Building Friendships and Creating Memories

As Christina Andrade Melly was preparing her keynote speech to kick off the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA), she had one thought on her mind – how could she express to each student that they were about to have a life-changing experience? Thankfully, Melly had plenty of personal experience to pull from.

A participant of the 2004 Academy (green and silver), Melly also served as a residential assistant for three years. She said the entire experience was beyond incredible – it changed the trajectory of her life.

“Like so many high school kids, I felt alone in a lot of ways,” Melly said. “That all changed when I came to MSA. I built so many outstanding friendships and created so many lasting memories. The learning opportunities were amazing. There were so many great lessons that I took away from the experience.”

Melly was one of three students to attend MSA from Ritenour High School, in St. Louis, Missouri, during her year. It was her English teacher who not only connected her with the program, but also helped explain the importance of the opportunity to Melly’s family.

This year’s keynote speaker, Melly shared personal insights about the impact MSA had on her life.

“I owe so much to Mrs. (Margaret) Herb,” Melly said. “She encouraged me to take a chance and apply for MSA. Once I was accepted, my family was going to be on vacation during the program, and they figured I could just participate later. She reached out to them and explained how incredible the opportunity would be for me. I’m so thankful that I had her in my corner.”

Along with the camaraderie that Melly built during the Missouri Scholars Academy, she also got her first taste of college life, as well as a look at the University of Missouri campus. When she earned her diploma from Ritenour, she knew Mizzou was going to be where she continued her education.

“I chose MU because of my experiences at MSA,” Melly said. “When it came time to pick a university, Mizzou was already home.”

Melly was originally a journalism major but soon found herself circling back to her true passion – teaching. She said there wasn’t an exact moment when she knew she wanted to be a teacher; it was just a combination of experiences that brought her deep satisfaction. She loved playing school with her younger brothers, enjoyed taking care of children during PTO meetings and had a passion for leading others during summer camps.

Melly switched majors her first semester, choosing to double major in secondary education and English.

“I loved words so I thought I would give working with them a try,” Melly said. “Words just have this incredible power; they have an ability to take you to places you’ve never been and put you in the shoes of others who you’ve never walked with. The way we use words has a tremendous impact.

“I really loved what I was doing in journalism, but teaching was calling me back. That interest was always there, and I knew I had to go for it. I decided to tack on an English degree because it was my favorite subject – and I could still work with words.”

Melly gained valuable experiences inside and outside the classroom throughout her time as a Tiger. She was able to observe classes with the Columbia Public Schools and served as a tutor in the MU Writing Center. She also volunteered at one of the women’s shelters in Columbia, Mo. Melly said those experiences taught her about the importance of community and the significance of teachers being active members of the districts they serve.

“All of my work in college really confirmed that I was on the right path,” Melly said. “Even when the work was challenging, there was still this joy that is so central to everything that I’m still doing. I learned that’s important to bring people with you on this journey, too.”

Melly was a 2004 scholar (green and silver) and served as a residential assistant for three years. She earned two degrees from Mizzou, English and secondary education, and was very involved in the Honors College.

An active member of the Honors College, Melly was able to tie her degree programs to her pursuit of the Honors certificate.

“Like with MSA, I really enjoyed the community-building aspects of the Honors College,” Melly said. “The classes were smaller, so I had a chance to build in-depth relationships with my professors and peers. One of the biggest benefits for me was the ability to dive deeper into texts and ideas. I had the opportunity to look much closer at the complex challenges that I would face as I left college and began my next adventure.”

After earning her degrees from MU in 2010, Melly had a rather unique opportunity. There was a job opportunity back where her academic journey began – Ritenour High School. The position was in adult education and GED preparation. Melly’s educators were now her coworkers.

“I was beyond excited to be able to return home and teach where I grew up,” Melly said. “And that first job really allowed me to work with the community and work in teaching in a way that I hadn’t considered before. I gained a lot of perspective into the way I looked at education.”

Melly just finished her 12th year at Ritenour, where she now teaches English to sophomores and seniors. She capped off the academic year in a big way, too. Melly was named the Missouri Teacher of the Year.

“It was an incredible honor for sure,” Melly said. “Being surrounded by my students and colleagues, people who have supported me and helped me grow, was amazing. It was definitely a moment that I’ll never forget.”

As Melly reflects on the award and her teaching career, she said she can trace part of her success back to the Missouri Scholars Academy.

“It’s so important to have those mentors and friends you can reach out to for honest feedback and advice,” Melly said. “I learned how valuable those relationships are through MSA. I will always be thankful for my time with people dedicated to giving back to our exceptional students throughout the state.”