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Remembering the life and career of Melissa Schultz

Annette Hilton

Contributing Writer

On Saturday, Feb. 7, Associate Professor of Chemistry Melissa Schultz died in a car collision at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Burbank Road.

Originally from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Schultz earned her Bachelor of Science and Ph.D. in chemistry from Creighton University and Oregon State University, respectively. She was a National Research Council post-doctoral fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory in Denver from 2004-06 before coming to Wooster in the fall of 2006, where she was hired for a tenure-track analytical chemistry position in the chemistry department.

Schultz was known for her wholehearted engagement in teaching and research and was an avid proponent of many curriculum changes in the chemistry department, as well as an advocate for new teaching techniques.

“She had a scientific approach to many things — just get out and try the experiment, even if you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Sarah Sobeck, associate professor of chemistry. “This had influences on a lot of us in the department.”

Schultz, who considered herself first and foremost an environmental chemist, brought new life to environmental research within the department and would often teach courses with an environmental focus. In her time at Wooster, Schultz advised 30 students in I.S. projects that all had an environmental element.

“[Sustainability] was what she was always promoting and talking to us about,” said Mark Snider, associate professor of chemistry.

Sobeck said that environmentalism was the merging of Schultz’s passions “and really everything in her life. … She was passionate and acted as a role model — that passion of living what you believe.” In sustainability, Schultz actively led by example.

Schultz was a key proponent in acquiring grants to gain resources for the department, obtaining funds for faculty and student research and acquiring new mass spectrometry equipment. During her time at Wooster, Schultz brought in well over $800,000 in grants, including cross-departmental collaborations with both the Biology and Geology departments.

As the department’s expert in mass spectrometry, a technique used to identify elements based on the particles that compose them, Schultz was always excited to share how it could be integrated into colleagues’ and students’ research. A well-respected analytical and environmental chemist, Schultz often collaborated with and presented at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), of which she was a member.

“[Schultz] was an active scientist, called upon by national media to answer questions about environmental concerns that involve chemistry applications,” said Snider.

Schultz often sat on advisory committees for grant reviews for the National Science Foundation and actively published her collaborative research during her time at Wooster, which primarily focused on detecting environmental contaminants.

At the end of her first year on campus, Schultz took part in the initial planning of the Environmental Studies (ENVS) minor.

“She had a huge impact [on the program],” said Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and chair of ENVS. “There are a lot of people who care about environmental studies, but there are few people who really throw themselves into it. … It was particularly impressive because she was such a new professor and having her children at this time.”

Schultz served on the curriculum committee for ENVS and team-taught the minor’s required course, Environmental Analysis and Action, more times than any other faculty member, even while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer last year.

“I thought it was highly likely that she would be the next chair of the program,” Clayton said.

Schultz was a regular presence in the Sustainability Committee and a chemistry department representative for the new science facility; she was also regularly involved in MLK day lectures and frequently coordinated guest speakers for the chemistry department.

Schultz was a strong role model for all students in science, particularly young girls. She volunteered her time to teach chemistry at day and summer camps for elementary and middle-school-aged girls in the Wooster community, including programs such as Expanding Your Horizons and the Buckeye Women In Science, Engineering, and Research Institute (B-WISER).

She also served as the treasurer of the Local American Chemistry Society Chapter for seven years, which spans several counties. Schultz was a model to many faculty and students.

“Building cross campus connections was important for her and her community,” said Snider. Schultz is remembered as a community builder, both on campus and within the Wooster community.

Schultz was a valuable member of many communities. On campus, she organized departmental gatherings. Off campus, she was a large presence at her children’s Montessori school, according to Snider and Sobeck. She also  started a book club with friends from both on and off campus while also bringing groups together for yoga and running.

“What I’d like people to remember was her ability to make connections between all members of campus,” said Snider.  “She wasn’t just a scientist. [She] bonded well with people, was genuinely interested in everyone, took the time to really get to know people and to help you; she probably took too much time. She was always here. … She was so dedicated to this place.”

Schultz is remembered for her enduring dedication to Wooster, sustainability, and above all, her family and friends. Schultz remained her bright and enthusiastic self throughout her courageous battle with breast cancer last year, concluding successful treatments in November. A wife and mother of three young children, Schultz leaves behind both a loving family and community.

“She just gave everything, all of herself, in every single thing she did,” Snider said. “It kind of wears you down when you do that, but she did it because she strongly believed that she could make a difference, and that everyone can make a difference if you work hard enough … so she did it. She made a difference.”

Thank you, Melissa Schultz, for your difference.

A tree-planting ceremony in Dr. Schultz’s honor will take place on Friday, April 24, and a memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Freedlander Theatre. The celebration of her life will be followed by a reception in the lobby. 

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