Michelle Wells’s world changed on her ninth birthday when her father had a heart attack. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the next year and for the rest of her childhood, her parents were in and out of hospitals. Wells, 47, who grew up in rural South Carolina, says those health challenges shaped her future. “I’m very resilient, and that comes from parents who love you to pieces but were sick a lot. I learned: If you fall down, you get back up.”
Now, as lead physicist for Piedmont Cancer, she helps others do the same, both in hospitals and in the community. When she’s on the job, she works with doctors and patients to treat diseases like the cancer that struck her mother. Her many responsibilities include working on computer modeling of treatments and supervising a staff that maintains and calibrates sophisticated radiation machinery.
Outside the office, the former president of the Junior League of Atlanta encourages young women to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She knows the need firsthand. Although she works in a relatively new profession, it’s dominated by men. Research shows that girls have a strong interest in STEM until they enter middle school, Wells says: “It’s a confidence factor.” Wells is trying to address that gap by working with groups that encourage female leadership, serving on the boards of the Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia Tech Women’s Affinity Network. She also volunteers with organizations that promote literacy and address the challenges of intergenerational poverty. “I try to give back,” says Wells, who credits teachers and mentors with helping her get to where she is today. “That’s my North Star—to help people.”