Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Cultivating Pipelines

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Cultivating Pipelines

Article excerpt

When Stacy Leeds accepted the position of dean at the University of Arkansas School of Law, she made history. Since 2011, she's served as the only known Native American woman to lead a law school in the country.

"I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've been given, but I also know that it means that I am playing a pretty profound mentoring role for those who will come after me," says Leeds, who began another five-year term in July.

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Leeds grew up in an Oklahoma town surrounded by fellow Native Americans. As a first-generation college student, she entered Washington University in St. Louis intending to become a history teacher and basketball coach. However, she experienced an enlightening moment during a social work course in her junior year.

The class, which focused on advocacy skills, sparked her interest in studying law. But "it wasn't just that I wanted to go to law school, per se," she explains. "I knew that I wanted to study, more specifically, American Indian law issues."

After receiving a bachelor's from Washington in 1994, she pursued a J.D. at the University of Tulsa because of its reputation for specializing in Native American issues. "It also got me within an hour of my hometown and all of my family--so that was a nice homecoming after being away for college," she says.

Leeds graduated from Tulsa in 1997, and received a fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. The college's Master of Laws program was "designed to try to get people of color and people from first-generation families into law teaching," she says.

Leeds graduated from Wisconsin in 2000, and began her teaching career there. As "an incredibly young law professor"--still in her 20s--she found engaging students to be an easy task, she says. Over time, students began to seek out her courses specifically, and she has continued to have "very close relationships with students" as a mentor.

"It's something that I still prioritize and value," Leeds says, adding that she periodically teaches courses as dean.

Throughout her teaching career, Leeds has consistently found herself in leadership roles. For instance, while teaching at the University of North Dakota School of Law, she directed the school's Northern Plains Indian Law Center. As a professor at the Kansas School of Law, she served as director of the Tribal Law and Government Center.

These administrative positions prompted her to pursue an MBA, which she received from the University of Tennessee in 2010.

At Arkansas, Leeds is known for cultivating pipelines for marginalized students. …

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