When she began her doctoral studies in HHP’s kinesiology/biomechanics program, she intended to be a college professor, teaching classes and following a research track, possibly in her home-town of Callaway, Nebraska. Today, Melissa Scott-Pandorf (Ph.D., ’05) is an exercise scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, working on the Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures Project.
So, what happened? When she came to HHP, she never considered NASA as a career destination. But once here, she saw the department’s collaboration and networking with JSC and soon realized the many opportunities available to her where she could apply her field of study in a unique setting.
Scott-Pandorf likes the challenge of having to think outside the box. She is currently working on modeling techniques to create exercise prescription planning in order to improve the exercise counter- measures on the space station in zero gravity. But, zero gravity cannot be created on the ground.
Team members take data from the ground and from the crew members as they exercise on the space station, calculate some biomechanical characteristics of their movements and incorporate the information into computer modeling. This data provides scientists with an idea of the differences that can occur between zero gravity and full-gravity exercise.
She also likes her team members and colleagues at JSC. “I’m pretty lucky. There are some amazing, intelligent individuals that I get to work with on a daily basis,” she said.
The amount of research equipment available to HHP students, the close proximity to JSC and the extensive collaboration with NASA definitely opened doors for Scott-Pandorf. What began as an internship became a permanent position shortly after her graduation from UH.
Her advice: “When you come into your graduate program, don’t already have everything planned out and think this is what you’re going to do. Be open to the possibility of many other things.”