Pat Leonard

January 9, 2018

Pat Leonard has been a significant part of UNCW for almost half the life of the university.

“That’s a phenomenal opportunity that not many people have,” she said, “to be a part of the growth of an institution.”

Her involvement in UNCW’s evolution is documented in images and memorabilia that decorate her office – an original tile from the Student Recreation Center, a photo of the first convocation ceremony and framed architectural renderings of facilities built during her 21-year tenure as vice chancellor of student affairs. 

Leonard has overseen 16 construction projects, including nine residential facilities. Her division began a campus recreation program in the early 1990s, and, in April 2000, opened the Student Recreation Center. A major expansion and renovation of the center was completed in 2013, funded by student fees and doubling the size of the facility.

“It has been a privilege to help design buildings, facilities and programs that have given this campus a greater sense of community,” Leonard said.

Leonard says her greatest accomplishment is the work that reflects the university’s student-centered core value.

“When you think about people who are coming to college, they are coming in with hopes of fulfilling a dream or a goal,” she said. “We have the privilege to help them. I am able to develop services and programs that help students find their niche here, where they feel welcomed, connected and cared about.”

UNCW’s focus on students first has never wavered, said Leonard, who joined the university in July 1983 as the associate dean of students. 

“For as long as I’ve been here, the culture has been about helping students be successful,” she said. “Even though we have grown in size and complexity, that has been a core value, and clearly, in Student Affairs, that’s who we are and what we are about.”

Leonard noted that the division’s motto, “Creating Experiences for Life,” conveys the staff’s commitment to helping students develop strong, positive habits that they can carry with them when they leave. “If we get them involved in community engagement, if we help them develop their leadership skills, when they graduate they will be more likely to participate in the communities they live in.”

Students are used to seeing Leonard out and about on campus, grabbing a meal at Wagoner Dining Hall or coffee at the Fisher Student Center or the occasional cornhole game with students.

“It’s time well-spent because that is a student you’ve made a connection with,” Leonard said. “It’s the little things along the way that make a difference. The fact that we’ve grown and have not lost that personal touch is what’s most important to me.”

When Jacob E. Turney ’18 first came to UNCW, he heard about Leonard’s support for students and wanted to meet her. He went to her office, introduced himself and invited “VCPL,” as she’s known, to lunch.

“She happily accepted and ever since our first lunch together in Dub's Cafe, she has been a mentor and friend to me,” said Turney, a political science major and SGA Honors College Senator. “VCPL is a hero to the students of UNCW because she shows that she cares about us all. She goes out of her way in her extremely busy schedule to visit student organizations to offer her support. She has done it for me and for thousands of other students throughout her time here.”

Leonard’s mentoring goes beyond current students. Campus Life Executive Director Larry Wray credits Leonard of helping him along his professional journey at UNCW. 

“I value the learning opportunities she has provided for me and I cherish the opportunities to pick her brain and listen to her reflect on the many experiences that have shaped her professional career,” he said. Leonard has created a student-centered culture where the division collaborates to focus on creating impactful experiences for students, Wray added.

“She consistently reminds us of the importance of communicating with and understanding the experiences of individual students as we create programs and services,” he said. “Pat leads by example. I am continually telling our student leaders that their experience – being able to spend so much one-on-one, personal time in conversations with the vice chancellor – is not a normal experience for students on other campuses.”

Senior Associate Dean of Students Jennie McNeilly shared similar sentiments. Leonard has had a tremendous impact on McNeilly’s growth and development as a student affairs professional. 

“She has been my greatest supporter and harshest critic at times, and for that I am truly grateful because it has helped me develop into a competent, confident professional,” McNeilly said. “She has truly been a remarkable role model and mentor to me.”

When Provost Marilyn Sheerer arrived at UNCW in June 2015, she quickly recognized Leonard’s outstanding leadership. 

“In every aspect of her role, she displays enthusiasm; a commitment to doing things right; a strong, direct involvement with students and staff; and well-honed management skills that are reflected in the high-quality programming in Student Affairs,” said Sheerer. “I am particularly proud of the relationship that she and I have built between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. We have built a good communication network and share responsibilities as well as concerns.”

“There’s no question that Pat has made an enormous impact on this institution and its students,” she added. “Her imprint on Student Affairs and the broader university will be everlasting.”

-- Venita Jenkins