Leanna's dream is to be "living in the jungle, following monkeys around all day." Thanks to her strong background in animal behavior research, she'll get the chance to do just that after graduation. "I'll be doing an internship for a PhD student at the University of Indiana" – an opportunity that's worth putting off grad school until next year. Why? "Even if you have the perfect GPA and awesome GRE scores, you're not going to get into a good graduate program unless you have relevant experience."
Leanna came to Baylor hoping to do genetics research, but soon "discovered the ecology side of biology, which really fascinated me. So I switched my focus more toward plants and animals than humans." Thanks to Baylor's emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities, Leanna was able to narrow her interests through hands-on experience. "I did some research with Dr. [Joseph] White on what he called forensic dendrochronology: we looked at tree growth rings to see when fires had happened, then did analysis to see if forest fires promoted growth efficiency. The goal was to find out whether we could increase forest sustainability by introducing localized fire."
Having decided she wasn't interested in forest ecology, Leanna took an ecological tour of the Galapagos Islands with Dr. Darrell Vodopich, and then did a summer project at a field school in Montana. "I did a population study of small rodents in mountainous areas" – a subject that proved more in line with her interests. "After that, I did a lot of reading through journals and talked with several professors," and decided that what she really wants to study is primate behavior. "I'm a planner. Coming in [to Baylor], I made all these elaborate plans for grad school, mapped out everything – but then my interests changed. You never know where your studies will take you, so it's best to take it one step at a time."
That's what Leanna appreciated most about Baylor: "I've taken advantage of the opportunities given to me here and they've definitely benefited me. The professors are phenomenal here: they care about your future. And they're willing to help you figure out your life. I've spent hours sitting in professors' offices, asking ‘What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? Who am I supposed to email?' I think that has prepared me for the future. There are lots of good schools out there, but you can't get professors like this anywhere else."