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Olivia Hernandez

2022 Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award | Olivia Hernández

The Yakima Valley College Foundation selected English Instructor Olivia Hernández as the 2022 recipient of the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award.

Hernández, the granddaughter of migrant workers, grew up in the Yakima Valley. During high school she enrolled at YVC through the Running Start program. She was awarded a Gates Foundation Achievers Scholarship which enabled her to continue her studies at Seattle University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature, along with minors in Spanish and film studies. She later earned a master’s degree in English literature and language from the University of Washington. She lived in Seattle for nearly ten years, but always had the desire to return to the Yakima Valley and work for a Hispanic Serving Institution. Hernandez was hired to teach at YVC in 2018 and had the opportunity to work alongside her former instructors. She is working to complete her PhD from UW with a combined focus on composition studies and Chicanx art and literature.

Hernández is known for her passion for students and their success. Her colleague Kristy Webster noted her ability to connect with students by incorporating compassionate practices in her teaching and creating student-driven assignments and projects.

“Any student who has had the fortune of being in one of Olivia’s classes will remember her forever. I have no doubt about this. She is most likely the instructor with the most student-centered pedagogy at YVC. Olivia’s ability to connect with students is unparalleled. You can tell by how quickly her classes fill up, the long waitlists, the praise and gratitude from students, that she is a highly respected and sought-after teacher,” stated Webster.

Webster also shared how Hernández has supported her students during the last two years of online instruction.

“In the time of COVlD, we have experienced a loss of crucial face-to-face time with our students. Because of this, Olivia has made it a point to meet with every single student from all three of her classes at least once every quarter over Zoom. This is no small feat. Making time to meet with an average of 75 students for one-on-one conferences on top of lesson planning, advising, grading and departmental work is a huge undertaking. But it’s typical Olivia, going above and beyond for her students.”

To Hernández, the most rewarding aspect of teaching has been building relationships with her students.

“YVC students are really the best and I am so humbled by the chance to learn from the writing and conversations with the students in class every quarter. Teaching is a job where you always, always keep learning and adapting and I am so grateful to get to learn with the students I have met at YVC.”

— English Instructor Olivia Hernández

“Our classes have a lot of personal and creative assignments and so I am always so excited to see what directions students take with their work. Every quarter, I get to read powerful and engaging personal stories, learn about new music and films that are meaningful to people in my classes, and, in English 102, get to figure out how to play new games that students invent for the class.”

The award was established by Velekanje Law Firm in memory of Robert M. Leadon, a foundation director who died in 1986. The $1,000 award 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.