By LINDSEY ADKISON email@example.com
Melissa Trussell always had a knack for numbers. She discovered the talent as a youngster growing up in Sandersville and it fueled her journey all the way to college at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
"I got my undergraduate degree in discrete math. When I got done with that, I wasn't satisfied with the path a math degree would likely take me on ... I'm more of a people person, so I didn't want to sit behind a desk and do numbers only to be seen by the academic elite," she said.
Instead, she decided to broaden her options by getting a master's degree in public administration at Georgia State. But she still did not find her calling.
"It was too much reading and writing ... I was like, 'Give me my numbers back,'" she said with a laugh.
Figuring a third time would be a charm, she went back to school again — this time for a doctorate in economics. There, Trussell found a way to bring all the pieces of her passions together to form a career that suited her perfectly.
"I decided to become an economist. I usually describe it as math with a purpose. It's an opportunity to use my ability for math toward a purpose that satisfied my heart for people," she said.
It also allowed her to work toward real change in the world. Trussell's dissertation focused on Liberia and the plight of former child soldiers there. To truly understand the issue, she went to the African nation, living there for several months. That is where Trussell discovered her true calling — using figures and math to help people overcome economic adversity.
"I fell in love with the things going on there. I felt like I could have a real impact," she said. "But when I finished and got my PhD, I still didn't know what I wanted to do. My advisor and mentor pushed me in the academic direction, telling me that it's an excellent way to multiply your passion."
That's exactly what she did with the hopes of being able to find a place where she could take students on a trip like her own life changing journey to Liberia. While she wasn't sure she would be able to find a fit for something like that, she decided to apply for a job at College of Coastal Georgia.
It didn't take long before she was snapped up and on the faculty. And she's hoping to be able to host a trip in the near future.
"I was really surprised with how it all came together. But it's been great," she said.
Now settled in, Trussell is sharing her passion with students, hoping to spark inspiration beyond simple figures. And that's especially true with her female pupils.
"As much as I am a feminist, and I want to claim that women can do the same thing men can — I'm a realist. Women are very different from men in the way we're wired. I think that's why it's important to have women in the STEM fields. That was the path that led me to economics — it was very much a heart path ... I wasn't just led by my head," she said.
"That's the message I want to share with students. You can follow your heart and do something to make a change in the world with numbers. So for those little girls who, like me, were born with ability to do math but a desire to change the world — there's a place for us."
When she's not crunching numbers, Trussell enjoys changing the world in other ways — particularly by helping animals.
"I'm a crazy cat lady. That's that my hobby. In the last three and a half years, I have had 95 cats," she said with a laugh. "I was a foster mother for kittens. But now I only have two — Dorito and Molly."
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.
Photo by Rob Novit of The News
Melissa Trussell found a new home at College of Coastal Georgia after learning to channel her love of math into a people-focused job as an economist.