It is an honor to celebrate the accomplishments of Melinda Burke ’75 ’81, who served the University of Arizona Alumni Association from 2011 until her retirement in June. As president of the Alumni Association, Burke connected Wildcats around the world and galvanized alumni to come together to support the university.
“I witnessed firsthand Melinda’s commitment and love for the U of A,” says Gilbert Davidson ’98, former Alumni Association governing board member and past chair. “She traveled the globe in pursuit of meeting alumni and serving as an ambassador of the university.”
Burke’s legacy of engaging and connecting Wildcats for Life around the world will have a lasting impact.
“It has been a joy to work with Melinda these past few years,” says University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “She is a true Wildcat for Life — her dedication to this university and to our worldwide alumni community is an inspiration. I have relied on her insight and innovative spirit when engaging with our Wildcats, and I truly value her leadership and everything she has done for the University of Arizona and our alumni.”
At the Alumni Association, Burke implemented a range of programs. Her vision included the creation of the Alumni Career Lab to provide professional development and career resources to alumni and the Cats in the Corner Office speaker series to highlight successful alumni. She also launched the Wildcat Mentor Society to connect students with alumni.
Under Burke’s leadership, the Alumni Association also expanded its alumni communications programs through a robust social media presence and the launch of the Bear Down Network, a virtual alumni community.
“Melinda’s leadership in the development of the Alumni Career Lab and Bear Down Network will provide professional and career development opportunities unlike anything we could have imagined as students,” says Dana Campbell ’81, Alumni Association governing board member.
Burke’s leadership connections include a Wildcat network of alumni chapter and club leaders. These diverse alumni groups include volunteers and community leaders around the world dedicated to serving the university. At chapter and club events, Burke greeted all alumni with an interest in their Wildcat experience and enjoyed university stories and fond memories. She rallied crowds with the popular call and response “Bear Down! Go, ’Cats!”
“Melinda’s enthusiasm about the U of A encouraged me to sign up for my first chapter leader conference,” says Jane Bisbee ’68, Tucson alumni chapter leader. “Now they can’t get rid of me! Those conferences were the start of some great friendships, making me understand that the Alumni Association is a family.”
In her role as president, Burke served as the liaison to the Alumni Association governing board and Wildcat for Life Leadership Council. She engaged volunteers to get involved with the life of the university including volunteering at Homecoming, being a mentor, networking with student groups and participating in legislative advocacy.
“I will always remember Melinda for her tremendous leadership, calm and focused, helping us to understand the needs of the university and how alumni can help,” says Lisa Harter, Alumni Association governing board member.
Before becoming president of the Alumni Association, Burke was the PetSmart Professor of Practice and director of the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing in the university’s John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. She began that role in 1993. As a professor, Burke taught retail strategy, leadership, sales and negotiation. She also led case study competitions and coordinated experiential learning opportunities for students. She maintains a strong network of retailing alumni who mentor, coach and hire graduates of the university.
“It is impossible to quantify the impact Melinda Burke has had on the University of Arizona, its students and alumni,” says Shelley Huff ’05, CEO of Tuft & Needle, executive vice president of Direct to Consumer for Serta Simmons Bedding and Alumni Association governing board chair-elect.
“I was one of the many students who benefited from having Melinda as a mentor and coach. Through her example and her encouragement, she gave me the confidence to take on leadership roles in college clubs as well as to earn an internship at the world’s largest company [Walmart], where I then started my first job.”
During her tenure at the Norton School, Burke also co-led fundraising efforts for the Norton School’s McClelland Park Building. Through her efforts, she forged the university’s partnership with Take Charge America and positioned the Global Retailing Conference as a hallmark industry event.
“Melinda prompted me to dream bigger, work harder, and to seize what was possible,” Huff says. “There are countless examples of former students whose lives are better because of Melinda. She had high expectations and was invested in us meeting them.”
Burke also developed the Students in Free Enterprise program into a national leader recognized by Fortune 500 employers. “Melinda led one of the program’s competitive teams to a national championship,” Huff says.
“Melinda led with passion and tireless dedication to the development of students. I am thrilled for her and I congratulate her on a remarkable career at the University of Arizona.”
Burke earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a master’s degree from the Graduate College. She was born and raised in Phoenix and is married to Bruce Burke ’71 ’75. They have three adult daughters, one of whom is a proud alumna of the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, and five grandchildren.
“It has been an honor to serve the University of Arizona,” Burke says. “I love our alumni community more than words can express. I will always be a Wildcat for Life and look forward to seeing alumni at upcoming events around the world. Go, Cats! Bear Down!”