Melissa Rodriguez – Alumna Spotlight

Melissa RodriguezForensic Scientist, Houston Forensic Science Center

Hometown: Ft. Worth, TX
BS in Forensic Chemistry (2013)
BA in Theatre, minor in Chemistry (2013)


When and why did you decide to major in forensic chemistry?
I was in 5th grade when I was watching Forensic Files on Discovery Channel with my mom and I took an interest in forensic science. As I went through middle and high school I did more research into which colleges offered degree programs for forensic science. I originally didn’t want to specifically do forensic chemistry because I knew the coursework would be tough, but when I visited the Ole Miss campus I was sold. 

What were some significant accomplishments or favorite memories from your time at UM?
Spending four years at the university and getting degrees in both forensic chemistry and theatre I had the opportunity to create a plethora of memories all across campus. I directed two plays as a student director in the theatre department, collaborating with such talented students to bring those pieces to life will always be treasured memories for me. There’s just nothing like the feeling you get when you take the words on a piece of paper at the beginning of the rehearsal process and watch them come to life with actors on the stage. 

I also participated in the OMazing Race my sophomore year, I don’t know if they still do it but it was a huge scavenger  hunt/race around campus! Our team got 3rd place and we each won a brick on the Walk of Champions which was the best prize in my opinion!

I remember going to the Cotton Bowl my freshman year and then storming the field after we beat Mississippi State my senior year and brought the Egg Bowl home. It was my last home game as a student; it was cold but it was so fun! 

But no matter how long I live I will never forget Dr. Mattern coming up to me in Coulter Hall and asking if I wanted to do a play reading for a Nobel Prize-winning chemist. Of course I did! Who wouldn’t?! So the next fall when Professor Roald Hoffmann came to the university to give a lecture on his research I was honored to participate in the reading of his play “Should’ve” at the Ford Center. It was the culmination of both of my degree paths coming together for a very unique and unforgettable experience. 

I interned in the toxicology section at the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office in Ft. Worth, TX. Since I lived in the area it was convenient to live at home and work a part time job at the same time. It was a very informative and hands-on experience. I gained working knowledge of instrumentation that we learned about in our classes and I was able to apply that knowledge when I came back for my senior year. I was given responsibilities such as assisting with their validation of new instrumentation because I was there practically every day during that summer. It solidified that I wanted to work in a toxicology lab and not out in the field.  

Please describe the educational/career path since graduation.
After graduation I went to Texas Tech University to pursue a Master’s of Science in Forensic Science. While I was in my second year of grad school I applied for a position at the Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab. I was offered the position before graduation, so with the help of my advisor and professors, I was able to start working there full time while finishing my degree. I graduated with my master’s in December 2015 and continued to work at BCSO as a seized drugs analyst and blood alcohol toxicologist until I changed jobs in July 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. I’m currently working as a Forensic Scientist in the toxicology section at the Houston Forensic Science Center. 

Working in the toxicology section I analyze biological samples for alcohol and the concentration if present. I’m currently undergoing training to test for drugs in those samples as well. I also testify as an expert witness in court proceedings, perform technical and administrative review of reports, and maintain/troubleshoot instrumentation.

What is the value of studying forensic chemistry in today’s world?  
I think it is a rewarding field because it marries a love for science with an avenue for serving your community. The technology is always advancing so there’s room for growth and learning about those advances. And, it’s always an interesting conversation topic whenever someone asks you what you do. If I had a dollar for every time someone said “oh, like CSI??” I could probably fund my own lab by now.