Leland Melvin



Recently, students enrolled in Professor Tim Scott’s course in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations had the incredible opportunity of hearing from retired NASA engineer and astronaut, Leland Melvin. During a panel session held at the Dealey Center for New Media as part of Scott’s Communication and Leadership class, Melvin shared his story and insights on communication and leadership drawn from his experiences both in life and in his career. 


While Melvin is most renowned for his career with NASA, he recounted that his journey was far from effortless. While at many times this journey felt like it was riddled with adversity, he mentioned that the key to navigating these challenges was the fact that he always had someone in his corner to help. Drawing parallels to the beloved children’s book, Curious George, Melvin shared that he always had a support system, his very own man or woman in the yellow hat during moments of adversity. These influential figures in his life included his mother, who gave him his first chemistry set; his football coach, whose belief in him facilitated his pursuit of a college football scholarship; and his friend, who recognized his potential to become a great astronaut following his work as a NASA engineer. 


Throughout his career, Melvin encountered numerous instances that underscored the importance of both communication and leadership. Acknowledging this importance, Melvin stated, “Effective communication is the true thing that helps you navigate in a way that is authentic to yourself, and it helps people be your advocate and be part of your journey.” This effective communication was invaluable to Melvin during critical moments at NASA. It was crucial for him to realize that solutions had already been devised before entering the critical environment. He emphasized the role of trust among teammates, and highlighted the confidence he and his teammates needed to have in each other to execute their training effectively. Melvin stressed that when there are serious consequences at stake, whether in space, on the football field, or in the boardroom, succinct thinking and effective communication are key. 


In addition to his well-documented leadership and communication experiences, Melvin’s career is also marked by his unwavering perseverance. He recounted to students how he navigated these moments of adversity and processed them. Following an emergency surgery after a training exercise that impacted his ear, Melvin was disqualified to fly in space due to deafness in one ear, presenting numerous challenges on his road to recovery. He emphasized that the key to his recovery was taking each step gradually and appreciating smaller milestones. For example, when playing the piano for the first time after the surgery, he appreciated the pure joy in being able to do the things you love. Eventually, a doctor granted him a waiver to fly, allowing him to fly several times despite his condition. His journey from this devastating injury to getting back in the air stands as a remarkable testament to his perseverance. Melvin expressed that the key to not giving up on this difficult journey was by staying the course and doing it with empathy, care, and love.