Selfless actions, global impact

Melissa Elder is a senior in environmental engineering. Photo by Sam O'Keefe.

Melissa Elder is a senior in environmental engineering. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

For Melissa Elder, Honduras is more than just another place on the map. It inspired her career path and her research focus. It’s also her mother’s homeland.

Elder, a senior in environmental engineering, traveled to Honduras as a teenager to visit extended family. While there, she says she saw first-hand what poverty looks like.

“Being there really made me appreciate all of the things that we take for granted here,” she says. “Honduras has a special place in my heart, but there are issues with clean water and poverty all over the world.”

Elder wants to help end those issues.

Working with Joel Burken, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, Elder is studying phytoremediation – the use of plants to detect and remove pollutants from the soil.

She is studying the site of the Busy Bee Laundry in Rolla, which used to offer dry cleaning services. By testing core samples from trees in the neighboring Schuman Park, Burken determined that some of the cleaning solvents seeped into the park’s groundwater, causing contamination. Elder is trying to quantify the amount of pollutants the trees can take in to mitigate the soil contamination.

“If we figure this out, we can determine how to use plants and the power of the sun and the wind to better protect human health and the environment,” she says.

Earlier this summer, Elder expanded her water research on a nine-week National Science Foundation internship in Costa Rica through the University of South Florida. Her work focused on water treatment practices and food security. And last fall, she joined Engineers Without Borders to help bring clean water to Honduras. She is also president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, which seeks to empower minorities to excel, and is a peer mentor for Student Diversity Programs.

In May, Elder received the Donald D. Myers Scholarship for the impact she has made on campus through her service, leadership ability and her commitment to continue serving others.

Elder says her charitable work will not end after she graduates in December. In fact, selfless service runs deep in her family. “My mother always put me and my three siblings before herself,” she says. “Because of her selflessness throughout my life, I’ve developed a passion for helping people and improving the lives of others.

“I want to do something that is greater than me,” she says. “Small actions can have such a great impact on those who need it most.”

by Arielle Bodine


  1. David Smith says

    Way to go Melissa!

  2. Christina Adams says

    Melissa really is a wonderful person inside and out. I am blessed to know her and call her friend!

  3. Stuart Baur says

    Well done, Melissa!

  4. Melissa is an all around gem of a student! Great job!

  5. Joel Burken says

    Great story about an amazing individual…. way to go Melissa!

  6. Molly Prickett says

    Nice! 🙂

  7. Diana Ahmad says

    It would be terrific if Melissa could give a campus talk some time this fall semester (spring?). Not only could she address the engineering aspects of her work, she could also talk about the humanities side of her work and her travels.
    Great job, Melissa!

  8. Julie Glenn says

    This girl is such an inspiration and a true environmentalist!! She is truly a leader on campus and is filled with positive energy!!

  9. Melody Elder says

    So proud of you and everything you have accomplished!

  10. Angela Perkins says

    Melissa, you are such an inspiration! So glad to have had opportunity to know you; Dr. Myers would surely be proud!!

  11. Peachy Myers says

    Yes he would. Our whole family is proud of you Melissa!