LaGuardia Community College president wins prestigious education award

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Dr. Gail Mellow, the president of LaGuardia Community College, won the 2017 TIAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence Monday, one of the most prestigious awards in American academia.

Named in honor of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame and a world-renowned educator and humanitarian, the award recognizes outstanding leadership on the part of a college or university president of chancellor.

“Gail Mellow is a true believer in the power of community colleges to change our world for the better,” said Stephanie Bell-Rose, TIAA senior managing director and head of the TIAA Institute. “She has built a strong, unified college that places teaching and learning at its core, preparing one of our nation’s most diverse student bodies to successfully navigate a fast-changing society and an uncertain future.”

Since Mellow became president at LaGuardia Community College in 2000, she has tripled the school’s enrollment, now at 50,000, and doubled the full-time faculty. Two-thirds of the student body are new Americans and more than 70 percent have family incomes that are less than $25,000 a year and yet LaGuardia Community College has one of the nation’s highest graduation rates among urban community colleges that serve low-income students.

Mellow accepted the award at the American Council on Education’s 99th annual meeting, which was attended by nearly 2,000 higher education leaders, from deans to presidents, in Washington, D.C. ACE administers the award on the TIAA Institute’s behalf, convening an independent panel of judges who selected the winner.

“I’m honored to receive this award in front of fellow educators at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting,” Mellow said. I greatly admire Reverend Hesburgh’s legacy as a champion of social justice, and I’m grateful to the TIAA Institute for bestowing on me this award named in his honor. And in recognition of the associations he forged with leaders from a variety of industries to benefit the university he led and their students, I will continue our work developing pathways for our students to rewarding careers through education-to-employment partnerships with community groups and local businesses.”

Mellow, a community college graduate herself, has focused on helping people get out of poverty and into a life of economic stability for them and their families through education. She led a restructuring of LaGuardia’s programs and services, increasing graduation rates and offering holistic academic, career, and transfer advising, as well as extensive support services to help students address financial issues that arise before they lead them to dropping out. Innovative programs at LaGuardia have helped students bridge the gap between completing high school and succeeding in college.

“ACE is proud to join the TIAA Institute in honoring leaders like Gail Mellow who have confronted head-on some of the most challenging issues facing American higher education today,” ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said. “President Mellow’s tireless efforts to expand access to postsecondary education and ensure that her students have the tools they need to succeed have immeasurably strengthened both her institution and the entire education community.”

The TIAA Institute provides a $20,000 grant to Hesburgh awardees, which Mellow has decided to contribute in full to the LaGuardia Community College Foundation, which gives out nearly $1.8 million annually in scholarships and emergency financial support to the college’s primarily low-income and new-immigrant students.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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