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BHC Spotlight: Alex Leonard '21

Alexander J. Leonard

Alexander J. Leonard '21
Earth and Environmental Science (BS)
Apex, NC
Batten Fellow

Why did you choose the Batten Honors College?
I honestly didn’t originally apply for the Batten Honors College. I fell in love with Virginia Wesleyan and the faculty first. After one visit, VWU became my top choice. My initial campus tour introduced me to the top-notch science professors and the current students made me feel welcome. The Batten Honors College was my final sign that it was right for me. I found that no matter what I wanted to do, I would have the support from my peers and the faculty to make my college career what I wanted it to be. In addition, the chance to be part of the first BHC cohort drew me in. I knew that as a pioneer student in the program, I would be able to help guide it in a direction where both the administration and the students would be proud to be part of the BHC.

What benefits have you gained from the BHC?
Being a part of the Batten Honors College has given me some of my best friends and some of my fraternity brothers who are the closest thing I have to family while I am at school. My connections provided me with the opportunity to be a part of the Wesleyan Ambassador program and I’m now one of the coordinators for the whole program.  In addition, I have traveled to the most remote sites in Iceland as part of a fully-funded study away course.  Other opportunities include being a peer advisor for the new BHC cohorts and serving on the Honors College Advisory Board to help plan and organize events. Of course, the academic expectations have been higher, but everyone in the BHC is part of the journey and we all depend on each other.  I get to work alongside so many brilliant students that I have the pleasure of calling friends, each of whom has taught me the skills to be a more successful scholar and person at VWU.

Highlight a specific research, internship, and/or study abroad experience.
For the summer of 2019, I was one of five students from the United States to be part of Old Dominion’s National Research Foundation, where our group was tasked with research on soil degradation in the steppe of Inner Mongolia, China. This 13-week internship paired me with students from University of Georgia, Virginia Tech University, Illinois University and Old Dominion, and each of us were partnered with students from Inner Mongolia Agricultural University. We conducted research on the possible effects that wind and water erosion play on the destruction of Mongolian grasslands. I was personally tasked with the effects of wind on soil erosion and transportation.

If you want to know more or follow me on my travel, I have a blog and will post pictures each day on social media. Follow me on Instagram @ajleo1998 to see everything!

How did the BHC curriculum or program prepare you for this experience?
The reason I have this internship is because of a connection I made my freshmen year in HON 110. Dr. Malcolm, one of the class professors introduced me to a guest speaker, Dr. Xixi Wang, a professor in ODU’s Batten School of Engineering. Through the two of them I was able to work on my professional resume, and then apply for this research position. Then, as a result of their confidence in me and the relationship I had built, I was selected. The BHC places high expectations on its scholars, but also provides the means to meet and exceed those expectations.

What do you hope to achieve/gain from this experience? 
I hope that this summer in China will give me the professional and research skills that companies view as advantages over other candidates for future employment. In addition, I hope to add the other students I have the privilege of working with to the list of scholars that I can use as references and/or future partners in my professional career. Each person I meet and lesson I learn will be a new tool in my tool box that can set me above others in my future.

What are you involved with on campus at VWU?   

  • Wesleyan Ambassador - Student Coordinator
  • Sigma Nu Fraternity- Marshal, Scholarship Chairmen, Treasurer
  • Honors College Advisory Board
  • Lots of intramurals
  • Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society
  • President’s and Dean’s Lists