UCI News

Superwoman Ambition

UCIAA President Melissa Beck seeks to engage alumni and prompt recognizable change in the world

by Cathy Lawhon | UCI Magazine | October 15, 2021
Superwoman Ambition
Melissa Beck, president of UCI Alumni Association. Tyler Robinson / UCI

Melissa Beck is adding a new skill to her ever-growing list of accomplishments and responsibilities: shepherding Anteaters.

From Chicago to Shanghai and beyond, UCI Alumni Association chapters celebrate and support their allegiance to the university. As the new UCIAA president, Beck expects to increase membership and provide programming that keeps members proudly engaged. She also aims to reach the alumni campaign goal of 75,000 individual interactions within the next two years.

“A large and engaged alumni base leads to school pride, which is exciting for prospective and current students,” Beck says. “They feel that much more supported and unified, both as students and after graduation in terms of jobs and mentorship. A strong alumni association can help attract fantastic students. And, of course, it helps with fundraising and annual giving.”

Beck’s leadership of UCIAA seems almost preordained, given her background. A 2012 graduate of the executive MBA program in The Paul Merage School of Business, she joined the Dean’s Advisory Board, which she now chairs.

Beck served on the search committee for the school’s new dean, Ian O. Williamson, who took the helm in January.

“I’m excited to be part of his transition to UCI and to help him get acclimated and develop his vision,” she says. Her affinity for UCI is also deeply anchored in her affection and advocacy for first-generation college students. For 2021-22, the campus was the top UC choice of in-state, first-generation students for the third consecutive year. Beck can relate.

“My parents worked hard to make sure I would go to college; it was always expected of me. But as a first-gen student, so many complicated questions arose – how to select the right school, completing the essays and application process,” she says. “One of the reasons I’m such a vocal ambassador for UCI is its commitment to these students.”

Beck successfully navigated the application process and landed at Northern Arizona University. She graduated in 2001 with a degree in accounting – and a minor in economics – and worked in that field in Northern California before accepting a position as the first executive director of the Center for Investment and Wealth Management in the Merage School. She moved from there to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County & the Inland Empire. As CEO, Beck oversaw a 300 percent increase in the revenue and the reach of the philanthropic organization, which pairs children with volunteer mentors. She remains a supporter of that work.

Her career path ignited a passion for solving world problems. She identifies climate change along with financial equity and inclusion for women and communities of color as her top two causes and says UCI excels in them. And although she can’t save the planet by herself, she can empower those with the philanthropic muscle to effect change.

Enter Anonymous LLC, where Beck now serves as president. With 30 associates and offices in Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills and Franklin, Tennessee, Anonymous LLC works with philanthropists to hone their interests, set goals and maximize the impact of their gifts.

“Philanthropy is the area most in need of innovation and disruption,” Beck says. “We help clients set audacious goals to solve problems. For example, if someone wants to tackle food insecurity, we set quantifiable goals and develop a strategic plan around that problem, sometimes working with those who already have experience in that philanthropic space. Some clients come to us with a strong idea of the population they want to support. Others are brand-new at this, and we spend as much time as it takes to identify their passion.”

“As a first-gen student, so many complicated
questions arose. … One of the reasons I’m such a
vocal ambassador for UCI is its commitment to
these students.”

She adds: “I feel like this company and position are the culmination of every position and every skill from every job I’ve ever had. It’s the best work I’ve ever done.”

Her expertise in social entrepreneurship and organizational growth provides a strong foundation for her role as president of the alumni association, says her predecessor, Jack Toan ’95, MBA ’02.

“Melissa understands growth, and she has amazing energy,” he says. “We’ve had a goal of 75,000 unique alumni engagements, and we’re about halfway there. The last half is always the hardest, but she’s going to hit it during her term. The timing is perfect for her leadership.”

Beck praises UCIAA leadership for fostering recent substantial growth. Statistics covering alumni activity from 2017 to the first half of 2021 tell the story. Alumni engagements more than doubled to over 47,000; hosted events hit 180, up from 92; and UCIAA scholarship and fellowship funding rose 50 percent to $150,000.

The new UCIAA president expects that trajectory to continue by adding more geographic and special interest chapters to the nearly 40 chartered today. Beck also wants to better integrate individual schools’ alumni leadership with the broader association to add value to activities such as homecoming and Lauds & Laurels.

“We’re still a relatively young campus and are at a bit of a disadvantage because we don’t have a football team,” she says, “but we’ve developed a breadth of events and strategies that don’t include tailgate parties.”

When she’s not solving world problems or expanding UCIAA, Beck, 42, is something of a homebody. She lives in San Juan Capistrano with her husband of 19 years, Harry, whom she met in college. They have three boys: Harrison, 14, Oliver, 12, and Luke, 10.

“I spend most of my spare time doing fun things with my kids,” Beck says. “I also enjoy gardening and cooking. I cook every single night – mostly Italian food or curries and stews.”

On the windowsill behind her desk at home is a testament to how her sons see their social entrepreneur, UCI-boosting, world-changing, curry-cooking mom. It’s an origami Mother’s Day card folded in the shape of a Superwoman costume.

Beck smiles: “I framed it.”