ASU organizational leadership graduate recognized for boundless capacity for service to others
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person.”
That advice, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, characterizes well the lived experience of ASU spring 2021 graduate Leah Elise Thompson, whose involvement beyond academics only seemed to grow her capacity for leadership and serving others.
“As a wife, student and flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, I’ve always had a lot to juggle between work, school and life,” said Thompson, who has completed a bachelor’s in organizational leadership with a concentration in project management in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and a certificate in cross-sector leadership in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Thompson, who is originally from Daytona Beach, Florida, but now lives in Mesa, Arizona, transferred to ASU from Mesa Community College after earning her associate degree. At MCC, she held an administrative internship with Mesa Community College President Lori Berquam in which she worked to create pathways to help students fulfill their dreams.
“I was responsible for researching and creating programs that would encourage students from ethnically diverse backgrounds to attend the Maricopa Community Colleges,” she explained. “I also conducted research to write proposals for the Faculty Senate to address the need for an articulation program for Black and African American students wanting to transfer to HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) from the MCC system.
“I realized that I wanted to study organizational leadership,” said Thompson of that transformational experience. “I wanted to improve my leadership, facilitation and organizational skills to support my community in making positive change.”
Once at ASU, she soon immersed herself in undergraduate research opportunities she found at the university. She was a graduate management intern for the Public Service Academy, where she helped develop leaders in the Next Generation Service Corps, of which she was a member. Thompson also served as undergraduate research assistant to Veronica Gutierrez, studying the effectiveness of the Next Generation Service Corps leadership development program.
“I’ve enjoyed growing as a researcher, and I plan to continue being involved with research, with hopes of being published in the future,” said Thompson, who will continue on at ASU to complete a master’s degree in technical communication in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.
“I love being a CISA student!” she exclaimed.
In addition to getting involved in undergraduate research, Thompson participated in campus clubs and organizations, including the Caribbean Students Association and Changemaker Central. She also became a CISA Ambassador and said that in that role she especially enjoyed “having the chance to share my experience as a nontraditional student to encourage others to consider higher education and explore all the degree programs CISA offers.”
“My involvement with these clubs and organizations helped me to build a community within ASU,” she noted. “I encourage new transfer students to get engaged and don’t hide in the shadows.”
Thompson said she has appreciated how even in the COVID-19 environment, ASU has held onto its culture and student life in various forms.
“I have enjoyed going to virtual movie nights, game nights and discussion panels. CISA also offers virtual volunteering opportunities throughout the semester to stay civically engaged,” she said. “ASU Sync has allowed students to maintain relationships with professors in real time over Zoom. I’ve enjoyed being able to attend classes safely from my home and still have the opportunity to collaborate on group projects and presentations online. The virtual library, writing, math center and virtual counseling and advising are useful tools that have encouraged me to finish.”
On April 14, the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts recognized Thompson at “The Polys,” the 22nd annual awards event celebrating the leadership of students who are based in degree programs at ASU's Polytechnic campus. She won the “Poly” for CISA’s Outstanding Graduating Senior, which honors a senior who has made a significant impact on the college through leadership, involvement and student development.
“Leah is a true leader at ASU,” CISA Dean Duane Roen said in making the presentation. “Whether it be guiding new leaders within the Next Generation Service Corps or improving diversity, equity and inclusion for her fellow peers with Civil Citizens Forum, Leah has demonstrated her dedication to service and the ASU community. After graduation, Leah intends to create a nonprofit organization that focuses on programming to reduce the challenges that nontraditional students face when completing their degree,” he continued. “We know that Leah will represent ASU and CISA well.”
Leah Thompson shared these additional reflections about her ASU journey.
Question: Why did you choose ASU?
Answer: I chose to attend ASU because of the rich history and opportunities offered. I was excited to be accepted into the Next Generation Service Corps that helped to fund my education. This experience allowed me to gain a full network of professionals who supported and encouraged me through my journey at ASU.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU and what was it?
A: Professor Veronica Gutierrez taught me how to believe and trust in my own ability. I watched as she, a PhD candidate, excelled as an instructor and student. Her passion for education is unmatched, and she always made time for me and my peers. I learned the true value of transformational leadership and leading by caring from Veronica.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in college?
A: Do not be afraid to take a chance on yourself.
Q: What was your favorite place to be at ASU, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: Changemaker Central at the Tempe campus.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Homelessness. People must have their basic needs met for safety and shelter. When having a safe place to live is no longer an issue, it becomes slightly easier for someone to focus on self-improvement, may that be education or professional development.