Dean Boelter's Impact: Phyllis and Joseph Meltzer's Gift Story

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It feels only fitting in February to highlight the UCLA love story of Phyllis ’59 & Joseph Meltzer ’55, MS ’57, PhD ’61. The couple recently made an endowed scholarship gift to support students in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

How did Phyllis, who was studying English and Speech at UCLA, even cross paths with this engineer? According to the couple, Joe invited Phyllis to join a group of mutual friends for lunch at the cafeteria of Royce Hall on Halloween. The couple continued marking holidays with significant milestones in their relationship; they got engaged on New Years Eve and married on Easter Sunday.

Joe & Phyllis in 2019.
Joe & Phyllis in 2019.
Both Joe and Phyllis credit Dean Boelter, the founding Dean of the School of Engineering, as an inspiration for their recent gift. Boelter is remembered by many, including the Meltzers, as an innovator committed to interdisciplinary teaching. He was so convinced that conventional departmentalization prevented interdisciplinary education that he decided that the College of Engineering at UCLA would have a single department and that UCLA would offer undesignated B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees.

Joe still remembers how committed Dean Boelter was to meeting with all of the graduate students, and the curriculum drawings he was constantly studying in his office. Dean Boelter knew everyone by name—although that certainly was easier when the classes were so much smaller than they are today. Phyllis herself has fond memories of Dean Boelter as well. She recalls many a study session in Joe’s office where Dean Boelter would come by and poke his head in to say hello. He would always ask if she was being treated okay by the other engineers. Joe & Phyllis both credit the camaraderie Dean Boelter fostered at the School with the lifelong friendships they built as a couple with Joe’s classmates.

Joe credits the foundational curriculum that Dean Boelter established as a key reason for his professional success. Dr. Meltzer has a long successful career at The Aerospace Corporation, retiring after 48 years in 1997 only to return as a consultant upon his retirement. (Phyllis earned her PhD from USC in 1997, so it was a momentous year for the couple). Since joining Aerospace in 1963, Joe held positions of increasing responsibility, including director of spacecraft programs and general manager of the Eastern Technical Division, which was located in Washington, D.C., and Chief Engineer.

When asked why they wanted to support scholarships specifically, they shared that Joe has a personal story about the importance of scholarship & fellowship support. Joe stayed very close to his mentor in graduate school, Dr. William Seyer, and remembers receiving a call from the school secretary, who suggested he return to campus in order to receive the fellowship that would fund his Ph.D. studies. The couple also spoke of the importance of ensuring access.

If you’d like to have a discussion with a member of the UCLA Samueli fundraising team about scholarships like Joe & Phyllis did, please reach out to Alina Garza, Associate Director of Development, at