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Jacqueline Leonard posing in a campus building.
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JACQUELINE LEONARD The UI student’s dedication to service, passion for the environment, and interest in policy earn her national honors.

An influential high school rhetoric teacher and authors like Thoreau sparked Jacqueline Leonard’s love for the environment and channeled her determination to make a difference.

“I was raised by a single mom dedicated to improving the lives of others as a nurse and health care administrator,” says Leonard, now a University of Iowa senior. “Having a hand in shaping environmental policy can improve the lives of people in current and future generations.”

Last year, Leonard became the first UI student to receive a Morris K. Udall Scholarship. Named for the late Arizona congressman and awarded to 80 students across the country each year, the scholarship recognizes recipients for their commitment to careers in environmental or tribal public policy.

The award allowed Leonard to connect with other Udall scholars who may someday become colleagues in shaping environmental policy. With the honor come great expectations.

“As a Udall scholar, I consider myself a member of the Udall legacy,” Leonard says. “Mo Udall was a leader who recognized specific areas of need and used his intelligence and legislative authority to make change. I hope to play my own role in carrying out his legacy by doing my part to guide our world to a more sustainable future.”

Like many University of Iowa students, Leonard’s interests have been shaped by experiences on campus and off.

Leonard came to Iowa from a small, all-girls high school in Ballwin, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. An honors student at Iowa, she chose a major in political science with an emphasis in international relations, a certificate in international business, and minors in geography and Spanish.

“My classes have made me an independent thinker,” Leonard says, “but my experiences outside the classroom have really made me who I am as an individual.” 

The summer before her sophomore year, Leonard traveled to Queensland, Australia, where she helped build a hiking trail network to encourage land and wildlife conservation. The experience enhanced her understanding of international environmental policy and exposed her to people who had committed their lives to conservation work.

“I really felt like I was contributing to something that would have a lasting impact,” she says. “Years from now, people will use that trail to hike there and enjoy the beauty of the area.”

Leonard interned for the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C., last spring. Attending Congressional hearings and working with attorneys specializing in environmental law, she saw firsthand how politics affect the natural world. The internship helped cast the part she’d like to play in the 21st century environmental movement.

“I learned that my interest is not in defending our nation's current environmental laws, but in developing policy,” she says. “My experiences in Washington, D.C., exposed me to the power of government and the crucial role that driven, effective leaders have on issues.”

Leonard, who will graduate in May, is applying to law schools known for environmental law and hopes to eventually represent the United States in international environmental conferences. She has also applied for a Fulbright grant to study in Australia next year.

“The influential people in my life have shown me the importance of having passion for life,” she says. “Being committed to your work and getting fulfillment from it is crucial to this. That’s why I’ve chosen to act upon one of my strongest passions—environmental preservation—because I feel that’s where I can truly make a difference.”

Story by Madelaine Jerousek-Smith; Photo by Tim Schoon

Feb. 4, 2008