests and abilities, and for the many extra miles you walked outside of our formal responsibilities for your students.