Melishia Santiago

Hispanic Heritage Month Staff Spotlight: Melishia Santiago

Lecturer and Director of the Office of Student Success and Diversity (OSSD) at the College of Natural Sciences (CNS)

October 6, 2022

Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th - October 15th) is a time to celebrate the history, culture, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. 

In honor of this national observance, Melishia Santiago, Lecturer and Director of the Office of Student Success and Diversity (OSSD) at the College of Natural Sciences (CNS), caught up with the CNS communications office to share about her research, background, and inspiration. 

Santiago is an Arctic scientist and graduated with her PhD in 2019 from the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University - she's currently focused on investigating the satellite algorithms that represent chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in the Pacific Arctic Region. CDOM production impacts the amount of heat and light in the ocean water column. Since the region is undergoing the greatest seasonal ice-thinning and retreat in the Arctic, Santiago's research is critically important. One major factor impacting CDOM is the total area of ice that covers the ocean, or sea-ice extent. Reduced sea ice means more melt ponds (pools of open water that form on sea ice in warm conditions), which, in turn, leads to more light availability in the water column and more CDOM! Melishia Santiago

Santiago moved to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico when she was 17; her parents decided to make the move so she could pursue a career in science. When she arrived in Massachusetts, Santiago did not speak any English. She decided to enroll at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. In 2005, Santiago graduated from STCC with honors and transferred to UMass in 2006.

In 2008, Santiago graduated from UMass with a Biology degree, where she met Dr. Lynn Margulis. Santiago was inspired by Dr. Margulis' research and went on to pursue her master's degree and PhD with her. As a graduate student, Santiago took a remote sensing class that caused her to realize the value of performing research using these types of tools. After this class, she decided to change fields from biology to earth science. 

She recounts that her time at UMass was enjoyable, but at times, isolating. She worked full-time at night to pay for school and support her family and took four buses from Springfield to UMass for a full semester to attend classes. Her academic experience has shaped her current role at UMass. She shares, “I always tell my students that they are not alone. I advise them to ask questions, advocate for themselves, and find people (faculty, advisors, peers, family, or friends) to support them.”

Before coming to work at UMass, Santiago was a biology educator and department chair of the science department at a high school in Springfield, MA. In her first year working in the Springfield Public School system, her students received the highest Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) biology scores in the district, despite having no laboratory and no laboratory instruments. She was awarded the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) InSPIRED award for her commitment to increasing racial and ethical diversity across Massachusetts.

Santiago’s role with the OSSD supports all students through their undergraduate careers, and consists of five programs (Bio-Pioneers, Forsythe Grange Mentoring Program, Transfer Student Alliance Program (TSAP), William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee-SIP) and the National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP)).

Currently, she is also teaching two courses and two independent studies. Santiago co-teaches a first-year seminar to first-generation students in the School of Earth and Sustainability. Her other course is for seniors interested in attending graduate school, with the goal of guiding and assisting students with the application process (especially LSAMP scholars and first-generation students). During the spring semester, she teaches one of the Bio-Pioneers courses to introduce students to undergraduate research.

When she’s not working, Santiago enjoys doing activities that involve crafts and paints. She also loves taking walks with her family and their female beagle dog named Bagel.

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