We Are UNCW Telling our story, one Seahawk at a time.

Melissa Smith

Nov. 13, 2018

A scientific illustrator at UNCW’s Center for Marine Science, Melissa Smith '06 is someone whose face you may not recognize but whose work you’re sure to know. Operating behind the scenes, Smith creates dynamic visuals to accompany research data in a variety of mediums.

“I enjoy being a part of the scientific process and I very rarely experience the same day twice,” Smith said. “Some days, I’m working with student posters, some days I’m making maps, some days I spend drawing or painting – it’s a mixed bag of tasks, which keeps things interesting.”

Beginning her career at UNCW 18 years ago, Smith’s position has had a few title changes, but her role has remained virtually the same. Her scientific art is used for everything from helping researchers visually communicate exciting new information to figures in grant proposals that eventually help fund further research.

“I really appreciate that my role allows me to learn something new literally every day,” said Smith. “We have so many prestigious and noteworthy faculty members to interact with here, and I think that might surprise people because Wilmington is relatively small.”

Starting college as a pre-dentistry major, Smith enjoyed her major’s many required science courses, but she quickly began to feel it wasn’t quite the right fit. She decided scientific illustration might be a way to stay within the field yet in a more imaginative way.

“I have always been pretty creative, but back then I had no real, formal art instruction,” Smith said. “I figured the art school faculty could teach me how to draw and paint. Looking back, it was a risky decision, but it all worked out!”

In her free time, Smith enjoys hitting the pavement with a local running group, pursuing artistic outlets like insect portrait photography, and watching sunrises in Wrightsville Beach. While the beaches are definitely part of the area’s appeal, Smith says something more important keeps her a Seahawk year after year.

“UNCW is special because everyone here lives in this beautiful place that we are fiercely protective of,” she said. “We all stick together and take care of our community. Hurricane Florence was, of course, an excellent example of us taking care of each other, but I think it is true most of the time.”

-- Christina Schechtman