If the Colorado State University campus seems slightly dimmer, and a touch less lively this week, it’s because “Sunshine” is no longer here to illuminate our world.
Melissa Trifiletti, CSU’s Vice President for Enrollment and Access, died Sunday following a fierce battle against cancer. She was just 48, but she had a remarkably large impact in her relatively short life.
“I called her ‘Sunshine’ from the first day I met her – she just lit up every room she walked into,” said Leslie Taylor, assistant vice president for university enrollment communications, who worked closely with Trifiletti. “In the 20 years I’ve worked at CSU, I’ve never known anyone like her; she had a remarkable impact on our campus in such a short time. She was an amazing person with a unique presence. I miss her terribly.”
Named VP in April
Trifiletti was named vice president in April following a search to replace Robin Brown, who retired in June. Although she arrived on campus just three years ago, “Trif” had a profound and lasting impact on CSU since being named director of admissions. Under her leadership, CSU has recorded consecutive years of record enrollment and recruited the most diverse classes of incoming freshmen and transfer students in its history – all at a time when other universities struggled with declining enrollment.
Colorado State President Tony Frank described her leadership of the Office of Admissions team as transformative, and noted how much he had looked forward to having her as a new member of his leadership team.
“I will miss her as a colleague and as the consummate professional that she was – but much more, I will miss her as a special human being, someone who was unfailingly herself, a shining light, always ready to burst out with a laugh,” Frank said. “Her warmth, her kindness, her intelligence and her generosity in sharing her knowledge and life with all of us are what I will remember most of all.”
Many will remember Trifiletti’s playful nature. She loved the outdoors and spent many weekends exploring her adopted Colorado home while hiking, kayaking, biking or skiing. She was a notoriously competitive bowler and softball player.
She also loved to laugh, and wasn’t afraid to tease co-workers or even university leadership with jokes – or practical jokes. One of her passions was Christmas music, and it was not unusual to hear her singing carols in July.
On the job, she was hard-working and driven toward success but known for her quiet leadership skills. She got her start in higher education at Atlanta’s Emory University before becoming executive director of admissions at Portland State University in Oregon. Her success there helped her land an interview at CSU where she was hired in 2014.
Passionate about higher education
A proud first-generation college student, Trifiletti found her passion in recruiting students and helping them work toward graduation.
“Helping students find the right institutional fit, and working to remove barriers so students can reach their academic and career goals, is the best job in the world,” she said in a story announcing her new role at CSU.
When Brown, the outgoing for Vice President for Enrollment and Access, announced her plans to retire, a search was launched to find her replacement. In the end, the search extended the width of CSU’s historic Oval, from Trifiletti’s office at Ammons Hall to Brown’s office at Johnson Hall.
Driven to begin new job
Trifiletti was incredibly excited to take on this new career challenge, and took a leave of advance this summer to focus on her cancer treatments and recovery. She had marked Move-in Week – when the very students she had helped recruit would be arriving on campus – to sit in her new office for the first time.
Trifiletti, though, got bad news last week when the latest in a series of surgeries revealed that the cancer had continued to spread. She entered hospice care, and spent her final days with family and her closest friends by her side.
“Melissa was convinced she was going to beat cancer and be able to start her new role as vice president at the start of the new academic year. She used that as her motivation through all of her taxing treatments,” Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda said. “I will long admire her fighting spirit, her warm demeanor and the tremendous impact she had on CSU and the CSU community. She was a remarkable woman.”
Trifiletti was born Feb. 11, 1969. She is survived by her mother and stepfather, Barb and Joe Mazzoni; father and stepmother, Phil and Sue Trifiletti, and brothers Scott and Mike, her twin.
A memorial service will be held in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, in the coming weeks. A campus memorial service will be announced at a later date.
A memorial fund to plant a tree and place a bench on campus honoring Trifiletti’s work has also been established at CSU; you can donate online.
Trifiletti’s alma mater, Baldwin Wallace University in suburban Cleveland, has established a scholarship fund in her name; you can donate online. Look for Give Today (enter); Line #1 Enter Contribution Amount; Line #2 Designation: Other; Line #3 Other: Melissa Trifiletti Award for Women’s Leadership.