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DAA: Donald J. Leopold

Donald J. Leopold

Syracuse, NY | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2014

Don Leopold, Ph.D. ‘84, is a distinguished teaching professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. “He is recognized as a distinguished teacher through his dedication to teaching both undergraduate and graduate students while advancing our scientific understanding of ecological processes within forests and wetlands of the northeastern United States,” said his nominator, Rob Swihart, head of Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Leopold has produced six books, more than 60 publications in refereed journals, and 12 publications in proceedings describing numerous factors that influence ecological processes within northeastern forests. Under his direction, more than 60 graduate students have completed their theses or dissertations and he has served as principal or co-principal investigator on more than $30 million in grants to support his research program. Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? George Parker, a forestry professor and my major professor, had a significant impact on my career track. He always treated me like a colleague and never suggested that anything wasn’t possible (even if he might have thought otherwise). Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? Purdue provided me an opportunity to assist with instruction in dendrology, which I had experience with from the University of Kentucky. Additionally, I was aware of the very strong academic reputation of Purdue, which I thought was so important for a doctoral degree. Where was your favorite place on campus to study? I spent most days and nights in my office at the department, often talking about science, politics, etc., with other grad students in my office and adjacent offices. Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? Not in the sense of having an outstanding grade point average, but I was intensely interested in my subject material and spent most waking moments thinking about forest ecology, trees, and related topics. What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? I avoided calculus until I had to take it in my Ph.D. program. I was so proud when I earned an 87% on the first exam, until I found out that this grade was curved to a C-. During my very first semester, I understood just how tough courses would be at Purdue. What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? It wasn’t necessarily advice but I’ll never forget Dr. Parker telling me after he gave a talk to a large audience at a national professional society meeting that he still got very nervous before each talk. I often think of his admission before some of my dozens of talks each year. What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? I often tell many of my advisees who are contemplating graduate programs that they shouldn’t be so consumed by the idea that a specific graduate research project will define their careers for life. Purdue prepared me for pursuing so many different interesting projects. I couldn’t be any happier with the foundation I earned at Purdue.