Student: Melany Contreras

East Carolina University senior Melany Contreras has wanted to be a scientist as long as she can remember. She just couldn’t decide which field. So she chose two.

“Those were always my plans,” the Honors College student said of her chemistry and physics majors. “Those areas have always fascinated me the most ever since I was a little girl. Doing anything else would be going against what I truly enjoy, so why would I?

“They go so well together. It’s a bit surreal,” she added. “You can view one thing – say, an atom – and get different perspectives depending on whether you look at it from a chemistry or physics standpoint. Put those perspectives together, and you get a magnificent bigger picture. That’s one of the things I love the most about studying both fields. It’s pretty fascinating and comes in really handy for me.”

Contreras came to ECU after graduating from D.H. Conley High School in Greenville. “I’m a first-generation student that comes from a low-income household with immigrant parents,” she said. “I say this to remind everyone that you can do what you love regardless of your upbringing. Don’t let anything get in your way.”

And she hasn’t. At ECU, she’s been part of the American Chemical Society Scholars Program and the NASA New Jersey Space Grant Consortium. She’s received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the GlaxoSmithKline Women in Science Scholarship and an ECU Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award. She’s also a teaching assistant for undergraduate organic chemistry.

After she graduates from ECU, Contreras plans to pursue a doctorate in – what else? – physical chemistry, then go to work for NASA.

“That’s the big dream,” she said.

She had good reasons for choosing to become a Pirate. “ECU is the best bang for your buck,” she said. “It has so many unique opportunities for students, and it also has a strong sense of close community that I didn’t get from anywhere else. Also, it’s 10 minutes away from my dad’s house, so that was convenient, too.”

The spring semester, though, was different. “It’s a very bizarre, very stressful, very chaotic time,” Contreras said. “The quarantining, the rapid switch to online classes, the loss of an in-person graduation for many students, the financial burden this all brings, the loss of structure, the toll on the mental health of many students – to say we’re baffled and stressed is an understatement.

Melany Contreras studied at the University of Oxford in England during her study abroad trip last June. She was an associate member of New College while there and had a tutorial in chemical thermodynamics. (Contributed photo)

“On the bright side, we’re learning from this situation. We’re learning to better manage our time, to communicate more effectively with our friends and family in spite of separation and to adapt to the unexpected. We’re becoming stronger people from this.”

And she’s looking forward to getting back to a more normal life. “I miss being on campus, as do a lot of other students,” she said. “We miss our friends, our professors, everything. Campus is like a second home to me, and I am counting down the days until I can step foot on it again.”

What advice do you have for other students?

Never underestimate your abilities. Never forget that you belong in the spaces you worked so hard to be a part of. Pursue what you love and always remember your worth.

What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year?

Barefoot on the Mall is an absolutely fun way to end the year!

This Pirate loves science.


Name: Melany Contreras

College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Major: Chemistry and physics, math minor

Age: 20

Classification/Year: Senior

Hometown: Greenville

Hobbies/interests: Nintendo games, spending time with friends, all things space-related

Clubs and Organizations: ECU Student Government Association, UNC Association of Student Governments


Favorite hangout: Anywhere my friends are

Favorite place on campus: SGA Office

Favorite place to eat: Bojangles

Favorite class: If I HAD to pick, I’d say physical chemistry

Professor who influenced you the most: Andrew Morehead

Favorite TV show: I can’t decide on one, so here are my top two: “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Rick and Morty”

Favorite band/musician: Once again, I can’t pick one! I have too many favorites, so here’s three of them: boy pablo, Wallows, The Walters

Favorite movie: “Interstellar”

Favorite website:


Dream job: Research physical chemist at NASA

Role model: My family

Your words to live by: Work hard, play hard.