Foundation selects Holly Cousens for the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award

The Yakima Valley College Foundation today announces the selection of Business Technology Instructor Holly Cousens as the 2024 recipient of the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award. The award was established by Velekanje Law Firm in memory of Robert M. Leadon, a foundation director who died in 1986. It recognizes faculty who, like Leadon, are well known for their commitment to excellence in teaching. The YVC Foundation Board of Directors makes the selection from nominations submitted by students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni.

Cousens first became interested in business during high school when a friend convinced her to attend a DECA meeting. DECA is a membership available to students with career interests in marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, hospitality and management.

“One of my friends was like ‘Hey, come to this club meeting with me it’s over lunch’ and I was like OK. I ended up really enjoying it, so I joined DECA and decided I wanted to go into marketing and business,” says Cousens.

After graduating from Yakima’s Eisenhower High School, Cousens attended YVC’s Business Administration program and earned her associate of applied science degree in business management and marketing. For Cousens, the decision to attend YVC was an easy one.

“I kind of feel like I grew up on this campus because my mom taught here,” said Cousens. “I was always coming here to visit mom or having lunch with her or coming to get money. I thought it would be fun to be a teacher, but the best teachers that I had were people that ran their own business first.”

So, Cousens earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and human resources from City University of Seattle and opened her own accounting business — all the while holding onto her feelings about teaching one day. Cousens got her chance in the classroom when former YVC Business Technology Instructor Patti Koluda called her and asked her to teach part-time for the program.  

A chance encounter at Roza Dam Recreation Site led to Cousens meeting Governor Christine Gregoire and deciding it was time to again focus on higher education. This time with a strengthened resolve that teaching was the right choice for her future.

“I actually saved somebody,” says Cousens. “It was the 4th of July and there was an accident at Roza, a guy got run over by boat. I pulled him out of the water and saved him. Sadly, he was unable to recover from his injuries as later passed. I got an award from the Governor and while talking to her she asked about my future goals. She said to me ‘Holly, why aren’t you getting your master’s degree?’ I said ‘I don’t know’ and she says ‘Well, if you don’t have an answer that is your answer.’ I tell my students that all the time to help motivate them to continue their education.”  

This was the inspiration Cousens needed to complete her master’s degree and pursue teaching full-time. In 2011 she was hired at for a full-time position at Yakima Valley College and has been at the college ever since.

As the only full-time faculty member in YVC’s Business Technology program, Cousens teaches a variety of courses including keyboarding, professionalism, business writing, business communication, business math and more.

Her passion for teaching is evident to colleagues and students within the program.

“Holly’s tenure at Yakima Valley College spans more than a decade, during which she has consistently proven herself as an outstanding teacher,” says Information Technology Instructor Peter Udo. “Her commitment to her students is unwavering, and she goes above and beyond to ensure their success both inside and outside the classroom. I have had the privilege of witnessing numerous students speak highly of her teaching methods and her ability to make complex subjects accessible and engaging.”

According to student Beau Bradford one of Cousens’ most notable strengths is her ability to tailor her teaching approach to the diverse learning styles of her students.

“She employs a variety of instructional techniques, incorporating multimedia, real-world examples and interactive activities to enhance the educational experience,” says Bradford. “Her commitment to inclusivity ensures that every student feels valued and supported in their academic journey.”

For student Angelita Cervantes Cousens’ availability and willingness to help support students learning is what sets her apart.

“She is a very professional woman who gives her students helpful and supportive advice,” says Cervantes. “She focuses a lot on building the confidence of her students and making sure that they always present themselves in the best possible way. Holly believes that it’s crucial to do things the right way since everything they learn in their classes will be applied in their work areas, and it is preparing them for that.”

Cousens is also active in the community serving on the boards for the annual Sunfair Parade and Holiday Parade in Yakima. She served on the Yakima City Council from 2015 to 2023 and held the position of deputy mayor during her tenure. In 2022 she was selected to serve on the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) Board.

A passionate educator, Cousens was drawn to these roles as a way to continue educating and serving her students and the community.

“My experiences on council brought so much to the classroom and our students,” said Cousens. “I was able to share their concerns with our governing body as well as encourage our students to get involved in the community. After being elected, I have had many experiences which I have been able to share with our students.”

Among the powerful experiences Cousens has used to motivate YVC students to pursue their own dreams are speaking on stage with President Barack Obama in 2016 during an event hosted by Governor Jay Inslee at the Seattle Convention Center and being invited to South Korea where she set up a sister city relationship between Hadong and Yakima.

“I attended the South Korean green tea festival, which is known across the world,” Cousens said. “I sat at a head table full of men in black suits from all over the world, Japan’s ambassador was to my right and China’s was on my left. When the announcer got to me, he stated, ‘And representing the United States of America, from Yakima, Washington, is Holly Cousens, the first female to ever sit at this table.’ It was a moment I will never forget!

“I tell my students to never stop reaching for what they want in life. I share my story and encourage them to stand up and lead, that we all have a fire in us sometimes we just need someone to help us light it.”

She’s currently All But Dissertation (ABD) on a doctorate in educational organizational leadership at City University of Seattle.

The Robert M. Leadon Teaching Award is a $1,000 unrestricted monetary award. It is open to any full-time faculty member who has completed three full years of teaching at Yakima Valley College. For more information contact Stacey Kautz at or 509.574.4645.

The Robert M. Leadon Teaching Award will be presented during YVC’s Commencement ceremony on June 14.

Press Release Contacts:
Dustin Wunderlich / 509.574.6870 /
Stefanie Menard / 509.574.4646 /