Merage School scholarship shows commitment to staff education

October 05, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

As a first-generation college graduate, Melissa Beck never believed that she would ever have the opportunity to get an MBA. She had worked incredibly hard to earn an undergraduate degree, one that her parents were never able to attain due to the substantial costs of higher education. But, the price of an MBA seemed insurmountable.

However, while working as a staff member for the Merage School more than a decade ago, she was offered a scholarship that allowed her to achieve this dream. A few years later, Melissa established her own scholarship to help other staff members enroll in the MBA program.

“I figured that it was just my best way to pay it forward with what the school enabled me to do,” Melissa said. “I definitely wouldn't have achieved what I have in my career without having my MBA, it was definitely a major pivot point for me. So I thought, if I can give back to the school and a staff member who was like me 10 years ago, that would just be amazing.”

Melissa came up with the idea for the Melissa and Harry Beck Scholarship about three years ago while serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board. She said the scholarship initially came from the school’s budget, but she wanted to make it an endowed scholarship. It’s important for her to help other staff members earn their MBAs because it has proven to be immeasurably valuable to her career.

Melissa used the knowledge she gleaned in business school to become the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County. She said she knows for a fact that the job would not have been offered to her if she didn’t have her master’s degree because it taught her how to be a leader.

Currently, Melissa is serving as President of Anonymous Philanthropy, which has been steadily growing since she took a leadership position.

“Without that MBA experience, I wouldn’t have known where to start when I had the chance to take hold of a company and give it an identity and culture,” she said.

The Melissa and Harry Beck Scholarship gave Levi Eastwood, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Merage School, a chance to earn his MBA after being discouraged for many years about the high costs.

After paying off his bachelor’s degree, Levi had sworn to himself that he wouldn’t take on more debt. Like Melissa, Levi is a first-generation college graduate.

“I've known I wanted an MBA for the last five or six years,” he said. “But the big problem was, every time I would get to the tuition price, I'd come to a screeching halt. I was in a conundrum with that price tag and not wanting to go into debt. The scholarship made it possible for me.”

Levi said that it was also very encouraging to have a network of colleagues advocate for him.

“It was great to be raised up by the community to do that,” he said. “To have the people you work with believe in you enough to put their name on the line to get you the scholarship, it made me not want to fail even on tough days.”

Levi benefitted from the skills he learned in the MBA program. He was particularly influenced by the conversations he had with classmates.

“The 45 to 50 folks who were in the class with me were heavy hitters, and to have conversations with them made me have to evolve really quickly,” Levi said. “I had to grow really quickly because they definitely challenged me.”

Nick Shaffer, Director of External Relations at the Merage School, received the Melissa and Harry Beck Scholarship the same year as Levi.

Nick said he likely wouldn’t have been able to afford his MBA without the scholarship. He improved his confidence and became more “well-rounded” since earning his master’s degree.

“The scholarship definitely just opens the door, whereas before it was closed and locked,” he said.

The Melissa and Harry Beck Scholarship is just one way that Melissa has given back to UC Irvine since first becoming part of the Merage School more than a decade ago. She is also President of the UCI Alumni Association and has been an integral force behind the success of the school’s Center for Investment and Wealth Management.

Melissa also recently created the Irene Moehlman Scholarship to support young female scholars from disadvantaged communities learn about financial literacy at the school’s LIFEvest program.

She values the university’s dedication to providing students, particularly first-generation students, with whatever resources they need to attain their education. She also deeply values the university’s commitment to supporting its staff members so they can achieve their career aspirations.

“I’m just constantly inspired to do more because of how proud they make me as an alum,” she said.

To learn more about the scholarships offered for the Merage School’s MBA program, please visit