Melisa Nellesen

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters

Portrait of Nellesen

Melisa Nellesen is a champion, defender, supporter, and campaigner for those with autism spectrum disorder, including her son Cole. She is the namesake of the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at Utah Valley University, having shaped and developed it from its beginning in 2016. Nellesen actively leads and serves there as a board member and a participant in functions, classes and other events.

Her unceasing efforts to advocate for members of the autism community have contributed to the excellence and improvement of special education programs and offerings in Utah.

She married Keith Nellesen in 1991. The couple has three children: McKenzie, Cole, and Preslee. In 2000, Cole was diagnosed with autism, and the Nellesen family’s lives changed forever. Nellesen hired and supervised numerous tutors, who came to her home to provide one-on-one therapy for Cole in an effort to get him to communicate. It was there that she fell in love with those who devote their lives to educating these special kids.

In 2015, former UVU President Matthew S. Holland approached the Nellesens about building a center for autism at UVU. They had been looking for opportunities to improve the autism community in Utah and knew this was exactly what they were seeking.

UVU broke ground for the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism on April 21, 2016, and the center opened just over one year later, on May 3, 2017. Nellesen’s greatest joy is helping her children and others to grow and prosper. She is an alumna of Utah Valley Community College (now Utah Valley University) and a proud Wolverine.