Michelle Melhuish was not your typical little girl growing up. Instead of playing with toys society would deem fit for a girl her age, she opted to see the world through a scope.

Melhuish has been awarded a fellowship through the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Sciences or ANCDS.
The ANCDS awards 10 fellowships every year worldwide to five master’s students and five doctoral students.

Melhuish is a two-year master’s student majoring in Speech and Language Pathology with a focus in aphasia, which is a neurological inability to access linguistic information in the brain.

While her success in the fellowship comes only recently, her love of science stems from her childhood.

“I’ve known I’ve wanted to do something science-related since I was a little girl,” Melhuish said. “Instead of a bedtime story, I would ask my mom questions about the human body.”

Her mother, Kimberly Melhuish, can attest to her daughter’s curiosity in science.

“She was a very interesting little girl,” her mother said. “Instead of asking for Barbie dolls, she would always ask for a microscope. She was always very scientific. She always loved biology and bacteriology, things like that. She often won first place in her school science fairs.”

The 24-year-old master’s student said she was surprised she didn’t pursue a career in microbiology.
“I love microorganisms, they’re so fascinating to me,” she said.

While her passion stemmed from a childhood love of science, the road to get where she is today was not paved with gold.
“It was extremely daunting,” she said. “The competition is extremely high.”

Melhuish recalled writing a one-page resume and also having to write a 500-word essay trying to condense everything into fewer words. “Everything worked out in my favor, I guess,” Melhuish said with a chuckle.

After she receives her master’s degree, Melhuish plans to pursue her Ph.D.

Plattsburgh State Professor for Communication Disorders and Sciences Patrick Coppens acts as Melhuish’s thesis adviser and wrote a letter of recommendation on her behalf. He is also a member of the ANCDS.

“Michelle is such a committed person,” Coppens said.

“She is a trailblazer. We haven’t had a student do a thesis in a number of years,” she said. “Since she came in through the door here in the grad program, from day one, she wanted to do a thesis and knew exactly what she wanted.”

Coppens said Melhuish has shown other students that taking on a thesis is more than doable.

“She could easily serve as a role model to other students who may be reluctant to do a thesis, or go that route. In our field, it’s unfortunate that few master’s level individuals go all the way to Ph.D.,” he said.

As a recipient of the fellowship, Melhuish will receive an invitation to an ANCDS convention in Orlando. One of the benefits of the fellowship is a year-long membership in the ANCDS.

Coppens said the benefits of ANCDS membership include the ability to vote within the Academy, and even to run for office within the Academy, while she is a member.

Melhuish said it was her love of learning that drove her to where she is now.

“I’m so interested in this field and everything it offers,” Melhuish said. “People with aphasia are so inspiring.”
Melhuish said the chance to advance the field and develop treatments also play a part in her resolve.

There are several people she said she is thankful to for helping her live her dream.

“First and foremost, Dr. Coppens,” she said. “He’s just amazing. He’s accomplished so much, and he’s driven me. He’s the one professor who has recognized what I’m capable of and has pushed me to go into that direction and improve in various skills.”

Melhuish said Jeanne Ryan has also played a large role serving as her mentor during her undergraduate study.

She was the one who helped her get a job at a traumatic brain injury center during the summers of 2012 and 2013. This experience helped cement her decision to go into speech and language pathology.

She said her friends and family have helped her with their love and support. Her younger sister is one of her heroes, overcoming a serious illness to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Vermont with a 3.9 GPA.

“Keep (your) eyes on the prize, and know that no matter how difficult graduate-level work can be in that moment, to just focus on the ultimate goal,” Melhuish said to aspiring graduate students.

“Knowing that you’re working so hard for something that’s so great, and so rewarding and important, that’s something that’s driven me.”

Email Tim Lyman at timothy.lyman@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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