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Madison alumna and former MSU gymnast puts the 'Will' beside 'Spartans'

April 11, 2022 - Beth Brauer

Not only does Melissa Green’s surname suggest her Spartan identity runs deep, one can’t help but feel energized and hopeful upon meeting her. Green (PTCD ‘01), who is assistant general counsel for the American Medical Association, is someone you feel you’ve known forever and simultaneously want to know better.

After coming across a tweet that tagged James Madison College, I reached out to Green to learn more about her experience as a JMC student and what she’s been up to since then.

Melissa Green (left) as a child at gymnastics with her older sister Alysia (right) at Great Lakes Gymnastics.
Melissa Green (left) and sister Alysia Green (right) at Great Lakes Gymnastics.

How Green found her way to Michigan State University is more interesting than one would think. Growing up in East Lansing, Green had no intentions of attending the university that was more or less in her backyard. That was not part of her plan.

Green, an elite gymnast who competed for the Spartan women’s gymnastics team, had her sights set on Stanford University for an undergraduate degree and then law school at Georgetown University. That was the plan. 

So how exactly did this intellectual, athletic powerhouse find her way to MSU? Every part of Green’s being was bound for Stanford. That is, until it wasn’t.

Green does not mince words. “I went out there for my [gymnastics] recruiting trip and hated it. The campus was beautiful, but they weren’t my people,” she said. 

After another recruitment trip to a different university, Melissa couldn’t deny the fact that when she attended her MSU recruitment trip, she knew she had ‘found her people.’

Once she signed with Michigan State gymnastics, she began exploring how she could best position herself to carry on with the latter part of her plan: attend law school in Washington D.C. 

Green discovered James Madison College. She did her research, studying honorifics like how many Rhodes Scholars the college produced and where the faculty had studied. Her conclusion: “I could get an equal education in JMC as I could at Stanford and compete with a team that feels like home.”

“I came to Madison knowing I was going to be an attorney. It was part of my plan since sixth grade. I came in using this as the base of my education to become an attorney,” said Green, “Because of the success I had at Madison with the top-tier faculty, I was able to get into a Top 10 law school.”

Melissa Green on the uneven bars.

As a student athlete, some of Green’s college experiences were different than most Madisonians, but she did live in Case Hall for two years. “It never occurred to me to live with my teammates. I really enjoyed being in Case.”

Green also spent a summer studying in Cambridge, England during a JMC-sponsored education abroad program.

When she returned from England, Green learned she would need surgery and rehabilitation for a torn meniscus. Although she was able to compete and graduate on time, the injury was a setback during her senior year. Despite the challenges of trying to compete while healing and keep up with her studies, Green applied to several top-tier law schools. Waitlisted by Georgetown, Green accepted an offer from George Washington University. After all, the plan was to be in D.C. 

On the day of Green’s commencement ceremony at MSU, she opened a letter from that other school down the road, offering her admission to their law program. Some might call it begrudgingly, Green investigated how the University of Michigan’s law program compared to George Washington’s. 

The higher ranking and in-state tuition was what ultimately kept Green in Michigan for a bit longer, but her allegiance to her first alma mater never waned. “My time in Ann Arbor strengthened my feelings and affinity for the Spartans. I carried my Michigan State mug with me every day, and that’s how I would ward off the bad energy,” Green laughed.

During her years at U of M, Green coached and choreographed gymnastics in nearby Canton. “It was my way of relaxing outside of law school,” said Green.

Following law school, Green did all the things she said she’d do and then some. Within three years of beginning her law career in Cincinnati, where Green was an associate for the law firm Frost Brown Todd, she accepted a position as commercial counsel for GE Aviation. Her role with GE evolved, and she eventually continued in a remote capacity living in D.C.

Intuition is a guiding force for Green as she believes fervently in its power. After a few years in D.C. and working for other organizations including the University of Maryland Medical System, Green felt Chicago call her name.

Timed to coincide with the NFL draft in Chicago, Green found her new home in the Windy City in April 2016. Since her arrival, Green has been a woman about the town. Green accepted a position as the first and only in-house legal counsel for The Chartis Group, a national health care advisory service firm.

Melissa Green headshot

The move to Chicago did not deter Green from connecting with fellow gymnasts. For the first few years, she commuted to Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago, to coach girls’ gymnastics at Aerial Gymnastics. It wasn’t until 2019, when she started her job at the American Medical Association, or AMA, that she stepped away from the club coaching scene.

Green still wears many hats. “I am focused on a few things,” she says matter-of-factly. In addition to her “day job,” Green is the founder of the MGAM Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to help Black women pursue educational excellence.

“This came about after I tried to sort out what I was going to do after George Floyd’s death,” Green said. Then, she witnessed firsthand Chicago police officers in riot gear after stepping out of her downtown apartment.

“I always thought about starting a scholarship. This is going to be my legacy. I have always been interested in supporting young people and education. If I can help somebody pursue an education where they can go on and make a difference, I will have done my part.”

Green’s partners in this endeavor are her sister Alysia Green, who is a sports medicine doctor, and her close friend Arielle Miller, who has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

“Our goal is to develop the foundation to provide programming such as career coaching workshops that help girls navigate these spaces like law, medical school and pursuing research.

The goal is to bridge the educational gap, so there aren’t restrictions in locale or the institution,” Green said.

And when she isn’t working on MGAM, Green remains active in the world of youth and collegiate sports, as she has been working with USA Gymnastics on their ethics and grievances committee and, through the MSU Women’s Leadership Council, an organization for female student athletes, mentors Spartan women’s soccer player Bella Jodzis (’21).

When we last spoke, Green was preparing her remarks as the keynote speaker for the Women’s Leadership Summit. Among her talking points: ensuring one’s voice is heard and one has a seat at the table, and the impact of student-athlete relationships.

Melissa Green with other speakers for the Women's Leadership Summit.

Shining a light on the potential others possess is intrinsic to the work Green is committed to — not only through her MGAM endeavors but also with another evolving project: Green’s own law firm.

As Green builds her virtual law firm, she leans into another opportunity to contribute to the greater good. “My focus is on individuals, start-ups and small companies that want experienced counsel at affordable rates,” said Green, explaining the purpose is to serve people who may not be positioned to engage with a ‘big law’ attorney. “With my firm, you will get my 15 plus years of experience counseling businesses at flat-fee rates.”

As Green shares her plans, she strikes a balance between two forces at her core: the fiercely determined gymnast and a woman who trusts herself to nail every landing.

“I don’t know where all this will take me next, but I am excited to do these things on my own,” said Green.