Toughness Personified

Melisa Pesha

Not too many people can say they’ve served in Iraq and the public school system, but that’s exactly what Master of Biological Sciences student Melisa Pesha did. 

Melisa Pesha with flowers

Like many young graduates, Pesha found herself at a crossroads after college. “After getting my undergraduate degree from Southwest Minnesota State in biology, I had no clue what to do with my life. So I decided to join the military.” 

Pesha spent eight years in the Minnesota Army National Guard as a commissioned officer. She was deployed to Iraq from 2005−07. It was during this time that she realized what she wanted to do with her biology degree, and the military helped her pay for graduate school. 

“I knew I wanted to do something in the health care field, because I wanted to help people, but I realized I’d make a better teacher.”

Bringing College into the High School

“I got home from Iraq in July of 2009 and by August I was back in class working toward a master’s in education at Augsburg College. I taught for five years at a private school in the Twin Cities, which I loved, but a wonderful opportunity for career advancement was given to me, and I soon found myself teaching at my alma mater, Chisago.”

While teaching at Chisago High School, Pesha decided to earn another master’s degree, this one in biology from the University of Minnesota. The degree would give her the necessary training and credential required to teach College in the Schools courses. (College in the Schools is a competitive program where qualified high school teachers offer college courses at their schools for advanced juniors and seniors.)

“I love being back where I graduated high school because I get to work with wonderful colleagues and teach intelligent and motivated students.”

Finding Balance

Melisa Pesha with Goldy

Teaching full-time while taking graduate courses can be

demanding. One of the biggest challenges she’s faced has been finding time to study. “I’ve learned that I have to leave my house, otherwise I get distracted easily!” 

That’s when her military training kicks in—she uses the time management and planning skills she learned in the National Guard to focus and get the job done. 

These high standards and self-discipline also help explain how Pesha is able to train for and run half and full marathons. “I took up long-distance running while I was deployed because it helped me cope with the challenges and stress of being away from home and in a combat zone. I relish the one to four hours of quiet, alone with my thoughts." 

Her formula for managing work, school, and a personal life has proved to be successful, as Pesha is set to graduate next year and continue to teach College in the Schools anatomy. 

“My parents instilled a love of education and learning in my siblings and me at a very young age. We learned school was important, and no one could take from you the education you receive. I try to demonstrate that to my students.”

Favorite Course

  • Cell Biology

Tip for Future Students

“Introduce yourself to your professors and get to know your adviser! My adviser has been very helpful, especially when I’ve had difficulty finding courses that will fit my teaching schedule.”