Pioneering Astrophysicist and NASA Astronaut Shares Appreciation for Women-Only Environment with Student Leaders

June 24, 2014
Pam Melroy in space, writing in notebook, 2007

Astronaut Pamela Melroy ’83 was honored recently as a Woman of Distinction by the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, which recognizes women who have made a difference for others.

The National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) is in its 29th year of encouraging and mentoring young college student women in preparation for leadership in a variety of fields. The 2014 conference hosted 1,000 attendees from across the globe at the University of Maryland, College Park, from June 5 to 7. The Women of Distinction award ceremony forms a key component of the conference, and this year Colonel Melroy was honored alongside distinguished women including crisis communications expert Judy Smith, seasoned journalist Hattie Kauffman, and young entrepreneur Lily Liu.

A pioneering astronaut and international hero, Melroy graduated from Wellesley with degrees in physics and astronomy. After being commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and becoming the second woman to become a test pilot, Melroy joined NASA as an astronaut. She has served as pilot on two flights (STS-92 in 2000 and STS-112 in 2002), both of which traveled to the International Space Station. On the STS-92 Discovery, Melroy became just the third woman to pilot the space shuttle. She has logged over 562 hours in space. Melroy has received numerous military honors including the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal and First Oak Leaf Cluster, as well as the Wellesley Alumnae Achievement Award. She also currently serves as a Wellesley College trustee.

In her remarks during the award ceremony on June 5, reported by NCCWSL, Melroy encouraged the college leaders to seek out a women-only environment at some point in their lives as she did at Wellesley, where, in her words, the College “made it demonstrably clear that anyone who said women aren’t as good at math or science or leading people was ridiculous.” She talked about leadership, and the importance of seeking to become a better leader over the course of one’s lifetime. “People think you’re born a leader or you’re not. I’m here to tell you that’s absolutely not the case,” she said.