Getting to Know SU Staff: Jennifer Kay Leach
August 10, 2021
August 10, 2021
How long have you been teaching or working in the field of education?
I have worked in higher education for 16 years. The majority of my career has been in the academic advising profession. Throughout my career, I have seen the impact advising has on student success. I have dedicated my career to helping students navigate the academic system and assisting them with defining and achieving their goals. Helping students is my passion! I have also taught courses on learning skills and career and major decision making. I believe these tools are critical for student success as well.
How long have you been at Southwestern?
I started at SU in November 2017. My role, director of advising and retention, was new to the university. I am happy that I get to be in a position that allows me to demonstrate leadership while providing support to faculty, staff, and students. Throughout the past three years, my office has created numerous tools and resources for students, faculty, and staff and offered many staff and faculty development opportunities.
What inspired you to work in higher ed?
I strongly believe that attending college is a transformative experience for all students. As such, it’s important that we (faculty and staff) think about how students approach and progress through their academic journey. I encounter many students who are uncertain about their future goals. There are also those students who have unclear academic and career goals. I often ask students what success looks like. I want to help students be able to identify what factors define their success (in and out of the classroom). As educators (advising is teaching!), it is important that we help students through the process of considering past experiences, recognizing their strengths, and reflecting on their values, skills, and interests to make informed decisions about their goals. As an undergraduate student, I did not have a relationship with an academic advisor. I know I missed out on several opportunities that would have been beneficial to my future. I wish I had studied abroad and gotten involved in faculty-mentored research as an undergraduate. Doing so would have made receiving my master’s and doctoral degrees much easier. If I can do anything to help a student succeed, I will!
What is something students would be surprised to know about you?
I don’t really think there is much students would be surprised about. I am a pretty open person. I share often about my experiences as a first-generation college graduate, my experiences in graduate school, the research I have conducted, being queer, and my interests and hobbies. To me, it’s important to be open and honest with people in order to create true, meaningful relationships. Vulnerability is a strength!
When not working, you can find me …
At home with my partner, Christina; our two cats, Orion and Riley; and our dog, Faith. Christina and I enjoy playing games (we love Unlock games) and watching movies (especially horror movies). I also attend weekly dance and aerobics classes and even perform sometimes in dance shows! I love food, trying new restaurants, and food trucks. I enjoy doing crafty things like cross-stitch and knitting, too.
If you could have a drink at the Cove with anyone in the world, living or dead, what would the beverage be, who would the person be, and why?
I would say either John Leguizamo or Hannah Gadsby. In an alternate universe, I am a comedian! I appreciate the form of storytelling both of these folks use in their comedy. Leguizamo’s Spic-O-Rama and Gadsby’s Douglas focus on stereotypes of Latinxs and neurodiverse individuals, respectively. The way each is able to bring comedy to these human experiences is a revelation. I would want to ask them what inspires them and how they became so comfortable with sharing themselves. I would likely order a chai tea latte; I don’t like coffee.
Describe your dream vacation.
Santorini, Greece. Google image search it and tell me you wouldn’t want to go there!
If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?
I guess I would say being a morning person. People who can be productive before 8:00 a.m. are the real MVPs. I wish I could get a lot of work done and exercise early in the morning, but that is just not me.
When you reflect on your time at Southwestern, what comes to mind?
The students. Out of all the universities I have worked at, the students at SU are incredible. Every semester, I make a point to attend at least one capstone presentation. Listening to near-graduates discuss their research and projects brings me so much joy. I am continuously blown away by the confidence, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking our students display. I also appreciate that our students embody Paideia. I often hear many students talk about their double majors or minors, typically from separate academic areas. Southwestern students truly want to change the world and understand that to do so requires a multidisciplinary perspective of the world and humanity.
What advice would you give students today?
Don’t compare yourself to your peers.
Seek help when you need it, even if you don’t know what questions to ask.
Failing is an opportunity for growth (FAIL = First Attempt in Learning).
You don’t have to have your whole life figured out during college.
Look for opportunities to try new things (e.g., take a class you have never heard of, get involved in a student organization, and look for leadership opportunities).
Establish good sleeping habits now!
Talk to people in career fields you are interested in to find out whether it is a good fit for you.
Meet with your advisor regularly!