Presidential Medal of Honor 2022 Awardee: Melissa Padilla
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Presidential Medal of Honor 2022 Awardee: Melissa Padilla

The Presidential Medal committee has named Melissa Padilla as one of the 2022 Presidential Medal award winners.

Melissa Padilla, MPH ‘13, (June 29, 1966 – May 29, 2022) who recently passed away, made a distinctive contribution to the growth of Salus University in so many ways. Her dedication and loyalty permeated everything she did – she was born to be a leader, a passionate learner and an exquisite communicator.

Melissa Padilla at her deskPadilla held several leadership positions at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus. Throughout her 24 years at PCO/Salus (1993 – 2017) she played a crucial role in advancing the University’s international and post-graduate programs. She served as the director of Professional Studies and International programs which she later led to the establishment of the Center for International Studies (CIS).

Padilla established the foundation for PCO/Salus’ international postgraduate programs, both degree and non-degree levels. When PCO launched its first such venture it was with the Colegio Nacional de Ópticos-Optometristas (CNOO) in Spain. This initial on-campus initiative greatly benefited from Padilla’s bilingual skills, making our Spanish colleagues comfortable with the University’s capabilities. She was able to establish an immediate rapport with what eventually became hundreds of Spanish optometrists who wished to advance their optometric skills at a degree level.  

She was a constant learner and evolved a deep appreciation for the field of public health which directly and indirectly underpinned all of her career. This ultimately led to her receiving a diploma in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which is renowned for its research, postgraduate studies, and continuing education in public and global health. This led to her promoting the establishment of a public health graduate program at Salus University and resulted in her being one of the first graduates of its new Master of Public Health Program (MPH), which she received in 2013.

Padilla was appointed to the graduate MPH faculty at Salus and taught its first course on Health Literacy. The curriculum she developed built on her MPH capstone project on health literacy and brought all her interests together. It integrated her communications background and her public health passion. But it was more than an academic pursuit – the course gave her a unique opportunity to bring her personal life experiences to the course, underscoring the importance of promoting active informed healthcare consumers who see themselves as part of a holistic healthcare team – not just passive participants in the medical care system.

Deep down Padilla always saw herself as a teacher and she received outstanding student reviews for her course. All of her organizational, intellectual, communication, public health and leadership skills finally came together – and she was so proud, as were her colleagues at Salus.