National University Teacher Award selects Knoxville educator Melody Hawkins as nation’s top inspiring teacher

National University Teacher Award selects Knoxville educator Melody Hawkins as nation’s top inspiring teacher

Hawkins will receive a $50,000 cash prize and full scholarship to get her doctorate at National University.

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

Ms. Hawkins, one of five finalists from different regions of the country, will receive a check for $50, 000 and a full-ride scholarship for National University’s Sanford College of Education’s Doctoral Program. The surprise announcement was made today on the nationally syndicated Drew Barrymore Show.

Empowering students through science and SEL
Ms. Hawkins, whose mother is a teacher, studied to be a doctor but changed her plans to become an educator to make more of a difference in the lives of children. Modeling her classes 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 own what they learn. Her 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 one-of-a-kind opportunities for her community—her 8th grade students even won a competition to send research into outer 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 of the San Diego-based National University System, a non-profit with a 50-year history of educating adult learners and underserved populations.
“It was always high expectations with caring for our students and the example that she gave as being a teacher of color—a Black female science teacher—that is going to cause ripple effects for years to come,” noted Desirée Jones, principal of Vine Middle School where Ms. Hawkins taught for six years. “She is amazing, and she will change the world because of her teaching.”

“Her students have told me that they aspire to become science leaders and chemists and scientists because of her experience and time with them,” noted Tammi Campbell, principal of Austin-East High School.

Video of national awardee and principals familiar with her work can be found at this link:
Melody Hawkins, National University Teacher Award National Winner: 8:04 – 10:35
Tammi Campbell, Austin-East Magnet High School principal: 10:39 -12:00
Desiree Jones, former colleague and Vine Middle Magnet School principal: 12:02 – 13:30

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

“Everyday I am that village”
When asked what she does to inspire her students everyday, Ms. Hawkins said that she tries to be whatever it is her students need to remove the barriers they face. “Everyday I have been a science educator, but I have also doubled as a mother, an aunt, and as a big sister. Everyday I am that village that helps bring students to where they need to be for success.”

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

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

WEST Reagan Duncan, Maryland Elementary School, Vista, CA
SOUTHWEST Eric Hale, David G. Burnet Elementary School, Dallas
MIDWEST Dr. Maggie McHugh, La Crosse Polytechnic School in La Crosse, WI
NORTHEAST Olivia Leone, P.S. 161, Juan Ponce de Leon School in the Bronx, NY

About The National University System
The National University System (NUS) is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving a diverse population of students including pre-K-12 students and working professionals. NUS higher-education institutions serve more than 45,000 students through National University, Northcentral University, and City University of Seattle. 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 that are accessible online and at no cost to help teachers create inspiring learning environments and encourage students to succeed, and Harmony SEL, a pre-K-6 research-based social and emotional learning program that cultivates strong peer relationships between 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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