Science has always been one of the anchors of my life. When I was in preschool, my big brother let me help with his school science projects and I fell in love with the amazing world of scientific inquiry. Later, my mother introduced me to the real-world applications of science, taking me to NASA's Space Camp and Pilot Camps.
But the thrills of hands-on science collided with my difficulty reading the words on the pages of my science textbooks. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. Because the traditional phonics method of learning to read does not work for dyslexic students, I was pulled out of class in second and third grade to work with a specialist, where I learned to read by "coding" words.
My classmates teased me about needing "special" help. The teasing caused me a lot of tears, but I did not give up. I decided to educate my classmates about dyslexia. When oral reports were assigned, I talked about learning differences.
Did you know that Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci were dyslexic? Scientists using functional MRIs to study the brains of dyslexics have discovered that many have unique talents, such as the ability to recall vivid visual memories in 3D. Some dyslexics can recombine these 3D images to create amazing inventions. Love your smart phone? You can thank a dyslexic, Alexander Graham Bell for inventing the very first telephone.
Many dyslexic people like me are drawn to the field of engineering where our unique talents can serve as a big asset. As my classmates began to understand, their attitudes changed. I learned the valuable lesson that educating people about differences brings understanding and acceptance. I volunteer with the Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities organization, a group dedicated to helping kids with learning disabilities and their families. And I created a website, www.mydyslexiatips.com, which provides tips for students and their parents dealing with learning disabilities.
For the past three years, I've also shared my passion for science at a Summer Science Camp for Girls that I designed and coordinate. I give demonstrations and share my own hands-on science experiences: extracting DNA, learning geocaching, and exploring urban park biodiversity; meeting Dr. Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, and Russell Wernerth, chief engineer on the Hubble Telescope missions; shadowing state-of-the-art automotive engineers at GM and aeronautics engineers at Boeing Aerospace (and experiencing a fantastic flight simulator).
After college, I am not sure if I will be heading into the engineering work force or will continue my science studies in graduate school. Science continues to fascinate me because of the questions -- whenever I answer a science question, I can think of a dozen more questions to ask next. I have the chance to think of something that no one else has thought of before, and this process gives me the opportunity to make a discovery that could make an indelible mark in the world.
Melissa Rey, 19, is a 2012 Buick Achiever Scholarship Program National Winner. She is a first year Engineering Technology major at Pomona College/Caltech in Claremont, CA.
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