Maggie Melo

Maggie Melo is an assistant professor within the UNC School of Information and Library Science. She studies how design and spatial interventions can be integrated into makerspaces and other environments to foster the inclusion of diverse user communities.

Maggie Melophoto by Megan May
September 15th, 2021

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: A pediatrician, singer, actor, nurse, or OB-GYN. I would recite this string of professions to please my parents. I wish I could say I was passionate about these jobs, but that just wasn’t true.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: As a PhD student from the humanities, I soon become aware of my own dissonance in STEM spaces. In makerspaces and hackathons, I didn’t meet or see many humanities folks or participants from other marginalized communities. I daydreamed about future possibilities where your competence wasn’t questioned because of your race or gender identity. On one hand, I was frustrated with the loneliness and sexism that are endemic to these spaces, but on the other hand, I was hopeful that this could change.

I had glimpses of what a more equitable and inclusive STEM space could look like in the library, where I hosted a hackathon for women and other marginalized gender identities. The University of Arizona Women’s hackathon continues to run to this day. This pivotal moment shaped my optimism for the future and rooted me deeply within a community of changemakers and friends. I knew that my field of study was in information science.

Maggie Melo holds a disc gold frisbee

Outside of Melo’s multiple creative endeavors, she also enjoys playing disc golf.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: How do you measure diversity? I was increasingly frustrated with the idea that diversity was a numbers game: “If only we had more X in our makerspace, then we could achieve diversity.” In hopes to reveal how reductive a headcount is to signal the diversity of an environment, I conducted a study that examined not the heads but the feet in the space. That is, I documented the journey maps of makerspace users to examine the role that gender identity plays in those spaces. The findings revealed that although there were more female users in the study, the male users still showed increased mobility and engagement.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Creating equitable space for all.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: Mainly, I like working with my hands. I enjoy crocheting, ceramics, sewing, fabrication (laser-cutting, 3D-printing, Cricut Maker-ing), and recently fell in love with digital collaging. I think making is a fundamental part of the human experience. I also have a love for being outdoors and playing disc golf.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a paragraph describing a personʼs childhood interactions with a neighbor that were intended to appear in a different Research UNCovered profile.

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