Alumni Profiles: Melissa Cox

Melissa Cox uses what she learned at UMSI to make it easier for others to support the University of Michigan.

Melissa, who graduated with an MSI in 2011, works in the Office of University Development, where she acts as product owner for the teams responsible for continuous optimization of the university's online engagement efforts. 

“I think that’s what’s exciting about being here in development: helping people make those connections and making sure that the university can continue what it’s doing all over the world,” she says.

Her team won CASE Circle of Excellence and President’s Staff Innovation awards for their work on Giving Blueday 2014, which raised more than $3.2 million from over 5,400 donors in 24 hours. They also worked with outside information architects to completely overhaul the online giving experience at the University of Michigan in connection with the Victors for Michigan campaign.

Melissa’s career in development began before she entered UMSI: When she applied to the program, she had been working at OUD for more than a year as an events assistant. Seeking more challenging work and knowing the department would be upgrading the fundraising database soon, she decided to apply for the MSI program to be ready for that.

But Melissa’s career change got ahead of her: Serendipitously, the department also had an opening for a programmer, and she was hired. “It actually happened on the same day, so the first day of school was the first day of my new job,” she says.

She continued working full time, completing her degree in five semesters, and was soon promoted to assistant director of web and data integration before rising to her current position as associate director for strategic partners in e-communications and solutions at the Office of University Development.

Melissa, who followed an HCI-heavy tailored specialization as an MSI student, says she learned valuable skills in places she didn’t expect at UMSI.

“You might come in with this idea of specializing in a particular area, and that’s great, but you leave with a well-rounded experience.”

One example was the Management of Nonprofit Libraries class, which covered things like strategic planning, how to make a budget and what to look for when hiring candidates. As someone interested in HCI, she was initially skeptical of the course, but it turned out to be incredibly useful in her career, she says. “It gave me confidence to know what I was doing when I was growing into my position.”

Because she worked full time while completing her degree, Melissa was unable to get involved in most of the extracurricular activities available for MSI students, but she did take a week off work to participate in a spring break pitch campaign hosted by the Ross School of Business at SXSW. “It was me and a couple of other MSI students on a bus full of MBA students, and we drove 24 hours to Austin,” she remembers.

Charged with creating a two-minute pitch for a mobile app in 24 hours and surrounded by business majors who looked to the MSI students for technical guidance, she realized how valuable an MSI degree could be. “It was really a light bulb moment for me,” she says.

Melissa’s generosity is enabling more of today’s MSI students to have their own light-bulb moments. In 2014, she made the initial gift to create the SI Horizon Fund, which provides financial support to UMSI students pursuing travel, internship and service engagement experiences to enhance their classroom learning.