Campus Closeup: Jill Leonard

As a small child growing up in New Gloucester, Maine, Jill Leonard (Biology) loved to go to the ocean and play in tide pools. “Every summer I’d chase crabs and explore what was underneath the seaweed,” she said.

Little did she know that her childhood passion would someday become her career path. Leonard is an associate biology professor, but her job includes more than just teaching. “What I love about my job is getting to do a lot of things at the same time—teaching, research, interacting with students—I love the variety.”


Leonard gets to travel to a variety of places for her research, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where she has helped establish a coaster brook trout rehabilitation program.

“Coasters are a form of brook trout that are native to Lake Superior,” she said. “They’ve had a hard time in this area after being harmed by years of pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, and competition from exotic species.”


Working with Leonard on this project are the National Park Service and other state and federal agencies. The attempt to bring the coasters back to the Pictured Rocks area has been surprising, she said. “To some, it’s been a disappointment because they aren’t seeing immediate results. But to me, it’s been full of positive surprises because we’re finding out things that we didn’t know before, such as the discovery of small wild fish populations in the Pictured Rocks waters that have been traveling to the main part of Lake Superior. Those findings raise all kinds of new issues.”


Leonard’s interest in coaster brook trout stemmed from the research on migratory fish that she did for her doctorate. “I think migration is one of the coolest things in nature. After researching migratory fish, I got hooked on them.”


One thing she’d like to learn from the project, she said, is how important the coasters are to Lake Superior.

“I’m interested in the science aspect of it; whether they’re important or not is something I’d like to find out. I also want to find out what role the people of the Upper Peninsula want to play in terms of managing the lake, whether they want to 'modernize' it or keep it in its native state.”


Outside of the academic arena, Leonard enjoys gardening, downhill skiing and spending time with her five-year old son, Ethan, and husband, David. The transition from Maine’s salted ocean to Michigan’s freshwater lakes was a surprisingly easy one, she said. “Maine is not all that different from Michigan. The bodies of water are different, of course, but the people are the same as where I grew up.”


A piece of advice that she’d like to instill in her students is the ability to reevaluate their goals.

“I think it’s really important to reevaluate what you’re doing and make sure you have goals and that you look at them again and again. I am not a fan of sitting still; I like to stir things up a bit and move forward.”


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Updated: August 23, 2006

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