Melissa Maddox in Santiago, Chile, and at La Sebastiana Pablo Neruda Museum in Valparaiso, Chile

(from left to right):
(Melissa Maddox in Santiago, Chile, and at La Sebastiana Pablo Neruda Museum in Valparaiso, Chile


A Lifelong Journey of International Perspective

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

by Blake Rickman

For Melissa Maddox, the urge to see the world came very early in life. Growing up, she possessed an international curiosity that was fed by family members who shared her interest. Whether it was entertaining visiting professors as dinner guests, hosting exchange students or supporting her studies abroad, her family made sure her global perspective was expertly crafted. It’s no surprise that she has always been driven to look abroad.

Maddox studied Spanish at Fayetteville High School. Her first trip overseas was to Spain, and it didn't take long for her to know that she was hooked. A trend started to develop. She traveled to Spain twice more as an undergraduate and went to India while pursuing her MBA. She attributes much of her professional success to the skills she acquired during these experiences.

In her current role, with Nestlé Purina, Maddox travels to 14 countries spanning most of Latin America and the Caribbean. As a matter of simple business communication, be it a meeting or conference call, she uses her education in Spanish language and culture daily.

"I've used my language skills throughout my career, in everything from public service to international business,” Maddox said. “The cultural flexibility and language skills I learned in study abroad play a large role in my ability to be successful in a dynamic, global environment."

Maddox’s trips to Spain as an undergraduate were made possible by private gift support. The Holly Turner Meek Endowed Scholarship Fund has been funding study abroad experiences for undergraduate students for more than 20 years.

"The scholarships helped me see the world, understand different cultures and shaped my perspective into a global vision. I was especially impressed by the selflessness of those who endowed these scholarships; their generosity provided me with life-changing experiences."

As a result of her drive to see the world, and the generosity of someone she’s never met, Maddox was given an opportunity to experience the culture of other countries firsthand. Always grateful for those who gave back, she looked for the right mechanism to allow her to pay it forward. While working with General Mills, she learned of their dollar-for-dollar educational matching gift program. Through this program she started the Melissa L. Maddox Endowed Award for Spanish Language and Study Abroad in 2009, just one year after earning her Master of Business Administration and eight years after her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish.

The first beneficiary, Michelle Agee, was selected last fall and elected to study abroad in Chile. Melissa frequently travels to Chile for work, and their time in country almost overlapped.

Nicole Howard, the most recent awardee, chose to participate in the faculty-led program to Puebla, Mexico. The program correlates with her studies and future goals. To complement their Spanish classes at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, students also have the opportunity to participate in a service internship in a business in Puebla.

"This will provide me with hands on experience in the business world from a global standpoint, and I hope to learn a lot through this opportunity," Howard wrote in a letter to Maddox. "In addition to the classes and internship, I will have the opportunity to travel on weekend excursions to Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Cuetzalan, and Oaxava"

Maddox’s education and career path have been the result of conscientious, strategic decisions. By the same token, the method and focus of her giving were the product of deliberate planning. She decided to help students in the same way she was helped as a student. Growing up in a globally conscious environment, and benefiting from the generosity of others, have shaped Melissa Maddox into a philanthropic alumna whose success has already spanned international boundaries.

Blake Rickman

About the author

Blake Rickman serves as associate director of development for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.