Growing Where Planted

Erica Martelly ’17 is a world traveler who speaks three languages (English, Spanish and French) and has moved nine times. While she may now call Harvey Mudd home, she’s still on the go.

“Being a President’s Scholar has inspired me to fully participate in life at Harvey Mudd,” says Martelly. The President’s Scholars Program supports outstanding students who are from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented at the College. “I always keep in mind the reason I applied for the scholarship and received it: I care about participating in and improving the community I’m in.”

Born in Miami, Florida, to parents who teach internationally, Martelly lived abroad for most of her life, including in Mumbai, India, and Abuja, Nigeria, where she graduated from high school. Throughout K–12, she was involved in many activities, from art to sports to music, and thrived in small class settings. By 11th grade, Martelly was sure that she wanted to be an engineer and sought a college where she could continue to experience the personal attention, collaboration and teamwork she had enjoyed throughout her schooling. After her first visit to Harvey Mudd, she knew she had found the right place. True to her word, she’s made her mark in this new community.

As part of her coursework, she’s built a phone charger and a rocket (E80) and worked for one summer in the lab of engineering Professor Nancy Lape studying how drugs pass through the skin and whether stretching the skin will change how much can pass through.

“Transdermal drug transport is a great alternative to injections and oral drug administration,” says Martelly, who focused on two parts of the project. “I worked on developing a new device that can stretch the skin at a constant strain/force and also apply a sinusoidal input. This involved several hours at the machine shop building the prototype as well as a lot of time in electronics lab wiring the components of the device. Also, I worked on finding different techniques to image the surface of the skin to see how surface area changes when the skin is stretched.”

Such challenges thrill Martelly, who likes to build, create and analyze contemporary problems. Doing so through lively class discussions and collaborations with classmates has made her work at Harvey Mudd exciting, she says. She especially enjoys the challenging mechanical engineering classes taught by professor and C.F. Braun & Company Fellow Philip Cha.

I attended school with students from various religions and cultural backgrounds and learned to accept that their opinions are valid even if they don’t align with my own.


As much as she’s enthusiastically embraced academics, she’s also been very involved in campus and volunteer activities. An ardent foodie, Martelly shared this passion with first years during fall 2015 when she and fellow Orientation Adventure guide Alexa Le ’17 organized a food tour through Old Pasadena. She’s a supervisor for the Linde Activities Center and is a member of Mudd Advocates, a peer-led group that seeks to support sexual assault survivors at The Claremont Colleges. Because Martelly feels “strongly about increasing the access to science education in schools,” she volunteers each year for Science Day, which features interactive lessons and demos for local elementary school students. She’s also a Peer Academic Liaison (PAL), one of her most rewarding activities, she says. “I check up on students in my dorm and make sure they are getting the help they need to succeed.”

Considering her extensive travels, Martelly is uniquely qualified to provide help and support. She says living in so many countries has taught her “open-mindedness, adaptability and empathy,” as well as how to make friends quickly.

“I attended school with students from various religions and cultural backgrounds and learned to accept that their opinions are valid even if they don’t align with my own,” she says.

She’s learned a lot at Mudd, too, and has had her share of challenges here. But, Martelly says, “struggling is not taboo, it’s part of the process. It is okay to reach out for help. There is always somebody willing to help.”

This summer, she will intern in the aerospace industry along with several other Harvey Mudd students. Recognizing it as a good opportunity to gain practical skills and insights into the professional world, Martelly is excited about her internship and for another chance to flourish in a new community.