Dr. Melissa Leal Honored with 2023-24 Hayward Award for Excellence in Education

April 2, 2024
Melissa Leal Hayward Award Recipient
Melissa Leal, Sierra College Ethnic Studies Instructor and 2023-24 Hayward Award Recipient.

Recognized for Her Commitment to Serve, Empower Students

Sierra College Ethnic Studies Instructor Dr. Melissa Leal was honored with the 2023-24 Hayward Award for Excellence in Education for the California Community Colleges. Sponsored annually by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, this award honors community college full-time and part-time faculty who demonstrate the highest level of commitment to their students, college, and profession.  

Dr. Leal has served as a part-time faculty member and Tribal Liaison for Sierra College since 2015 and became Sierra’s first Ethnic Studies department faculty member and chair in 2021. Dr. Leal has additionally been involved with many community efforts and statewide workgroups focused on increasing Native American education opportunities and success. 

In her submission to the nominating committee, Dr. Leal shared the following reflection on her commitment to empowering students from diverse backgrounds:  

I am a first-generation college graduate. I think back to when I was in college working on my undergraduate degree. I was in a course titled ‘Anthropology of California Indians.’ The professor of the course taught us that ‘Esselen people and language no longer exist.’ I sat there invisible. I am Esselen and I exist. My ancestors endured multiple genocides, but we are still here. I knew from that day forward that my goal and duty as an instructor (whether it be in K-12 or higher education) was to ensure that no student ever felt invisible like I did that semester. My commitment to serving and empowering students from diverse backgrounds and experiences comes from that moment. I was blessed to eventually take a course with an instructor who was also a California Indian woman and the fact that she “saw” me made all of the difference in the world. I vowed to always see and hear students as they come. I share this story with them in hopes that they will understand their academic journey a little better.  

“Dr. Leal is an inspiring educator,” said Willy Duncan, Sierra College Superintendent/President. “She brings her personal experiences and her passion for students into her work, and it’s impacting her students’ lives far beyond her classroom.” 

The Hayward Award for Excellence in Education program was established in 1989. Award recipients, annually nominated by their college academic senate and selected by representatives of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, must have a record of outstanding performance of professional activities, as well as active participation on campus.   

Up to two full-time and two part-time faculty members may be selected each year to win the award. The Hayward Awards are supported through a grant from the Foundation for California Community Colleges. Each recipient will receive a $1,250 cash award and a commemorative plaque. The award is named in honor of Gerald C. Hayward, who served as chancellor of the California Community Colleges from 1980 to 1985. 

Dr. Leal was honored at a California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting on March 25, 2024, in Sacramento. This is the third year in a row in which an instructor from Sierra College has been honored with this award. Dr. Leal’s recognition follows Dr. Jane Le Skaife in 2022-23, and Dr. Winsome Jackson in 2021-22. 

About Sierra College 

Sierra College District is rising to the needs of our community. Sierra College serves 3,200 square miles of Northern California with campuses in Roseville, Rocklin, Grass Valley, and Truckee. With approximately 125 degree and certificate programs, Sierra College is ranked first in Northern California (Sacramento north) for transfers to four-year universities, offers career/technical training, and classes for upgrading job skills. Sierra graduates can be found in businesses and industries throughout the region. More information at www.sierracollege.edu.