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Rock star

International exchange experience ignites Earth Sciences graduate's passion for geology

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2019 convocation ceremonies.

By Kelly Foss

Melissa Mills fell in love with geology while taking courses as a University of Colorado exchange student with the National Student Exchange program.

The Grand Falls-Windsor native had started a general science degree at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus, but this spring she will pick up a B.Sc. (Hons.) in earth sciences with a minor in ocean sciences during the May 28 afternoon session of convocation at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

“Moving to St. John’s was probably the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I chose Memorial, at first, because it was close to home, but the Earth Sciences department is very well-known and respected in the industry. It also offered an incredible amount of opportunities for me to succeed as an undergraduate student.”

Amazing opportunities

Last summer Ms. Mills travelled to Boston for 11 days to complete complex sulfur isotope analyses in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work focused on samples collected by her supervisor, Dr. John Jamieson, from a hydrothermally active seafloor volcano north of New Zealand. She also presented that research at the Atlantic Universities Geoscience Conference at Dalhousie University.

Melissa Mills will cross the stage at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on May 28 to collect her B.Sc.(Hons.).
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Earlier this month, she represented Memorial at the Student Industry Mineral Exploration Workshop organized by the Prospectors and Developers Associations of Canada in Sudbury, Ont. Ms. Mills was one of 26 students from across Canada to be invited to this 16-day intensive workshop to learn and develop skills in the mineral exploration industry.

“I had the opportunity to interact with almost 100 industry professionals through hands-on activities, talks and networking events,” she said. “This has been an amazing opportunity to learn about the industry from a variety of perspectives, applying knowledge from my degree and acquiring many new skills.”

‘Fantastic’ mentor

Ms. Mills has also been the recipient of numerous scholarships from the Department of Earth Sciences, including the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (Newfoundland Branch) Silver Jubilee Scholarship, the Dennis R. Prince Memorial Scholarship, the Eugene Vincent Memorial Scholarship and a geoscience bursary from the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I learned that I had the drive, precision and patience to be a successful geochemist.” — Melissa Mills

She says Dr. Jamieson was a “fantastic” mentor and honours supervisor, helping her develop her critical thinking skills when interpreting her data and improving her writing skills.

“He believed in me, an undergraduate student he barely knew, and sent me to MIT to work in one of the most famous isotope labs,” said Ms. Mills. “This opportunity paid off immensely. It taught me an incredible amount of knowledge, not just scientifically, but personally.

“The work allowed me to grow as a scientist and I gained confidence in the lab, where I learned that I had the drive, precision and patience to be a successful geochemist,” she continued. “I will forever be grateful for the work he put into helping me develop my skills and how this will help me in the next step of my academic career.”

Find your passion

That next step will take her to the University of Victoria this September where she will begin an M.Sc. in the Earth and Ocean Science Department. Ms. Mills’ marine geochemistry project will focus on an active hydrothermal system.

“My advice for new students starting out at Memorial would be to find your passion,” she said. “Sometimes that might take a while, but that’s okay. Once you find what you absolutely love, it will be the most rewarding experience academically and personally.”

She encourages students to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone. Her willingness to take every opportunity that came her way allowed her to make many new friends and professional relationships.

“Once you gain the confidence to overcome your initial fear, the result will be incredibly rewarding.”

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