Melanie Bachmeyer

July 28, 2017

Melanie Bachmeyer’s students have plenty of opportunities to practice what they’ve learned. What’s more, they get a chance to see what a profound difference they can make in the lives of children and their families. Those moments remind the UNCW associate professor of psychology why she loves her profession.

“It’s like a light bulb goes off sometimes,” she said. “I can see the connection being made, and their excitement at applying the science they are learning.”

Since 2013, Bachmeyer, a licensed clinical psychologist, has directed the Pediatric Feeding Disorders and Applied Behavior Analysis Center in the Department of Psychology. The center provides free psychological services to children with feeding disorders, while undergraduate and graduate psychology students get clinical and research experience.

A feeding disorder is diagnosed when a child is unable or refuses to eat or drink, or is overly selective with food, to the point of endangering his or her health. It is often seen in children with autism or developmental challenges.

Bachmeyer and her students get referrals from all over North Carolina. She finds it rewarding to work with students in a clinical setting.

“UNCW provides applied learning opportunities to students unlike any other university I've seen, particularly for undergraduate students,” Bachmeyer said. “Hands-on experience in the lab, clinic or community allows students to really understand what they learn and is invaluable in preparing for a career after graduation.”

One drawback: a long waiting list for families seeking service. Bachmeyer expects to have more space beginning in fall 2017, when the department opens two new specialty clinics in conjunction with the new doctoral program in psychology. Plans call for the feeding clinic and the new programs to move into a facility off campus, she said.

Bachmeyer discovered her specialty when she worked with an autism center at Emory University after graduating from UNC Asheville. She earned her master’s degree at Georgia State and her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.

In one sense, she literally helps her clients fly. She coordinates Autism Takes Flight in partnership with Cape Fear ABA and Coastal Autism Solutions – which are run by UNCW alumni Amanda Rickard ’11M and Amber Brantley ’08, ’11M, respectively – and Wilmington International Airport. The program takes people with autism, who often are stressed by unfamiliar settings and routines, through the process of ticketing, baggage checks, security and waiting to board.

“It is uplifting to be able to make even a small difference in the lives of people who confront obstacles in daily activities that most people take for granted,” Bachmeyer said.

-- Tricia Vance