Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, May 6, 2013

Leon fosters student success, engagement

Raul Leon

Raul Leon's experiences while a student at the La Follette School transformed his career goals.

He arrived in 2005 intent on working for a state government or the federal government in international development. Instead, after completing his Master of International Public Affairs degree in 2007, he stayed on at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Now Leon teaches graduate students and researches higher education as an assistant professor of educational leadership at Eastern Michigan University. "I conduct research that focuses on study abroad, student success and the role of chief diversity officers in institutions of higher education," Leon says. "I have taught courses including Introduction to Higher Education, Student Development Theory, Contemporary College Students, and Current Issues and Problems in Higher Education."

He won a competitive EMU research grant in 2012 to carry on research that will help him secure external funding. The research led to the article "Black Males Abroad: Building a Theoretical Foundation for Success," which examines the experiences of American males of color who have studied abroad.

Leon's involvement on campus at UW prompted him to shift from government service to higher education. His graduate assistantships and an internship with the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence encouraged him to explore higher education as a profession. PEOPLE is a pre-college pipeline program that helps students of color and/or those from low-income families make the transition from middle school to high school and from high school to college.

"The internship allowed me to connect with students from different backgrounds," Leon says. "It helped me to experience firsthand the impact of preparing and working with students earlier in their educational trajectory and re-energized my belief in the value of education."

The experience with PEOPLE also encouraged Leon to take courses in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, which opened up the path to a doctorate. "While my area of research or interest is not educational policy, I developed a greater appreciation for serving students, preparing student affairs professionals, and examining how to foster student success and engagement," he says.

Leon's interest in study abroad began as an undergraduate when he spent an entire semester living in an 11th-century castle. "The Alnwick castle is one of the largest inhabited castles in Europe and is home to the Duke of Northumberland," Leon says.

His passion for study abroad continued to grow in Madison, where he worked for International Academic Programs as a marketing coordinator and with the International Learning Community as a program coordinator. "Through these experiences, I further developed my passion to support international education initiatives," says Leon, adding that he is director of My Ecuador Trip, offering educational opportunities travelers to Ecuador, where he was born and raised. In 2013, Leon will lead a study tour for graduate students, faculty and staff to examine higher education in his home country.

Leon came to La Follette after graduating from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in international relations. After finishing his doctorate in 2010, he headed to the University of Southern Mississippi, where he spent a year as a visiting professor. "It was a great way to explore faculty life, move to a new place and work with students from different backgrounds and ethnicities," Leon says. "Above all, I wanted to make sure I gained experience somewhere besides the Midwest — I lived for 10 years in Minnesota and Wisconsin."

Leon shares his knowledge about U.S. higher education with scholars in other countries. He spoke at the University of Concepcion in Chile. In November 2012 he helped to organize a colloquium with faculty from UW–Madison, the Ohio State University, University of Leeds and Eastern Michigan University. "The colloquium took place at the University of Leeds, U.K. and examined the status of males of color across the globe," Leon says. "Several undergraduate students and administrators from each institution participated."

Although policy analysis is not at the core of Leon's research and teaching, he says the skills he learned at La Follette have been helpful. "At La Follette, I developed a holistic perspective that connects theory and practice," he says. "As a professor today, I try to inculcate in my students these skills. It is essential that I prepare professionals who can see how individual parts of a whole can come together, how they interact and how they can shape each other. The policy analysis and other courses taught me how to be organized, direct, methodical and above all effective when understanding the practical implications of theoretical constructs.

"The critical ability to examine an issue, develop key questions, understand the key components of a problem and approach every situation from a multitude of perspectives is what I practiced at La Follette."