Melissa Longano Van Ostenbridge (‘09) grew up loving art. From watercolor painting to making collages, she was always creating something as a child. Now, she puts that artistic skill to use for some of the nation’s top museums as an exhibit designer.
After graduating from Oakcrest, Melissa attended Tulane University's architecture five-year program. She received her bachelors and masters degrees in architecture in 2014, cum laude, and her masters thesis was recognized by professors and students as a top project. She then moved back to DC and worked for a few years on developing and designing affordable housing before taking a job with a museum exhibit design firm.
As a museum exhibit designer, Melissa frequently applies the critical thinking skills that she developed while at Oakcrest. Two of her most recent projects can be found on the National Mall. She was part of the team that designed “Americans and the Holocaust,” which is currently open at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and also “Girlhood (It’s Complicated),” which opens next summer at the National Museum of American History. “I value the meaning behind the design and the challenge that the storytelling brings. The content is often serious and the challenge lies in creating an experiential space that allows the people, artifacts, and words tell the story,” Melissa explains.
Melissa has no doubt that her Oakcrest education paved the way for her career. The applied problem solving she did in math and physics classes prepared her for architecture. Participating in the Virginia Math League and working on projects such as designing rockets in physics class fostered her creativity and problem solving abilities. “My liberal arts education in high school grounded my more focused university experience,” she adds. “Although most of my college classes were related to architecture and urbanism, my Oakcrest philosophy, theology, history and english classes greatly influenced my understanding of the human experience, which is important while designing the built environment.”
Melissa has many fond memories from her Oakcrest days, but the ones she cherishes most are the moments she shared with her friends. “I loved sitting on the floor by our lockers to talk before school started, playing four square in Walsh Hall during breaks, cramming for quizzes between classes, and just laughing a lot,” says Melissa. Many of these same friends attended her wedding last summer. “My Oakcrest friends are still my best friends.”