Outstanding Staff of the Year: Melissa Fletcher

Director of educational access and disability resources exemplifies inclusivity

Melissa Fletcher, 55, director of educational access and disability resources at Dakota County Technical College, has been named the college’s 2024 Outstanding Staff of the Year. Melissa started working at DCTC in March 2023. She has more than 15 years of experience in disability advocacy, counseling, and mentoring. She is an expert on Universal Design (UD), a type environmental planning and composition centered on providing ultimate access, clarity, and use to everyone regardless of age, size, ability, or disability.

Melissa Fletcher with Michael Berndt and Mike Mendez

“To be chosen for the DCTC 2024 Outstanding Staff of the Year Award is such an honor because I see outstanding work from so many people every day,” Melissa said. “No one here at our college shows up ‘halfway.’ I’m really humbled and surprised, to be honest.”

A practiced educational sign language interpreter certified in Oregon, Melissa holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling/Counselor from Northern Illinois University as well as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Communication Disorders Sciences and Services and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Psychology, both degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Melissa is the owner and director of Fletcher Disability Consulting, a disability equity and inclusion business that focuses on accessibility and Universal Design (UD) in corporate settings—including Fortune 500 clients—and educational environments.

Before coming to DCTC, Melissa served for nearly four years as disability services and 504 coordinator at Macalester College. Before Macalester, she worked for almost a dozen years at Concordia University, St. Paul, first as student accessibility services director and then as disability services director and counseling/health services coordinator.

DCTC campus community perspectives…

“Melissa is truly an asset to our student body and DCTC. She is personable, empathetic, has an open-door policy and is committed to serving our students and advocating for their unique needs on a daily basis.”

Jodi Osborn
Dean of Business, Health, & Education
Dakota County Technical College

“Melissa supports the entire college in making sure we are learning about how to be inclusive and does so with a smile.”

Maggie Erickson
Clinical Social Worker/Mental Health Therapist
Dakota County Technical College

“Melissa is so good at bringing people together, fostering community, building trust, and making spaces as warm and inviting as they can be. She goes above and beyond the requirements of her job to make our campus more welcoming and equitable.”

Megan Petersen
TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor
Dakota County Technical College

“Melissa has been an incredible support for our campus community overall, and to me personally as I have navigated my Autism diagnosis journey. There were many, many times early in my journey when Melissa was the only employee I could go to with some of the challenges I was facing who I knew would understand/be able to help without me having to explain why I needed help.

“On many occasions, when I brought things to Melissa I was dealing with, I didn’t even need to finish telling her what I was going through and why it was hard…she knew without me having to say it. I can’t describe how it made me feel to have someone just ‘know’ without me having to put in the effort to help them understand. Indescribable.

“Melissa supports every student she interacts with in this same manner. We are so fortunate to have her at DCTC. She is so deserving of recognition for the exceptional work she does and the impact she has on others.”

Anna Voight, MA
Associate Director of Student Life
Neurodiverse ERG Chair
Dakota County Technical College

“Melissa is most deserving to be honored as the DCTC 2024 Outstanding Staff of the Year. She is a tireless advocate for students in need of accommodations. Melissa deeply cares about students and their success, which shows in how she approaches her work.

“She is patient, kind, gentle, caring, and compassionate. Additionally, Melissa takes time to work with faculty and staff to help them gain deeper understanding of what it means to provide accessible teaching and learning. Melissa initiates services and programs such as Disability Awareness Month and providing accommodating spaces in public workshops.

“Melissa is a proactive, fearless service provider. I am grateful she is part of the DCTC community. Congratulations, Melissa!”

Anne Johnson
Vice President of Student Affairs
Dakota County Technical College

“Melissa has had such a positive impact at DCTC already. She is a passionate advocate for students, and a willing partner with Student Life, DEIJB, the Center for Teaching and Learning—she really helps us live our values of equity-minded and student-focused practice.”

Michael Berndt
Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College

More about Melissa…

Red Road 2018

Originally from Baraboo, Wisconsin, Melissa graduated from Baraboo High School, Class of 1986.

“I grew up in Baraboo,” she said. “My parents, John and Shirley, owned a small business that I was literally raised in. My father is a retired watchmaker and a talented jeweler.”

Melissa with her sister, Stephanie

As a first-generation college student, Melissa learned at an early age that hard work with some creativity thrown in can get a person a long way.

“Mom used to say, ‘Showing up is half the battle,'” Melissa explained. “Although my mom passed away when I was in my 20s, I have an amazing sister, Stephanie, who I couldn’t manage most things without. I am appreciative of her every day. I am lucky enough to have a large extended family that lives both near and far, including cousins and a ‘bonus’ family of stepsisters.”

Melissa added that her background is Native American, Scottish, German, and other things mixed in—with a little bit of rambunctiousness from a grandfather who flew experimental aircraft and ran moonshine for Al Capone. Her family is a smart, fun bunch, and she appreciates that she has a strong connection to them.

Melissa and Chris

“I also have a great partner, Chris, who is a talented artist and extraordinary musician,” Melissa said. “His passion for music shines both through his band and, more recently, movie scores! Because of his encouragement, I’ve taken up the drums, and although I annoy the cats for sure and likely the neighbors, I love it. Friendly reminder to all: women drum, too.”

Melissa has two cats, Jack and Eowyn. “They are my babies. Jack is fluent in both dog and bird, and you are likely to see him on Zoom calls when I work remotely,” she said. “I often get asked if I have children and although I don’t have kids of my own, I’m so lucky to have so many young people in my life who call me ‘auntie.’ I don’t take that for granted!”

Running and hiking, road or trail, are a huge part of Melissa’s life. “I have a group of phenomenal women—shoutout to Linda, Carrie, Majorie, Melinda, Kate, Valentina, Deborah, and Verna!—who are my running inspirations. We’ve run, hiked, and supported each other through pandemics and snowstorms and literal tornados and many, MANY miles, including marathons.”

Jack and Eowyn

Melissa reported that her true belief is that everyone has a place at the starting line. “And with this group, we often run not only for ourselves, but to champion inclusion in running space,” she said, “for example, Native Women Running and SAVE. Going out for long miles, shoulder to shoulder, is one way to really get to know someone. Or…yourself.”

Melissa also loves photography and creative writing. “I’ve had a few essays and poems published,” she said. “I’ve also been fortunate to have some of my photography in local shows. Some of the best views are the unexpected ones from being on the trail.”

Melissa with her running friends at 2022 Ice Box Trail Race

One of Melissa’s favorite poems…

July morning Lebanon Hills 2020 Photo: Melissa Fletcher


a woman can’t survive
by her own breath
she must know
the voices of mountains
she must recognize
the foreverness of blue sky
she must flow
with the elusive
of night winds
who will take her
into herself

look at me
i am not a separate woman
i am a continuance
of blue sky
i am the throat
of the mountains
a night wind
who burns
with every breath
she takes

© Joy HarjoWhat Moon Drove Me to This? 1980.

Melissa Fletcher Q & A

Melissa Fletcher

What inspired you to pursue a career in disability advocacy and counseling?

I learned ASL at the age of eight from a family friend (thanks Karen!), so I have long had a disability inclusion lens. Originally, I wanted to be an interior architecture major, but that quickly changed because of math. As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t sure college was something I needed or wanted to do, but my mom was a firm believer in education.

I finished my degree at Stevens Point with a double major in Communicative Disorders and Psychology. My graduate work from Northern Illinois University was in Rehabilitation Counseling with an emphasis in working with deaf individuals. Some of my best “training” happened working at Goodwill Industries in Chicago with deaf clients; that background taught me a ton about working with folks from a wide range of cultures and life experiences in the community where they lived.

Speaking of work, I’ve worked, lived, and traveled many places: Chicago, San Diego, Madison, Wisconsin, England, Coos Bay, Oregon, and the Twin Cities. Each space has taught me something about who I am, and as my mom used to say, “Planes go both ways.”

I’ve never regretted any place I’ve lived or worked, but was lucky enough to know I could go home if I needed.

What do you find most engaging about your work as the college’s director of educational access and disability resources?

Every day is different. Some days I wear a counseling hat, some days are more of a legal or educational focus, some days I’m coordinating or proctoring or using sign language, and some days I’m working with others on developing programming.

It can be a demanding job due to the amount of time-sensitive needs, but I’m never bored.

How can members of the campus community become more involved in disability advocacy?

Start with just a few small steps in your classes or programs—and be curious! Ask yourself, what things can I do even today to be more inclusive? There are a lot of options and resources to explore.

Three words that describe you as a disability inclusion leader:

What advice would you give someone thinking about entering the counseling field?

You don’t need to know everything right away, including what area you’d like to work in. Start with a general degree (social work or psych) and then specialize in your graduate work once you have a better understanding of your area of focus. It’s OK to change your mind, too!

Also, take care of your own needs. Burnout in the field is real, and you can’t support others if you aren’t there for yourself first.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

Melissa and her mom, Shirley

My mom. I sadly lost my mom to breast cancer in my 20s. She and my dad ran a small, but very successful business, and she was completely self-taught. I didn’t really understand until much later in life how difficult achieving success as a businesswoman in the 1970s and 80s was along with her ability to be well respected in her community. The sense of generosity I have for others and trying new things is entirely from my mom.  So is the cake-making part…

She was also gritty. Even in the mist of significant illness towards the end of her life, I would often hear her say, “I’m NOT going yet!” And she passed on that same sense of resilience to me. Even when I have days of my own health struggles, I get up.

If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?

Phew. The list is a long one, but mostly we need to listen to each other. I can practice this more, too…

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


¹ The lengths that folks will go to support students impresses me every day.

Melissa Fletcher 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Running or hiking; to paraphrase my friend, Marjorie, I run for my “sanity and vanity, but the woods are for my soul.”
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Right now, the coast of Oregon again, but probably anywhere in South America is second
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: This is a hard one because I’ve had so many rich experiences with so many people; but, in terms of “exciting,” going on tour with my partner’s band was certainly something; although band tours are really a TON of work and not as glamorous as you may think, it was a complete adventure because it was nothing like my day job
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Donate money to some disability-centric space 2)  Donate money to the International Crane Foundation 3) Donate money to local artists; seriously, creative folks need to get PAID…so, you are saying there is a chance???
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Movie: Disturbance In the Force, a documentary about the making of the Star Wars Holiday Special; book: A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: The 1900s; I am weirdly interested in the Titanic, yes, the sinking part, too
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: I’ve been writing a book for a while, so finish that…? BUT more importantly, see where the road takes me; although I believe in goals, I don’t think accomplishments are necessarily checklists; sometimes, you figure it out as you go
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Whooping crane; I volunteered at the International Crane Foundation, and it was an amazing experience—I love cranes
  9. Dream occupation: I’d like to explore sign language interpreting again
  10. Person you would most like to meet: I got to meet her! Louise Erdrich, author of The Round House
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Currently, the drums
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: The distribution of who has power and money is at the root of most of the challenges that we face; however, more immediately, both locally and across our world the largest issue I see that we can do something about is hunger
Learn more about the Outstanding Staff of the Year Award and the DCTC Foundation by contacting:

Jenna Baumgard
Foundation Development Director
Dakota County Technical College

Learn more about Education Access & Disability Resources at DCTC by contacting:

Melissa Fletcher
Director of Educational Access & Disability Resources
Dakota County Technical College

Learn more about Dakota County Technical College by contacting:

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