After nearly 40 years of service to her alma mater and hometown, Melissa Vito, a senior vice president and vice provost, is leaving the University of Arizona.
Vito, senior vice president for student affairs and enrollment management and senior vice provost for academic initiatives and student success, is responsible for envisioning and executing large projects on campus that ultimately reshaped the student experience.
Her departure is effective Sunday.
She’s considering work in the private sector where she can continue to innovate and move more quickly, she said. She is also thinking about writing a book and working with a business in Colorado that will be moving to Tucson. She was hesitant to reveal the name of the company.
Under her leadership, the school rebuilt the Student Union Memorial Center and BookStores, constructed new residence halls, introduced UA Online and pushed for 100 percent engagement of students in research, internships and other career-building experiences.
She also updated the health and recreation centers and prompted the creation of the UA Think Tank, the university’s first centralized academic support program.
In 2014, Vito testified before a congressional subcommittee on the UA’s measures to support student veterans.
She also invited student input on tuition and fees, which resulted in more money allocated to programs such as mental health services, financial aid and academic advising.
“There is not a place you can go at the university that hasn’t been impacted positively in some way by Melissa’s work. She has helped thousands of students find success ... and thousands more will be impacted by her legacy on this campus for years to come,” said Vincent Del Casino Jr., vice president of academic initiatives and student success.
Next to launch is the Student Success District, an initiative she dreamed-up two years ago, she said. Despite her departure, she hopes to stay close as the project gets underway.
Its purpose is to serve as a place “where health and wellness support academic outcomes dedicated to student success,” according to the website. It will include constructing an extension to Bear Down Gym and a reimagining of the Main Library and Science-Engineering Library.
The project must still be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents but is expected to break ground later this year.
“You want to create common experience, but students are still individuals and you have to have a lot of different ways for students to find their place,” she said.
For this work, Vito is a nationally recognized leader in the field of student affairs and university administration.
She received the American College and Personnel Association Excellence in Practice Award, the Pi Kappa Alpha University Administrator of the Year Award, the Mentor of the Year Award from Tucson’s 40 under 40 award program and was named a “Pillar of the Profession” by the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Foundation.
After graduating from Salpointe Catholic High School, she earned her bachelor’s in journalism and English in 1974 from the UA, Vito started writing promotional materials for the UA’s Office of Scholarship and Financial Aid.
After earning two master’s degrees in higher education administration and counseling from the UA, she began her career ascent. She headed up student orientation and eventually was made dean of students.
In 2007, she earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University and became VP for student affairs. She reached her current position in 2013.
In her decades at the school, she’s overseen an exponential amount of physical growth, but she also notes the growth in campus diversity.
“Last year we were about 43 percent ethnically diverse students, which to me is a testament of the work of everyone on campus to make sure it’s a welcoming and supportive environment,” she said. “It’s not perfect, but one we focus on.”
The UA received its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution earlier this year.
Along the way, she had many opportunities to leave, she said, but until now, none felt right.
When considering leaving in 2007 for a position in California, former UA President Robert Shelton gave her lasting advice.
“He told me, ‘You’ve built such a career here, when you’re finally on the verge of broader impact, why not do that at a place where you’ve made such an investment’” of emotion, time and understanding? She recalled.
Six years later, when she was again thinking of leaving, “I had that opportunity to lead online development for the undergraduate program. How could I turn that down?” she asked. So she stayed.
But “the time is right in having built capacity and sustainability in leadership,” she said. “I have strong team members who are ready to go forward.”
Feeling a sense of accomplishment and closure, she’s looking toward the future.
But before she leaves, she wants to leave behind one last thing for students: advice.
“Approach what you do with passion and optimism and keep balance in your life,” she said.
“What you start might not be what you end up doing. Just take that first step. Don’t worry about getting it right, just get going. One thing leads to another.”