Michaela Woodward – Staff Writer
For this Gustie of the Week, many of the decisions she has made during her time at Gustavus have been the ones that felt “right.”
Originally from Forest Lake, MN, senior Courtney Leonard found campus “homey” when she came to visit her older sister here when she was a student.
“Having family here [as a] transitional period, having someone on campus was really nice. It just felt like home,” Leonard said.
That sense of belonging found its way into her academics as well. As a Communication Studies and Public Health double major, Leonard was set on her path to these areas of study through interesting classes as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve always loved talking to people, that’s just who I am, and I just enjoy conversations and just getting to know people on a deeper level beyond just ‘hi’. I took a gen-ed with [professor] Patty English – Interpersonal Communications – and I just fell in love with how she taught the class as well as [the] content and it just felt so me. It felt real. I took that class and by the end of my freshman year I was declared as a communications major,” Leonard said.
Associate Professor in Communication Studies Patty English knows Leonard as a thoughtful and attentive student.
“Courtney is one of the rare students who demonstrates enthusiasm and respect for the theoretical material that we cover in class. She goes beyond an understanding of concepts to apply them to relevant and complex examples. Courtney is also an excellent listener and has the ability to take on multiple perspectives on issues while sharing her own thoughts on topics. She is a delight to work with because she is inquisitive and unique,” English said.
As far as Public Health, that was a passion Leonard was inspired to incorporate into her academic plans during the pandemic.
“Before COVID, I’ve always been interested in just health and wellbeing and people being their best selves, and it’s beyond just health, like physical wellbeing, it’s also like mental wellbeing and social wellbeing and I’ve always been interested in that. COVID hit and it really just struck a chord with me in the sense of being like ‘wow, I don’t know enough about this.’ In the midst of COVID, I decided to take on two public health courses with [professor] Karl Larson and once again, just that spark came back, the spark of like ‘oh, I could see myself doing this’. It’s interesting and dynamic and always changing and so real. Someday I hope to combine both [communications and public health] and do something in terms of like promotion of health and stuff using communications and knowledge I have from public health,” Leonard said.
The overlap was apparent during the pandemic and how information was communicated to the public.
“In order for a general audience to understand and to fully change their health behavior, to change their habits, to wash their hands, to wear a mask, you need someone there to communicate that in terms that they will understand. Wearing a mask is important because it’s a respiratory disease – well, what is a respiratory disease? You need someone there to communicate that, someone who has obvious credibility, someone they trust… making it accessible to people from all walks of life, because not everyone knows public health,” Leonard said.
Outside of her studies, Leonard enjoys spending time in the Arb, with friends, playing tennis, or making art. She is involved in the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra playing the violin, and Public Deliberation and Dialogue, a group that facilitates and helps students navigate conversations on complex or difficult topics.
As far as her plans after Gustavus, Leonard has a direction, but she is not afraid to face uncertainty.
“I think there’s beauty in always being open to something new. I think that’s kind of the mindset I have and I want to be optimistic about it and not let it scare me,” Leonard said.
Her advice to her fellow students carries a similar message.
“I enjoy the ride. I remember my freshman year and I was talking to seniors and they were like ‘it’s going to fly by’ and I was like, ‘ no way’, and now here I am. Cherish the people you meet. Say yes to things, and just make the most of your time here, because college is a once in a life opportunity,” Leonard said.