Melissa White Cicozi Retires from the School of Design


With happy hearts and brave faces, the School of Design is proud to announce that after 35 years, Associate Head Melissa White Cicozi is retiring from the School of Design. 

Melissa started at Carnegie Mellon University in 1986, as she pursued her master's degree at the Heinz School (then School of Urban and Public Affairs - SUPA). Upon completing her degree, Melissa joined the School of Design on April 17th, 1988.

“The School was so much smaller then -- we were the Design Department, rather than the School of Design,” said Melissa. “We only offered a BFA in Industrial Design or a BFA in Graphic Design.  When I started, I was the Business Manager, the Facilities Manager, and most importantly the Undergraduate Advisor.”

Over the next 35 years, as the school grew, with the start of our master's program in 1996 and the doctoral program in 2001, Melissa became instrumental as the face of our student success by inspiring and sustaining a culture of care and concern from the time students considered applying through to becoming alums. 

“Melissa has been the heart and soul of the School of Design,” said Professor and Interim Head Eric Anderson. “People quickly make the connection that student success is a result of Melissa's touch — whether it be advising the perfect course to ignite passion, comforting individuals in times of personal challenge, or being the relevant sage with historical Design stories of our alumni before their fame to uplift current students who will be in the future. What is less evident, however, is that Melissa's sincere care and concern extends to everyone — the proudest or meekest of faculty and staff. She contributed to shaping our school culture in the most positive ways, the legacy we will cherish.

“The school is immensely grateful for the sustained personal and professional high level gifts she has given us, and it is an understatement to say she will be greatly missed,” added Anderson.

“it’s most important for us to acknowledge how she’s been an advocate, a champion, a friend, a colleague, a mentor, and a safety net for each and every student, staff, and faculty member,” added Professor Mark Baskinger, Head of the Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion.

For Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Stacie Rohrbach, putting into words what Melissa has meant to the school is an extremely difficult task. 

“Over the past 35 years, Melissa’s unwavering commitment to the School of Design and genuine interest in supporting its people has made her a steadfast pillar of our community,” said Rohrbach. “Greeting everyone with a sincere smile, Melissa swaps out the many hats (and stylish outfits) that she wears with ease to address any task that comes her way with care and grace. No doubt Melissa will be missed dearly by all of us, in ways that we can’t even imagine right now. In fact, Melissa’s contributions to the School matches how good design is often described—if done well it goes unnoticed and just feels right. I am immensely grateful for Melissa—as both a colleague and a friend—and wish her much happiness as she enters the next exciting stage of her life.” 

“Two decades ago, my journey at CMU began, and amidst those initial steps, I had the pleasure of meeting Melissa,” said Professor Kristin Hughes. “Her kind smile welcomed me, radiant with enthusiasm and grace. In a single breath, she acquainted me with the courses I would be teaching and revealed the charming corners of Pittsburgh worth exploring, extending a generous invitation to join her aerobics class. Over the passing years, my admiration for Melissa has only deepened. Whether swiftly offering guidance to a student in crisis or readily setting aside everything to lend an ear when one spontaneously enters her office seeking solace, Melissa's unwavering presence, incredible sense of style, and support will be missed.”

Associate Professor Stephen Stadelmeier, who has worked with Melissa for the entirety of her career,  calls Melissa “the heart of this place.”

“People have looked to Melissa to help make their own sense… of this place, their own lives, their own hearts and minds,” said Stadelmeier. “They've come here to take part in change, to grow and to reflect. Melissa has been a large part of that change. We’ve been blessed by her compassion, her patience, her empathy, her clarity, and her diligence.

“Thank you Melissa, then, in this moment, and in times to come.”

“More than anything, I hope my office has always been a place where students, staff and faculty could come for venting, reality checks, news-sharing, reassurance and advice, and maybe some comfort and candy,” said Melissa. “I hope that I helped our students to have fond memories of their time here.”

After Melissa leaves the School of Design, she’s heading right into a new job she’s incredibly excited for – Grandmother.

“My first grandchild was just born and I am over the moon about him,” said Melissa. “So in addition to my new role as ‘Meema,’ I want to visit old friends and explore volunteer opportunities, hopefully with Re-Use and Food Insecurity, in Pittsburgh.”

There aren’t enough words to describe how grateful we are for Melissa and everything she’s done for all of us.  The School of Design wishes Melissa all of the best and a truly wonderful retirement.

Date Published: 
Tuesday, September 5, 2023