By Jess Dankenbring, '17

As a student, Kimberly Leonard, ’09, used to sneak issues of The New York Times into the science lab and read them under the desk. That was when she realized that the pre-med track wasn’t her calling. She decided to major in urban practice and policy with a minor in journalism, and spent the majority of her time outside of class reporting for The Collegian

“I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist, so if there was a major breaking story, and I happened to have class at the same time, I would go with the story,” she said. “I know some people are like ‘Oh, it’s just a college newspaper,’ but that’s not at all what it is. It’s a great way to get in really deep with a small community and to report what’s going on and to really hold people accountable. I loved every minute of it.”

Leonard credited Richmond’s small campus and the student community for providing her with opportunities to shine. “I had professors and peers at Richmond who put a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders and really believed that I could take on all that they wanted me to,” Leonard said. “I helped design The Collegian’s first online website and was the first online managing editor. Now The Collegian is online only, so that’s cool for me to see.”

The close relationships she developed while on campus also helped Leonard get her foot in the door as she began her professional career. "I had a lot of professors who, after college, would check in on me regularly,” she said. “Professor [Robert] Hodierne helped me not only with securing a place to live and connecting me with people, but got me one of my internships, or at least made the introductions."

And while she may have steered her career ambitions away from pre-med studies, Leonard’s early interest in healthcare still plays a role in her work today. After working as a freelance writer reporting on health for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Kaiser Health News, Leonard is now a healthcare reporter for U.S. News & World Report. A month ago, she was part of the team that develops and reports national health rankings, and recently she wrote public policy pieces on the Affordable Care Act and some of the struggles that people face.

“I think that healthcare is the number one thing that can consume people’s lives,” she said. “No matter how much you achieve financially or in your career or in your success, all of that can go away if you don’t have your health. Health becomes the most important thing to people and I love how it’s something that’s very personal.”

Leonard admitted it’s thrilling to be living her dream. "I've always had this passion. I mean this is what I've wanted to do my whole life, be a writer,” she said. “I'm very happy that I had that experience in college.”

When asked what advice she’d give to aspiring journalists, Leonard said, "I always tell students ‘just write.’ You have to write constantly. There’s no way to get out of it."