National University Teacher Award Names Knoxville Educator Melody Hawkins as Nation’s Most Inspirational Teacher


National University Teacher Award Names Knoxville Educator Melody Hawkins as Nation’s Most Inspirational Teacher

Hawkins will receive a cash prize of $50,000 and a full scholarship to earn his Ph.D. at National University.

SAN DIEGO—Feb. 15, 2022 – In recognition of inspirational teaching nationally, Melody Hawkins has been named National University Teacher of the Year. Ms. Hawkins, who taught eighth grade science at Vine Middle School in Knoxville, TN, is now an administrator at Austin-East High School in Knoxville.

Ms. Hawkins, one of five finalists from different parts of the country, will receive a check for $50,000 and a full scholarship for the doctoral program at National University’s Sanford College of Education. The surprise announcement was made today on the nationally broadcast Drew Barrymore Show.

Empowering students through science and SEL
Ms Hawkins, whose mother is a teacher, studied to become a doctor but changed her plans to become an educator in order to make more of a difference in children’s lives. Modeling her lessons on the methods used to teach great scientists, Ms. Hawkins encourages her students to do science and conduct experiments in an environment known for student voice, agency and ensuring that students s appropriate what they learn. Its virtual summer camp helps students about to enter middle school learn how to build community and develop strong relationships with adults and each other. She seeks out unique opportunities for her community — her Grade 8 students have even won a competition to send research into space with NASA.

“Melody Hawkins represents everything this award is about – honoring teachers who inspire others and have a profound influence in helping students grow socially and emotionally as well as academically,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, Chancellor from San Diego-based National University. System, a non-profit organization with 50 years of history in educating adult learners and underserved populations.
“The expectations for our students have always been high and the example she set as a teacher of color – a black science teacher – will have ripple effects for years to come,” noted Desirée Jones, director of Vine. Middle School where Ms. Hawkins taught for six years. “She is amazing and she will change the world with her teaching.”

“His students told me that they aspired to become science leaders, chemists, and scientists because of his experience and time spent with them,” noted Tammi Campbell, principal of Austin-East High School.

The video of the national winner and directors familiar with her work can be found at this link:
Melody Hawkins, National Winner of the National College Teacher Award: 8:04 a.m. – 10:35 a.m.
Tammi Campbell, Principal of Austin-East Magnet High School: 10:39 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Desiree Jones, former colleague and Principal of Vine Middle Magnet School: 12:02 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Created by the nonprofit National University System, the award recognizes teachers nationwide who exemplify what it means to fully engage students, build trust, create inclusive learning environments, motivate students to succeed, and give students a voice in their class.

“Every day I am this village”
When asked what she does to inspire her students on a daily basis, Ms Hawkins said she tries to be everything her students need to break down the barriers they face. “Every day I’ve been a science educator, but I’ve also been a mother, aunt, and big sister. Every day, I’m this village helping get students where they need to be to succeed.

In November 2021, the awards program selected a teacher from five regions of the country as national finalists. Each recipient received a check for $10,000, which they could use as they saw fit. This is the third year of operation for the awards program.

The other four regional finalists for the 2021 National University Teacher Award were:

WHERE IS Reagan Duncan, Maryland Elementary School, Vista, CA
SOUTH WEST Eric Hale, David G. Burnet Elementary School, Dallas
MIDDLE WEST Dr. Maggie McHugh, La Crosse Polytechnic in La Crosse, WI
NORTHEAST Olivia Leone, PS 161, Juan Ponce de Leon School in Bronx, NY

About the National University System
The National University System (NUS) is a network of accredited, not-for-profit educational institutions serving a diverse population of students, including K-12 students and working professionals. NUS institutions of higher education serve more than 45,000 students through National University, Northcentral University, and Seattle City University. NUS education-focused initiatives include Workforce Education Solutions, Harmony SEL, Inspire Teaching & Learning and Fundraising Academy Cause Selling Education. Learn more at

About Inspire Teaching & Learning and Harmony SEL
The National University System is a leader in social and emotional learning, leading a national expansion of affiliate programs in the pre-K-12 sector. These programs include: Inspire Teaching & Learning, which offers research-based teaching methodologies and on-demand self-guided modules available online and free to help teachers create inspiring learning environments and encourage student success , and Harmony SEL, a research-based pre-K-6 social and emotional learning program that cultivates strong peer relationships among all students. Harmony SEL has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a quality program.


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