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People of STEAM

Meet Melissa

#PeopleofSTEAM is an ongoing blog series that highlights diverse voices in our community and the impacts they are making on the world of FIRST®, the world of STEAM, and/or in their own backyard.  

Forever a FIRST® student at heart, Dr. Melissa Smith is a longtime champion of getting more students involved in STEAM and FIRST. She began her own STEAM journey when she was a student herself in FIRST®  LEGO® League and then FIRST® Robotics Competition. From there, she continued her education at the University of Central Florida where she received her B.S. in Psychology and then headed to George Mason University for her PhD in Human Factors & Applied Cognitive Psychology. She is currently a User Experience Research Manager for YouTube at Google. Melissa also generously volunteers her time with FIRST and serves on the FIRST Board of Directors (and is the first FIRST alum to do so).  

Learn more about Melissa’s inspiring STEAM career and experiences in the Q&A below:  


FIRST Staff: Can you describe your current role at Google? 

Melissa: As a UX Research Manager, I manage a team of researchers who work with product development teams (comprised of designers, engineers, and product managers) to understand user needs and incorporate the user perspective into the product development process. The most highly engineered product in the world can still fail if users do not understand how to use it or don’t understand the need for it. 

FIRST Staff: What is your favorite part of your current role? 

Melissa: As a YouTube user myself, I love being able to understand the behind the scenes of how a product with such global reach is developed. I also learn about great channels and creators via my research with users, which is a great bonus. 

FIRST Staff: What is the hardest part of your job?  

Melissa: The hardest part is recognizing that we are making one product that will be used uniquely by billions of individuals and that not everyone is always going to be happy. It can be hard, but it’s also rewarding when a feature launches and is well-received. 

FIRST Staff: How do you use STEAM and/or FIRST-learned skills in your everyday work/life?  

Melissa: I use skills I learned through FIRST literally every day. From working backward from deadlines and planning out work in stages, to being able to summarize complex design thinking into quickly digestible briefs, to coordinating with various sized teams and working with people who all bring different skills to the team, these are all things I learned early in life through FIRST and apply every day. 

FIRST Staff: Do you have a message you want to share for students who are participating in FIRST today? 

Melissa: Lean into your various interests! Don’t box yourself into one thing, especially out of fear of judgement from others. If you love robotics and dancing, find a way to enjoy them both! Enjoy programming and basketball? Grow your skills in both. The sparks of true innovation come from the knowledge of, and combination of, topics people traditionally are not combining.  

Are you a person of STEAM? Share your story with #PeopleofSTEAM on social media or send us your story at f

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