Leland Melvin

“Houston we have a problem.” Leland Melvin was 25 feet under water in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6 million gallon pool, training to perform spacewalks as a NASA astronaut when he called the test director and asked him to turn the volume up in his headset. He never heard a reply and was immediately hoisted out of the pool to learn that he was deaf. Emergency surgery resulting in only partial recovery to his hearing led him to being medically disqualified to fly in space by NASA flight surgeons. This is just one of the many career ending challenges Leland has overcome in his life. Before becoming an astronaut Leland was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 College Draft to play professional football but a hamstring injury thwarted his NFL career with Detroit and then later with the Dallas Cowboys. Hear his fascinating story of perseverance and how he ultimately traveled off-planet twice on Space Shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station. Leland is the only person drafted into the National Football League to have flown in space. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honored his athletic and academic accomplishments by placing his Detroit Lions jersey under glass in Canton, Ohio. Through these professional experiences working on high stakes teams he developed a deep and nuanced understanding of effective team dynamics.

Leland has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in materials science engineering. He worked at NASA Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles resulting in publications in numerous scientific journals. After hanging up his space boots he was appointed head of NASA Education and served as the co-chair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force developing the nation’s 5-year STEM education plan. Leland was the United States representative and chair of the International Space Education Board (ISEB), a global collaboration in space. He uses his life story as an athlete, astronaut, scientist, engineer, photographer, and musician to help inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) careers. Leland is also currently seen as the host of the Lifetime competition series Child Genius.

Leland holds four honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences and philanthropy. He was chosen as an ICON MANN with Quincy Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Steve Harvey and 24 other men selected for their ability to inspire people of all ages through their vision and commitment to creating positive change throughout the world. Leland has been honored with the NFL Players Association “Award of Excellence” for inspiring athletes to pursue excellence on and off the field. He has written a chapter on the power of visualization in Venus Williams’ book Come to Win. Leland has appeared on Top Chef as a celebrity judge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, while Cesar Milan helped him with his unruly pooch Jake on an episode of The Dog Whisperer. He was featured in a Sci Fi Channel program documenting the making of the “Reach for the Stars” will.i.am song, which was transmitted to Mars and back to inspire students to pursue STEAM. After 24 years with NASA as a researcher, astronaut and Senior Executive Service leader he looks to share his stories of perseverance and excellence to inspire communities for lasting positive change.

Testimonials

"It is actually hard to put into words the feeling I had meeting and joining with the Memphis 'giving' community at the LPBC Signature Breakfast hosted by Smith & Nephew and in partnership with The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in August, 2014. To see living embodiments of real and true compassion and caring for others, all gathered in one place gave me some sense of the astounding range, depth and sustained good works the business community in Memphis is doing. It was clear to me
John Hunter, Award-Winning Educator , former guest speaker, and focus of the documentary, "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements"
Thank you for taking the time to teach me some new ideas about storytelling in the digital world! I am excited to implement your tips and best practices. Thank you for all you do to support local nonprofits and their good words by providing this valuable training.
Glenda Gurley , Maddox Foundation
"It was very revealing. I had no idea of the broad range of community outreach initiatives involved by the sponsoring members. This is the most positive movement that I have seen in Memphis in a long time and is surely needed. I really enjoyed my visit."
Bill Morris , Former Memphis Mayor
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