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Success story of a Villa Maria's Student: John Tristan Melcher, Redding, CT

Villa Maria School is a place where students with learning differences acquire the necessary skills to succeed wherever their dreams take them. John T. Melcher, a former student, shares his story.

By Susan Jordan

When Tristan Melcher was in 3rd grade, he had a hard time in school. “My dyslexia made reading difficult for me and I didn’t get the attention I needed in a big class at a public school,” Melcher recalls. That was the year his parents, who lived in Redding, CT at the time, decided to have Tristan attend Villa Maria School in Stamford. For the past forty years, Villa Maria School has specialized in helping children with reading difficulties and learning differences. Melcher continued his recollection: “I remember the small classes at Villa Maria. My first teacher there in third grade was Ms. Cipriano. The small class size meant I got a lot of her attention. I was less self-conscious there, and you learn more easily when you get that kind of attention. It made a big difference.”

Today, Tristan Melcher has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, where he has also taught. The path to learning became a lot easier once his reading problems were addressed. Melcher explained how he got involved with science: “I had no idea what I wanted to do in high school…I thought maybe architecture. By that time, my family had moved to Oak Ridge, TN. People know about Los Alamos, but Oak Ridge is where half of The Manhattan Project was developed. That’s why it’s called “The Atomic City”. You can understand why science is a big deal there. I had a couple of good teachers who guided me into math and science, and eventually engineering after taking physics my senior year.”

Melcher went on to Purdue and got his B.S. in mechanical engineering. In his junior year he became involved in an honors program and with NASA, in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program. He went on to complete his Ph.D. program at Purdue in 2011, then went to Bristol, England for a post-doctoral program. At both Purdue and Bristol, Melcher was involved in research as well as teaching.

“I might go on to teach at a university, which involves about two-thirds research and one-third actual teaching,” Melcher explained. Currently he has a research fellowship at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a government lab. Melcher and his new wife, Erika, recently moved to Maryland, where she works with mentally ill adolescents.

When asked what part Villa Maria played in his current success, Melcher said, “Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t get help with my reading. I doubt I would have had such an academic career, that’s for sure!”

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