Convocation ‘22: Veronica Leonard, BSc, Environmental and Conservation Sciences

“University is a perfect time to try new things that broaden your perspective.”

Donna McKinnon - 22 November 2022

After struggling in her first semester in a program that did not inspire her, Veronica Leonard found her way to an economics course that did — leading to a renewed focus on resource economics in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences

Throughout her program, Veronica got involved in multiple volunteer activities, including Lister Hall, her place of residence for the first two years of her program, and also The Landing, a Students' Union service that offers support for gender and sexual diversity which she says was her most rewarding experience. Earlier this year, she spent time abroad on an academic exchange at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.

Passionate about economics and policy development, Veronica was awarded the Mel Lerohl Policy Prize in 2021 for superior academic achievement and will graduate with distinction. 

Congratulations Veronica!

What led you to choose your current area of study, and why the U of A for your studies?

I could lie and say I thoroughly researched my dream university and program, pursuing my passions in an academic setting. But honestly, at the time I didn't want to go to university. I went because I felt like I had no other choice. 

I picked a "practical" program in sciences, at an esteemed university within my budget. After I spent my first semester lost, my dad suggested I take an economics course. I absolutely loved it, and switched into Environmental Sciences and Conservation Studies with a major in economics and policy. I found my way, and as much as I didn't want to admit it at the time, going straight to university was the right decision for me.


What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?

My first two years I spent in Lister residence. From communally stressing over calculus to building forts in our lounge for movie night, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to live in residence and share these formative experiences with folks I hope become lifelong friends. 

I was very fortunate to be able to go on an academic exchange from February to June 2022 in the Netherlands. Wageningen University consistently ranks among the top 5 universities globally for their environmental sciences program. In the town, almost half the population are university students, and over half the population are internationals. I was able to meet so many people from diverse backgrounds (many of whom I hope become life-long friends) and learn more about countries all over the world.


Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student? 

I volunteered for several clubs, especially in my first two years. For me, working with The Landing was especially rewarding. I worked as a peer support volunteer, as well as on the education team. In my first year, I had the opportunity to present as a keynote speaker at the U of A's 2019 Winter Summit. In my second year, I ran PoetiQ, a poetry club focusing on works by sexuality and gender diverse artists. 

In my second year, I also worked as a Resident Assistant, which was simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding positions I have ever occupied. It was challenging to find that balance between being a peer and a leader. It was, however, so rewarding to see the students on my floor grow and learn. 

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program, and if so, how did you respond?

I struggled with my mental health, especially in my first year of university. I felt alone and lost. In my second year, I remember myself and my friends opening up about our individual struggles and realizing that many of us struggled with mental health in our first year. Talking about mental health challenges not only makes them more approachable, but also makes me feel less alone. 

What advice do you have for current and future students?

  1. Go abroad if you get the chance, or live in residence. University is a perfect time to try new things that broaden your perspective.
  1. It's okay to take the time to figure out what you want. I know personally, it felt like I was in a race to get to the next chapter. But now I recognize that there are plenty of paths towards your destination; might as well choose one with a view. 

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

I'm going to Padmanadi with my parents and for drinks with my friends. 

What's next after graduation?

I plan to pursue a legal career in the public sector.