ATLANTA – A Mercer University Ph.D. student’s work outside the classroom has landed her as a finalist for the Woman of the Year in STEAM Education award, presented by Women in Technology (WIT).

Atlanta-based Women in Technology is an organization that supports women in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, as well as girls who aspire to enter those fields. The organization has various mentorship and STEAM programs and provides further assistance to marginalized women who come from impoverished communities.

Melissa Waller was recognized by WIT in large part for her work with Change the Game, a nonprofit organization for which she serves as executive director. A data analytics organization that provides training for those who want to work on campaigns, Change the Game welcomes individuals who have no experience or are at the novice level to participate in its trainings.

“For individuals who would like to come in and receive professional development in data analytics, we provide that as well,” Waller said.

As the mother of a young woman who wishes to major in biomedical engineering and become a doctor, Waller believes it is essential for women to support each other in their pursuit of STEAM careers.

Waller believes that for every woman who excels in the STEAM fields, there is another woman behind her, encouraging and supporting her.

Originally an engineering major, Waller ended up changing her course of study because she did not have anyone who shared her race and gender to serve as an example for her.

“I look at where I would have been had organizations like WIT been around,” Waller said.

Waller is pursuing a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision from Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement with an expected graduation date of May 2024. Her dissertation, titled “Saving Superwoman,” examines how the Superwoman complex in Black women affected how they grieved during the pandemic.

She chose this topic due to the growth in women leading Fortune 500 companies in senior level positions, in combination with research that has shown that as women become more educated, receive degrees and climb the corporate ladder, they start to incur more health issues such as hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol or obesity.

Waller’s work has already advanced her career by empowering her to be able to look at what the research and data says in regard to organizational psychology and therapeutic outcomes for women in leadership positions. Her studies at Mercer have placed her on a path toward understanding the “why” of people’s decision-making when it comes to serving in leadership positions.

“My studies have helped me be a better leader on my job and in my community by just being able to support not just people’s career needs, but their therapeutic and wellness needs, as well. And I can say, ‘The research says,’ because I’ve studied it, and this is what will work for women and children in this area,” Waller said.

In the future, Waller desires to change the narrative of women, leadership and STEAM. As a Black woman, she wants to be able to tell the story of people of color because she feels that not enough women like her are conducting research in the world.

Waller is currently pursuing a project related to women of color as leaders in academia.

“I’m working with a couple of deans and presidents of various organizations and universities across the country to talk about their leadership journeys and the impact that they’ve made,” Waller said. “I want the data to tell the story.”

Waller appreciates the community that Mercer has created for her. In particular, she is thankful for mentors like Dr. Nadia Barnett and Dr. David Lane, who have guided her in her educational journey, in addition to providing outstanding disability assistance to her when she incurred a stroke resulting from COVID-19.

“It is not a surprise that Melissa Waller is a finalist for the Women of the Year in STEAM Education award,” said Dr. Barnett. “For the past nine years that I have known her, she has consistently demonstrated progressive leadership, tenacity and commitment to providing equitable access in career fields lacking diversity and inclusion. Melissa is a trailblazer and catalyst for change, thereby committed to influencing the landscape of women in technology through her willingness to address obstacles that impact her mission.”

“Melissa is an incredibly strong and gifted woman. She has overcome devastating obstacles through courage and perseverance, and despite seemingly insurmountable odds, her accomplishments speak for themselves. I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for Woman of the Year,” added Dr. Lane.

The 23rd Annual Women of The Year Awards Gala was held Oct. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.