Professor Spotlight: Dr. Leonard

Dr. Michael Leonard is living his dream as a chemistry professor at Washington & Jefferson College. If he had the chance to change his job, he would not. He loves being a professor, and the highlight of his day is interacting with his students, whether it be at a lecture or during his open office hours. “Students give me energy and give my days meaning,” said Leonard. As a first-generation college student, his mother instilled in him the importance of an education and pushed him to get a job that he could take pride in. While Leonard was studying for his undergraduate degree at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., his organic chemistry professor Dave Horn took him under his wing. His relationship with Horn began with washing lab equipment and escalated to a father-son relationship. Horn included Leonard in the production of his textbook, and eventually the two became part of a team that conducted chemical research. “I still keep in touch with him; in fact, I just talked to him on his birthday,” Leonard said. After obtaining his undergraduate degree in chemistry, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. to gain his Ph.D. Here he met Washington & Jefferson College alumna Kelly George, who knew of his work and suggested W&J as a perfect fit. He said, “When I applied and interviewed here, I immediately fell in love with the place.” Leonard has been at W&J for the past 15 years. All professors have different tactics for teaching. Leonard says, “For my specific discipline, I strive to first convey information clearly to the students, and second to be a nice person and treat people well. This way, students will feel comfortable coming to me for help or advice.” He attributes the second concept to Horn’s influential role in his life. Leonard claims all other important qualities of an educator fall under those two things. Leonard often gives his students the opportunity to work alongside him on research projects and present research posters at regional and national conferences to get involved in the scientific community. He said, “These opportunities make students stand out when competing for internships and graduate programs.” One of Leonard’s contributions to the chemistry department at W&J is the textbook that he wrote. This textbook is available electronically to students free of charge. His purpose in writing this piece is to give W&J students the best experience possible at an affordable rate. He does not make any profit from students downloading his book. Leonard has one important reminder for students at W&J. “Life is complicated and sometimes things don’t go as planned. When somebody does something you don’t like, it’s often not worth getting bent out of shape about. Life is too short for that. I’m just pleased every day that y’all come back.” When asked what sets W&J apart from other institutions, Leonard said, “The wonderful students. Aside from their academic abilities, the students are really nice people.” Leonard remains friends with many of his former students, even attending some of their weddings. His knowledge and his helpful spirit greatly impact W&J students every day.