Celebrating women's history month: Regent LuAnn Leonard

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

With March being National Women's History Month, it is only fitting that we honor an Arizona woman who has made history by being the first Native American named to the board: Regent LuAnn Leonard.

Regent Leonard was appointed to the board in 2008 by Gov. Janet Napolitano. She is an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe and a descendant of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Her Hopi name is Humesi (Corn Pollen) and she is of the Alwungwa (Deer) Clan from the Village of Sichomovi in Northern Arizona.

Regent Leonard not only works for students through ABOR, but she is the executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, which provides higher educational opportunities for the Hopi people. Since the fund's inception, more than $7.8 million in scholarships have been awarded to students through approximately 5,000 awards.

Regent Leonard works from the Hopi reservation in an environment that is 100 miles from the nearest stoplight in one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the United States. Her parents stressed the value of education as she was growing up, and she took their message to heart, graduating from Northern Arizona University with a degree in social work. A dedication to education runs strong in her family through her husband, Bernard, who is an elementary school teacher, daughter Nicole, graduating from the University of Arizona in May, and son, Joaquin, a sophomore at Northland Pioneer College.

Although Regent Leonard grew up in Phoenix, she generously decided to serve her Hopi people through her work for a few years on the reservation, a period that has grown into 30 years. Living on the reservation provides her the insight and opportunity to share Hopi culture and challenges of living in rural Arizona with visiting fellow regents and university personnel. As a passionate advocate for students, she encourages young people who travel to the city to earn their college education to return to protect their culture and lands while creating opportunities for their people.

As a member of the board, Regent Leonard is a thoughtful leader who has chaired the Academic and Student Affairs Committee and the Regents' Award Selection Committee and she has served during one of the most turbulent times in higher education.

Challenges and opportunities that have faced the board during her tenure include navigating unprecedented state budget cuts, creating the outcomes-based Enterprise model and attracting highly-qualified university presidents, faculty and staff to our universities. She has brought a new understanding of the challenges that American Indian and rural Arizona youth face as they pursue their dreams of higher education and often experience culture shock when they move to universities in cities.

This weighs into the work the regents and universities are accomplishing in student retention, especially for Native American students who are less likely to go to college; only 8 percent of the 2,499 American Indian students who graduated from an Arizona high-school in 2004 completed a four-year degree and 47 percent had no college education as of 2013. In an effort to increase access to our universities for Native American students, Regent Leonard led a residency policy change allowing any enrolled member of an Arizona federally recognized tribe to attend with in-state tuition, regardless of where they live.

Regent Leonard says she is thankful to serve through the years with fellow regents, whom she refers to as the "great ones."

"It's been such an honor to serve with them," she says.

It has been an honor to serve with you, Regent Leonard. You are an asset to our board, our university system, your people and the state of Arizona. Your work will undoubtedly leave a remarkable legacy. Thank you for making history.