New interim provost seeks to solve problems at UD

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Photo courtesy of the University of Dallas

Dr. Tammy Leonard, new interim provost at the University of Dallas uncovered her love for solving human problems in a schoolhouse in Belize.

“I did chemical engineering for my undergrad [At Texas A&M] and I was also pre-med, but my senior year I felt the call to serve in some capacity, so I took a year off and worked with the Society of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity in Belize.”

Leonard recounts her experiences with a student there as being influential in the way she views her calling as a professor. 

“If you’re in a third-world country and you have a disability, you’re kind of stuck,” Leonard said. “I had one of these students in my chemistry class who probably had an undiagnosed learning disability and repeatedly failed or barely passed all of his classes… he was actually awesome on the basketball courts, which is how I kind of made my inroad with him.”

She continued to explain that, in tailoring the learning process to this student, the two developed a long systematized method that helped him grasp the difficult concepts the class presented.

“I remember this one day I wrote a conversion problem on the board… all the smart, normal suspects got it wrong, and then he quietly raised his hand and he got the right answer… the look on his face, the confidence he got from solving this problem.” Leonard said. 

“To me that’s what it’s about, I mean he’s probably never going to use chemistry in his life, but it’s about getting students where they want to go… recognizing that hey, you have something beautiful inside you and you’re working really hard and I can help draw that out of you. That, to me, is the gift of teaching”

 Leonard believes that this desire, to use her analytical skills to help those in need, was born during her undergraduate years.

“I started to think, how can I use this brain that God’s given me when it’s talents don’t seem to align with the things that we are called to care about?,” Lenoard said. 

“I love math-type problem solving, but I wanted to do it in a way that reflected the needs of people, so I ended up doing my PhD in Economics at UD.”

This calling eventually led Dr. Leonard to found the Community Assistance Research Initiative, or CARE, which was born out of a billion dollar research grant from the National Science Foundation that Leonard and her colleagues obtained during their undergraduate years. 

The team was tasked with discerning how public dollars spent in low-income neighborhoods can affect the community and how they would be best allocated.

“Policy really struggles, especially in South Dallas. Time after time we’ve had programs and policy and initiative aimed at helping South Dallas and not a lot has changed… the price-tag on that kind of research is just enormous because it’s hard to get reliable information from those neighborhoods,” Leonard said.

Leonard combatted this difficulty by partnering with local non-profit organizations which already have strong ties to the struggling communities in Dallas, and today, CARE acts as a bridge between research institutes and non-profits to inform policy decisions. Although she is currently the acting co-director at CARE, she is excited to take on the new role of provost, and hopes that her passion for problem solving will help to serve her community once more.

“My biggest goal is to help continue to make UD a place that’s welcoming for all sorts of faculty that care about helping our students. I always saw teaching as helping students grab on to their gifts and talents,” Leonard said.f I can help empower my colleagues to do that in some small way and do their jobs the way they know how, then that’s what my job is.”

President Jonathan J. Sanford looks forward to working with Lenoard. 

“I will be running a search for a permanent provost but there will be an interim provost for one year. It’s possible that [Leonard] will be the permanent provost but I expect there will be a lot of interest in that position. I don’t know if you know her at all, but she’s really fantastic and will do an outstanding job,” Sanford said in an interview.

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