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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC recognizes Melissa Menendez as 28th recipient of Hayward Award

Anthony Zell
Melissa Menendez flaunts on East Campus on March 15, 2024 at City College in Santa Barbara, Calif. Menendez recently won the Hayward Award, honoring her excellence as part of the City College faculty.

English professor and visionary behind the Raíces initiative at Santa Barbara City College, Melissa Menendez has been honored with the Hayward Award for “Excellence in Education.”

The Hayward Award for “Excellence in Education” is given by the Academic Senate of California Community Colleges (ASCCC) to faculty for displaying the utmost level of commitment to their students, college, and profession. 

Each year, four nominees are carefully selected by the Academic Senate of their respective schools, but only one is chosen by members of the ASCCC to receive the honor. Recipients are presented with a plaque and a cash prize of $1,250. Menendez is now the 28th recipient of the award at City College since it was first established in 1989. 

Menendez has been recognized for her unwavering commitment to the campus community through her leadership within the Raíces program, serving as both a mentor to students and staff. Her teachings emphasize the importance of creating an environment where minority groups not only succeed but thrive in higher education. 

Menendez grew up in Fresno, California where her migrant parents and grandparents worked as farm laborers, her grandparents being undocumented. Despite her humble upbringing, Menendez defied cultural stereotypes, becoming the first in her family to pursue higher education, ultimately earning a degree and later a doctorate in philosophy. 

According to Menendez, navigating college as a minority student was not easy. Despite her intelligence and strong work ethic, witnessing the lack of proper support for her fellow minority peers was disheartening.

“It comes from those experiences that I had growing up and from wanting to change what higher education can be,” Menendez said. “So that it truly is more inclusive and not just a word that’s used but an actual space and institutional support.”

Menendez has taught English at City College since 2006, when the school’s Hispanic population was about 25%. As of spring 2024, City College has a minority population of about 50%, with almost 40% of students being Latino. 

To address the growing minority population on campus, the Raíces program was created to empower students of minority backgrounds and help them thrive in academic settings. The Raíces website states, “Our program affirms Latine cultural identities, honors our ancestral roots, and celebrates our multilingual, multiracial, and multigenerational heritage.” 

With funding provided by the HSI grant, Menendez worked alongside Raíces Program Coordinator Sergio Lagunas to implement the Raíces program on campus in the fall semester of 2023. 

“I believe her experience and commitment is contagious,” Lagunas said in an interview through email. “Her connection to faculty is an asset to the program as it created a bond between faculty and student services. Raíces staff have the opportunity to learn through the faculty lens when brainstorming on program goals, strategy, and activities with her.” 

One of Menendez’s biggest accomplishments was shedding light on City College’s hiring practices. Menendez led a committee that researched how to infuse faculty hiring practices with an inclusive equity lens. Her work manifested in more training for hiring committees by seeking faculty who had a track record for serving historically minoritized students. Menendez spearheaded the most diverse hiring that the college has ever had with a cluster hire of 17 diverse faculty members. 

“We’ve really tried to get a dialogue going with a group of faculty around not just decolonizing the curriculum and pedagogy, but also really working from a place of trauma-informed reliance,” Menendez said. “It’s incredibly important that the faculty and the folks in the classroom space have that diversity, and they mirror the students teaching.” 

Maxine Bagsic is a peer advisor and student tutor with the Raíces program, working closely with Menendez and actively helps students discover their place within City College’s community. 

“Her also being a professor is so inspiring because she has so many responsibilities but is always there to be someone who the organization can rely on,” Bagsic said. “Not just for organization and the establishment but also in terms of counseling and advice.”

According to her students and fellow faculty members, Menendez has shown her unwavering dedication to City College’s students and staff. Winning the Hayward Award reminds the community of her commitment to making campus a more inclusive space for all students. 

“When one of our students said to me, ‘This space is amazing, you’ve done really good,’ it makes it worth it,” Menendez said in tears. “I’m done. I have a Ph.D., but I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for the next generation of students to be able to actualize and manifest whatever goals they want to achieve. When she said that to me it was a moment where I felt like I actually did it. I accomplished what I wanted.”

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