Hello to all my Ocean fanatics!
My name is Melissa Sanchez, I am currently completing my senior year of undergraduate studies in the Marine Science department at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) Avery Point campus. My life has continually exposed me to setbacks and failures. Instead of spending these moments agonizing over the past, I now use this time to re-strategize for whatever it be I need to improve in order to succeed. My dyslexia and ADHD came at the high price of what I believed I was capable of. At a young age, the beach was where I confided in, a place to sit and reflect. Spending the majority of my life frequently visiting the beach allowed me for deep reflection. After understanding, you create your own reality and it begins with your mindset, unlearning the way I perceived myself to be has been the real challenge. Picking a career in STEM where I am a minority, a woman, and have learning disabilities has taught me that despite the challenges I am facing, others are also experiencing their own individual challenges. Learning to deal with these challenges appropriately is the secret weapon.
I now understand that challenges do not go away with time. It is only through facing challenges head-on that one can reflect. Challenges are the only way one can evolve and continue to break boundaries despite any of the hardships involved in doing so. It is because of this new mindset that I now love challenging myself. I am currently on track for completing a minor in chemistry, an accomplishment I would have never believed achievable if it had not been for my transformative mindset. Becoming a part of the MISS community has been a reminder that there are many who believe in breaking barriers and change for the better by being that change! MISS is exactly the community that I have been searching for, a place where despite everyone’s different journeys, we are committed to equity and change in the science community by demanding it (we rock!). Representing minorities in STEM is becoming more the norm thanks to our power standing together, and to organizations and companies that actively create
more opportunities in the research community. Forming communities where women stand tall and strong together is why I had the opportunity of working with Great White Sharks. I have spent the month of August Summer 2021 located in Mossel Bay, South Africa completing my internship with Oceans Research on Great White Sharks. My time here was occupied by conducting shark assessments, fin cam analysis, and assisting Luca Caracausi, an Italian Master's student obtaining tissue samples for isotopic analysis on the famous endemic Pyjamas Shark ( Poroderma africanum)! In total, we recorded data on 55 pyjamas, 91 whites, and saw over 100 whites! One of my most memorable days was when we got to tag whites. This was not an easy task as anyone who has worked with sharks can testify, as quickly as they make an appearance, is also as quickly as they can make their exit. Witnessing how important collaboration is within crew members and how this inherently ties to the contribution for collecting data on a long-term population dynamic study is incredible! I came here ready to be taken away by the elegance of the Great White Sharks. What I did not anticipate was how phenomenal the collaborators, staff, and other MISS intern who accompanied me, Sharleen Muñoz are. Wow, what an incredible group of individuals to work aside by, their dedication, commitment, and passion speak volumes!
Not much of my interest has changed since I was a child, instead, I have had the opportunity and honor to watch myself complete milestones to a dream I had growing up. I believe changing this world perspective to place conservation as a priority is achievable only with establishing communities such as Oceans Research and MISS where their sole intention is to continue to push individuals towards reaching their goals through furthering research and educational opportunities. When organizations can collaborate as demonstrated now the possibilities become endless. Oceans have reinforced this is exactly what I’d love to dedicate the rest of my life to. Thank you MISS for allowing me to feel a sense of belonging and power. I am honored to be one of the 1st as well as youngest MISS fellow! I cannot help but shed a few tears
knowing I actively contributed towards future Great White Sharks studies! This is not the end of my journey but the beginning of my contribution towards Ocean Conservation.
A special thank you to the 4 awesome creators of MISS, your decision to pick me as a MISS fellow has made an imprint on me, I cannot wait to see what else MISS will accomplish!