Symposium Preview
Symposium Preview
Leland Melvin is an engineer, educator, lifelong learner, former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver. He shares his stories of determination and excellence to inspire communities for lasting positive change.
Leland Melvin is an engineer, educator, lifelong learner, former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver. He shares his stories of determination and excellence to inspire communities for lasting positive change.
Q&A with Leland Melvin

Where did your path to becoming an NFL player begin? And how did it take a turn to journeying into space? From athlete to spaceman — how did these worlds collide/interact?

My path to the NFL began when I started getting noticed by the professional scouts when we turned a 0 – 10 University of Richmond Spiders football team into a winning and playoff bound team my Junior year in college. My senior year the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and the Denver Broncos all sent scouts to time me to see if I had the “right stuff” for the NFL.

You’ve mentioned in plenty of interviews and in your book that you grew up in a family of educators; obviously learning is a big part of your life. How would you characterize the value of learning in your life?

Experiential learning is critical to putting into practice what can be learned from books. Many times during my childhood there weren’t books or YouTube videos for learning how to convert a Merita bread truck into a recreational vehicle. You just had to do it. Try and fail until you got it right. These lessons lead me to be a life long learner to this day.

Who was the biggest influence in both of your careers?

My mother and father have always been my biggest influences because they taught me very valuable lessons about grit and perseverance at a young age. When times got tough they always sat down and analyzed the problem and figured out a solution. My mom’s name was Grace and she showed me how to live a life with purpose but especially with grace.

Closing Keynote Leland Melvin

You met Katherine Johnson, whose story is captured in the film “Hidden Figures,” while working at NASA. Can you list three things you learned from Katherine?

  1. Work hard with dogged determination.
  2. Katherine was always kind but was very deliberate at the same time. Kindness is not a weakness.
  3. To be confident in your skills and not allow anyone to make you second guess yourself, especially if you are sure of the answer.

You have embraced change throughout your career. What advice do you have for others looking to make a change or accomplish something new?

Change and the unknown can be scary but adopt a growth mindset (“Mindset” Carol Dweck) and learn everything you can about the new opportunity and master it.

A couple of reasons to hear Leland’s keynote speech:

Leland is the only NFL player that has traveled off-planet twice on Space Shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station.

By working on such high-stakes teams, Leland developed a deep understanding of effective team dynamics.