2022-23 Graduate Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award

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Hayden Montgomery

Fifth-year chemical biology Ph.D. student Hayden Montgomery (Maynard/Spokoyny groups) has been selected by the UCLA Academic Senate for the 2022-23 Graduate Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Award.

According to the Academic Senate’s DEI website, the prestigious award is given to just one graduate student each year in order “to honor those who have motivated other members of the University to strive for excellence. These students embrace diversity and serve humanity through learning. Not only are these students constantly working to better themselves, but they are also dedicated to the growth of their peers.”

“Hayden is not only an outstanding scholar, she is also a passionate student leader and activist,” said co-advisor Professor Alex Spokoyny. “She has left a tremendous positive mark on building an inclusive and supportive environment in STEM at UCLA. Through her tireless efforts and uncompromising commitment, she has touched and improved the lives of many undergraduate and graduate students on campus from very diverse backgrounds.”

Montgomery received a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UCLA in 2017 and performed research under Professor Hosea Nelson. She joined the department’s chemical biology graduate program in 2018, working in the groups of Professors Heather Maynard and Alex Spokoyny on developing transition-metal-mediated bioconjugation chemistry. Montgomery is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. in chemical biology and, upon graduating, plans to seek work in the biotechnology industry.

“Hayden’s efforts in diversifying science and engineering have left an indelible mark on our department and UCLA in general,” said co-advisor Professor Heather Maynard. “She has tirelessly worked to increase inclusivity at UCLA and to ensure that all voices are heard and valued. Hayden was a leader during the difficult period caused by the COVID pandemic, and her efforts helped graduate students broadly through that time. Simply put, Hayden has made a real difference on this campus.”

Montgomery has been active with UCLA’s Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS), leading science demos, campus tours, and mentorship sessions for community college and transfer students from diverse communities. She quickly transitioned into the leadership of this organization and served as a professional development chair and president of the organization until recently. During Montgomery’s tenure as OCDS president, she demonstrated outstanding leadership skills in supporting people from historically excluded backgrounds to pursue careers in science, while projecting a positive portrayal of these groups throughout the scientific community. She oversaw a 13-member executive board and a $10,000 annual budget for programming that included professional development, community building, and outreach. Montgomery worked closely with the Dean of Physical Sciences and both department and University administration towards these goals.

Hayden Montgomery with fellow OCDS board members.

“In her leadership role with OCDS, Hayden demonstrated exceptional organizational skills and strategic planning, allowing her to effectively manage the organization’s resources and deliver high-quality outcomes during an especially difficult pandemic period,” Spokoyny said.

Montgomery is passionate about supporting and empowering students to achieve their professional goals, and her efforts were highly appreciated by students and faculty members. In addition to OCDS, Montgomery has also been a president of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Graduate Student Association (CBGSA) and has led many important efforts and initiatives within this organization. This organization is especially notable as it provides an extremely important service to the community by showcasing science demonstrations at UCLA’s annual Exploring Your Universe event, bringing hundreds of parents and children from diverse local communities to campus.

“Hayden has been a fixture of the department for the last five years, and she has always gone above and beyond – often without the recognition she deserves,” said co-nominator and lab mate graduate student Billy Treacy. “She has been the driving force for most of the diversity initiatives in the department, and she has been steadfast in her efforts and commitment to advancing departmental initiatives and advocating for students.”

In 2020, Montgomery helped spearhead a team of graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members to craft a letter to the Division of Physical Sciences at UCLA, outlining a collection of DEI-related issues and shortcomings and presenting actionable items that must be addressed to truly improve the climate at UCLA STEM programs from many different backgrounds, focuses, and perspectives, and foster a strong sense of community building during otherwise tense social and political moments. Through this effort, Montgomery and her team continue to push decision-makers to make actionable change to benefit our communities.

At UCLA, Montgomery has also distinguished herself as an excellent educator and mentor of undergraduate students. In addition to her mentorship in the research laboratories, she has been an outstanding educator in the classroom. Montgomery has received overwhelmingly positive teaching evaluations from several hundred students in a very diverse array of classes she has taught so far. She has also successfully co-mentored several graduate and undergraduate students participating in research in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“Hayden was the perfect candidate for this award since she has excelled in every aspect of her graduate career from DEI-related work, teaching, mentorship, to research – the Academic Senate could not have chosen a more deserving person,” Treacy said.

Montgomery is the fourth UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate student to receive the award since it was established in 2000: Steven Lopez (2013-2014), Jesus Iñiguez (2018-2019), Samantha T. Mensah (2020-2021).

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.