Distinguished Alumna, Educator, and School Director Melanie Mello
Melanie Mello, originally from Pforzheim, Germany, followed her fiancé to Chico State and then fell in love—with the University. Now, Chico State is returning that love and honoring Mello, who graduated summa cum laude (English and German, ’07), as the College of Humanities and Fine Arts distinguished alum for 2023.
Mello is currently the founder, director, and a teacher at the Arizona German Language School in Chandler, Arizona. Additionally, she serves as an associate faculty member for the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. Mello also works as an instructional designer for Aptly, a Silicon Valley startup focused on building applied educational programs for distance learners.
Yet her most prominent role over the last 14 years has been that of an award-winning high school German teacher in Indiana and Arizona. Since graduating from Chico State, she has been named:
- German Embassy Teacher of the Year in 2013
- One of the five finalists for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ Teacher of the Year Award
- Teacher of the Year by both the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching and the Arizona Language Association in 2020
As a German Educational Multiplier (GEM) in the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) and Goethe-Institute’s Coaching Program, Mello assists teachers, community members, and school administrators with pedagogical and curricular support, professional development opportunities, and efforts to foster global and intercultural awareness.
She has accomplished all this while raising four children with her husband, Patrick Mello (English and German ’05; MA, English ’07).
And to answer your question: yes, he’s the same guy she followed to Chico State nearly two decades ago.
Let’s start at the beginning, how does one get from Pforzheim, Germany to Chico State?
My husband, who is originally from Chico, was an exchange student in Germany. During his first semester there and my first semester in college, we became tandem partners—helping each other with our respective native languages. Sure enough, we started dating and he ended up staying a second year while I went through the lengthy process of applying to become an exchange student in the United States. By that time, I was pregnant and I’m pretty sure that helped me get placed with him at Chico State.
I had never heard of Chico State, except through my husband, and the original idea was just to stay through the year and see how I felt about living in the area, but we ended up staying three years and I absolutely loved it.
What clicked for you at Chico State?
I don’t think I would have ended up where I’m at now if not for my experiences at Chico State. While on campus, I was provided with so many amazing opportunities. There were so many resources available to students who were interested in furthering their education beyond a bachelor’s degree. I still remember my first English paper about “The Merchant of Venice.” English professor Geoff Baker saw something in me. He nominated me for a Creativity and Research Grant, which allowed me to publish and present my research: “The Female Bildungsroman from Maiden to Brideshead: Sue’s Sexual Return to Conventions.”
I also attended and presented at many events, including at the Sustainability conference with author Gary Schneider about teaching philosophies for environmental awareness.
During my time at Chico State, the Student Learning Center and the mentorship of Christine Goulding meant so much to me. There, I earned an international tutor certification, which led me down the road of a career in education.
Why is it important for students in the United States to learn a foreign language?
The simple answer is that any foreign language is advantageous as the business world becomes more global. However, taking a foreign language class like German is about far more than just learning a few key phrases. It’s also about cultural competencies. I believe it is important for everyone to look at things from other perspectives and to realize there are cultural beliefs that are different from your own. It helps you learn to be open-minded and ok with things being different in different cultures.
A world language class also gives students a growth mindset. They aren’t easy classes and can be frustrating and even embarrassing at times. But they aren’t impossible and students who put in the work and practice become successful—so you get out of a world language class what you put into it, which is a very good lesson.
Regarding a language like German, I’m an advocate for students learning a third and fourth language. Many native Spanish speakers who have already learned English are very successful with German because they have already been through the process and have sort of trained their brains to pick up a new language.
What advice do you have for our current Chico State students—especially those looking to get their teaching credential?
It is very much worthwhile becoming a teacher. You have a great impact on the students in front of you as well as your colleagues and the community. There are many small moments that are so rewarding, like when students come back 10 years later to thank you, or when you get invited to their weddings or they tell you they are having their first child. Looking back on my professional career to this point, I feel so fortunate that I have had so many opportunities to be part of so many of these small moments.
My one piece of advice is to find work-life balance and remember your own well-being. I went non-stop for many years and only, with the help of my husband, realized I needed to find something outside of the non-stop lesson planning and work. Only recently have I started horseback riding, which has helped recharge me.
What does it mean to you to receive this award from Chico State?
When (College of Humanities and Fine Arts Dean) Tracy Butts called me to tell me I had been named a distinguished alumna I was quite surprised. I didn’t expect this award, and I was honored to receive it. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with some truly wonderful educators, people who used their passion for teaching to enrich the lives of others. So often, educators go unrecognized. Teachers teach, and the work of teaching can be all-encompassing. The rewards are often small and personal. The outpouring of support I have received from peers and colleagues after being named distinguished alumni is a humbling experience. I hope to continue to earn the distinction with the work I do moving forward.