By Mauricio Gutierrez
Passionate, animated, genuine- she strides back and forth in the classroom teaching interpersonal communication to a wide array of interested students and stopping every so often to answer the questions arise.
Almost every bit of information, she receives a response from a student. Questions, comments and anecdotes are shared in this class as students reveal some their personal lives for the better understanding of the class.
“Anything personal that is said in this class should stay in this class,” Professor Victoria Leonard said.
After class I check to see when her office hours start and head over there as soon as I can. When I am about to approach her office she notices me and invites me in with the permission of her colleague who is also working in the office. She has over a dozen pictures of family on her wall. Here I sat down with her and asked her a bit about her life story so that I and others may understand a little more about her.he says that she has a Russian and Chinese background. Her great-great-grandparents were from Russia but fled to China when they were persecuted for being Jewish. Her parents were born in China and met in the United States then got married, but she was not born until much later in her parents’ lives. They were 38 years old when they had her.
“In my teen years I struggled with communication with my parents because they were 40 years older than I and were from a different country,” Leonard confessed.
She admits to not having the best of relations with her parents in her youth because of these blocks between them. Her mother was very old fashioned and wanted her to cook, clean and take care of men, but that did not appeal to her.
Another thing that made her life difficult early on was her financial situation.
“We were economically disadvantaged so things were hard, ” Leonard said.
She never took real family vacations because of money. She understood her situation when she began to notice what she did not have in comparison to her friends. They had bountiful amounts of toys when Leonard went to their houses but she only had a couple Barbies and Lincoln logs that she shared with her brother. This especially affected her after high school when she wanted to go to college as her parents were not in a position to help pay for her education.
Leonard entered Cal State Northridge due to its proximity and affordability. At first she wanted go into child development, but had a change of heart when she took a public speaking course.
The theories and applicability caught her attention and decided to make the switch and during graduate school she decided to do a teaching associate-ship and teach two public speaking courses at night. Three semesters and one summer later, she graduated with a masters’ degree in communication studies with an emphasis in organizational communication.
She still was teaching at night but one of her first jobs after graduate school was pharmaceutical sales for a nearby company. She really enjoyed the way she was able to use her communication skills to sell drugs to hospitals. She would have to talk to many nurses and doctors to convince them to buy the latest drugs for their patients.
“After the end of four years, I made a self evaluation and asked whether I wanted to stay here or do teaching,” Leonard stated. “And what made me more happy was the teaching.”
After some time she decided to quit sales and focus more on teaching. Leonard made the decision to teach at CSUN, a job that lasted for 14 years while she also worked part-time at other community colleges in the area, such as Pasadena or Glendale.
She would eventually stop teaching Glendale and take a job offer at College of the Canyons.
“COC was very far away,” Leonard joked. “I thought that I was driving to Timbuktu.”
In 1995, she received a permanent position at COC and no longer had to go to teach at other colleges. Professor Leonard is one of the longest serving faculty members with around 30 years experience here at our college. For 17 years she ran as the chair of the communication studies department and used to teach every class at COC.
“It was a whole lot of work in the beginning,” Leonard stated. “You had to be department chair and still teach 5 classes. You would have to overseeing everybody and everything.”
She decided to step down because of her problems with an autoimmune disease and the pain it caused her back and neck.
Nowadays she teaches a variety of courses including interpersonal communication, process of communication, intercultural communication, intergenerational communication and public speaking. Leonard also mentors the adjunct professors and she says that working with faculty is one of the best parts of the job.
“The role of a good leader is to prepare future leaders,” she said.
Leonard is determined to teach her students and do it well. Although teaching may be a bit more difficult for her with the progression of her neck problems she still cares very much about teaching.
“I love teaching and love my students and that is one of the thing that keeps me going,” she stated. “I love what I do
and have for all of these years. How many people can have the same job for 37 years and feel like it just started?”