Melissa completed her undergraduate degree at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia in 2001. Toccoa Falls is a Christian liberal arts college, and Melissa received her degree in English while “essentially [double-majoring] in both English and Theology” (Conroy). She felt it wise to continue with her studies, which led her back to Omaha. Melissa says, “When I left Omaha, I swore I’d never come back,” but it was the allure of in-state tuition that brought her home (Conroy). However, right after graduating from Toccoa Falls, Melissa studied abroad at the University of Oxford in England for a month. She says, “I didn’t really study as much as I walked around the city going, ‘Ooh, look at Oxford!’ and ate lots of scones, and drank lots of tea” (Conroy). Her time at Oxford not only gave her cultural experience, it provided her with a location for a future novel, which she plans to go back to.
Back in Omaha once more, Melissa attended UNO as a student from 2002-2005. Her Master’s degree is in English, focusing on medieval literature. She describes her time at UNO as enjoyable, one where she felt a sense of community (Conroy). She says, “The program is smaller at UNO, so you really get a chance to know people and the professors are just wonderful… Your class is more like a tutorship than a class because they are typically small,” (Conroy). She places high value on the more specific focus of the master’s programs, and the serious, hardworking nature of the students (Conroy). The term hardworking certainly applies to Melissa as she speaks of “hiding” in the basement of the UNO library for hours where the academic articles were housed (Conroy).
During her time at UNO, Melissa participated in a teaching assistant program for two years. This was the start of what would turn into a seven-year-long career choice. Of this experience, Melissa says, “I did everything a teacher did. I created a curriculum, I created a syllabus, I taught the classes, I graded. There wasn’t really any difference in my activities as a teaching assistant than [there] was when I actually became a teacher” (Conroy). She was offered a position as an adjunct professor following graduation at UNO and two Metropolitan Community College campuses, where she taught mostly Composition I and II, along with a few literature classes, from 2005-2011.
Teaching was just one of several jobs that Melissa has held over her adult life. Additionally, she did occasional freelance writing, was an English instructor on a UNO television program, The Knowledge Network, and had renters in her house, all before deciding to enter the corporate field (Conroy). Wanting a little more stability, Melissa worked for Scola, an education company, for a year and a half (Conroy). It was during this time that Melissa developed the ideas for the Aether Saga, her first series of steampunk novels. About this period in her life, Melissa says, “I was not very happy at my job, so I finally made the decision I was going to quit and just stay at home and write for as long as I could survive financially” (Conroy). She did some fundraising and used her credit cards to