Melissa Grimes

Melissa Grimes portrait
Photo by Jonah Holland

If you leave Melissa Grimes alone with tools for 10 minutes, she’s likely to take something apart.

Officially, Grimes is a media specialist in Mitchell Memorial Library’s MaxxSouth Digital Media Center, where she oversees numerous audio-visual and digital creation areas, including its TV center and makerspace; however, the role Grimes, a self-described “tech nerd” and retro-gaming enthusiast, said she fully embraces is that of a troubleshooter and fixer.

“I grew up watching my dad build his own computers whenever we needed a new one. While that’s commonplace now, it wasn’t back then. You couldn’t just go on Google or YouTube and learn how to do it, so I grew up with this attitude of ‘Don’t be afraid to take something apart if it’s not working, because it’s already broken,’” she said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Grimes has been a go-to source of informal tech support at Mississippi State for years. Before graduating in 2011 with communication degrees in journalism, broadcasting and public relations, she routinely assisted students who experienced hard drive failures while working on digital projects late at night in McComas Hall’s computer lab, and during her eight-year tenure as a video producer with the MSU Extension Service, she used her self-developed skills to troubleshoot equipment out in the field.

“When you’re out on a job, you don’t have IT right down the hallway,” Grimes said. “After collecting a lot of older, retro gaming technology, I realized a lot of it was aging and starting to break down. You can’t buy these things off the shelves, and nobody repairs them anymore. I learned to solder and repair them with help from the internet, so I could keep things working. I took those skills and parlayed them into something useful at work.”

In the Digital Media Center, you can find Grimes teaching those repair skills to other students, faculty and staff through workshops, in addition to helping them operate 3D printers, laser cutters, engravers and other tools.

“Teaching students how to create stuff is one of my favorite things to do,” she said, “but I really love teaching them they can actually work on stuff they own and try to fix it—that they don’t have to toss something in the landfill once it’s not working, so they can be a little more environmentally friendly.”

Two years ago, this love of tinkering led Grimes to create the Innovate State Hackathon, a competition designed to allow students to flex their technical and creative problem-solving skills.  The competition has continued to grow, with plans to accommodate 32 teams in 2024.

“The goal was to create space for students like me—those who love to tinker, build and create cool things,” she said. “These are the students that will invent and develop new technology in the future.”

Outside of MSU, Grimes serves as the deputy commander of the Civil Air Patrol’s Golden Triangle Composite Squadron—an auxiliary, civilian-volunteer group of the U.S. Air Force that assists with search-and-rescue missions during natural disasters, plane crashes and other emergencies, among other duties. CAP also is an educational and mentoring outlet for youth cadets, an activity Grimes also oversees and said helps them “become good, productive members of society who are of good moral character.”

Whether it’s with cadets or college students, Grimes said she’s fortunate to be in situations to use her passions to help others.

“I’ve been able to take the skills I learned in the classroom and the things that interest me outside of academia and incorporate them into a career here at Mississippi State,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have come here as a student and now be a full-time employee who gets to do the things they’re interested in for a job.”

Melissa Grimes portrait