Melissa Holtmeyer Terlaje, air and missile defense strategist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, will be the keynote speaker at the 2023 McKelvey School of Engineering Recognition Ceremony, to be held at 1 p.m., Sunday, May 14, in the Field House at Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center.

Terlaje is a three-time graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering in 2006 and 2007 respectively, and a doctoral degree in energy, environmental & chemical engineering in 2012. 

In her current role, she leads efforts to identify and prioritize technology developments that advance air and missile defense missions for military forces at home and abroad. She also directs engagement efforts to connect senior military leaders to the latest science and engineering advancements.

Terlaje has worked at the highest levels of government translating complex science and engineering issues into public policy. As a science adviser in the legislative and executive branches, she has worked with some of the nation’s most senior leaders to help mitigate the effects of climate change, increase energy resilience and develop innovative military capabilities. 

Going from her research lab to the floor of the U.S. Senate and then to the halls of the Pentagon was not a typical path for a combustion researcher. She was selected for two American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellowships that placed her in key positions to use her engineering background to shape science and technology policy at the national level.

She has served as an energy, environment and climate adviser in the U.S. Senate; a fuel logistics and operations analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; a studies and analysis lead for the chief of naval operations; and special assistant to a former Deputy Secretary of Defense.

While at WashU, Terlaje was a graduate student representative to the Board of Trustees, an officer in the Graduate and Professional Council, and president of the Formula SAE team. She also led several initiatives for the Office of Sustainability.

Terlaje has received numerous accolades from the School of Engineering and the university. Most recently, she was named a 2022 recipient of the Emerging Leader Awards. She also received the Doctoral Research Award from the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in 2013 and the Sustainability Award from the Graduate and Professional Council in 2011.

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