Published: April 26, 2023
Sarah Leonhart

Sarah Leonhart credits her support system for helping her pursue and persist in graduate school. Much like hucking a cliff—her true story of accidentally skiing off a cliff with friends, a move reserved for adrenaline junkies —Leonhart entered graduate school in the Learning Science and Human Development program at CU Boulder as a leap of faith, and she is grateful for the support from her network of friends and family.

While working in higher education at the University of Utah, a mentor encouraged her to enroll in a graduate program in education, and she chose CU Boulder to be close to family in Colorado. 

Fast forward to today, and Leonhart has been selected by program faculty as the Outstanding Graduate of the Learning Science and Human Development program. 

Her research interests include equitable K-12 science education and school hegemony, and faculty honored her as an eager and interdisciplinary student, who dives deeply into how student success and failure are constructed and resisted from sociological, anthropological, and historical perspectives.

Through the program, she has made a powerful impact on the analyses of state science leaders’ noticing for equity. She also contributed to studies of middle and high school student’s collaborative problem solving for the National Science Foundation’s cutting-edge Institute for Student-Artificial Intelligence Teaming (iSAT), an interdisciplinary research community dedicated to transforming classrooms into more effective, engaging, and equitable learning environments through the development of the next-generation collaborative learning.

Leonhart's capstone work focused on ideological hegemony and the perpetuation of systems that continue to disadvantage marginalized communities.

"She advocated for disruption of concepts like meritocracy and competitiveness that define success in terms that inherently advantage dominant culture," said a peer. "Her work was a true "capstone," clearly building on discoveries and concepts she gathered throughout her MA program." 

Leonhart will graduate from the CU Boulder School of Education having made her mark on learning sciences studies, while making time for well-being and hobbies and encourages graduate students who follow to do the same.

“You have to make time for yourself,” she says to other students. “Grad school can feel overwhelming and there is a mindset of toxic productivity in academia. Carve out time to explore your hobbies, spend time with friends, and enjoy what Colorado has to offer.” 

In her own words

Please tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in raised in Des Moines, Iowa (go Hawkeyes!) although I've moved around quite a bit since then. Before coming to CU Boulder, I was working at the University of Utah/Department of Veterans Affairs as a Research Analyst. My mentor, Andrea Kalvesmaki, was completing her PhD in educational policy from the UoU. Andrea provided me with the knowledge and confidence to navigate applying to graduate school, specifically education programs. I selected CU Boulder to be closer to 2 of my 3 sisters. A lot of my family is from Colorado so it felt like coming home."

What is one of the lessons from your time at CU Boulder that you’ll carry with you into the next chapter?

One of the greatest lessons that I learned while at CU Boulder was the importance of community. My greatest, most memorable moments were with my friends and family: singing along to Harry Styles with my friends, accidentally hucking a cliff while skiing with my roommates, engaging in discussions with my classmates... these are the learning moments and stories that I carry close to my heart.”

What does graduating from CU Boulder represent for you and/or your community?

Graduating from CU Boulder is a testament to the support of my family. As cliche as it sounds, I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. They have provided me with a solid foundation to build upon and I cannot thank them enough. I want to give a special shoutout to my grandparents. Their unwavering support over the years has been incredible. Y'all, look at the heights we've reached!”

What is your best piece of advice for incoming students?

You have to make time for yourself. Grad school can feel overwhelming and there is a mindset of toxic productivity in academia. Carve out time to explore your hobbies, spend time with friends, and enjoy what Colorado has to offer. Also, go to therapy. CAPS is a great resource! ”

What continues to drive your passion for your work after graduation?

My family and the youth.”

Collage of Sarah LeonhartCollage of Sarah Leonhart