Kathryn Leonard

If you're not fascinated by numbers, Associate Professor of Mathematics Kathryn Leonard might change your mind.

Leonard reluctantly discovered her own love of math after being forced to take a required calculus class as a junior English major at the University of New Mexico. She ended up double-majoring in English and math, earned her master's and Ph.D. in mathematics from Brown University, and then held teaching positions at Brown, California Institute of Technology and Pomona College before coming to CI in 2006.

“Math is challenging and fun,” Leonard said. “It unites the creative and the rational. It is the language of the universe. Mathematical research is like doing puzzles all day.”

Leonard has transformed previously dreaded courses like Business Statistics into student favorites, mentored dozens of students on research projects, revamped and revitalized curriculum, won prestigious awards and grants, and inspired numerous students to pursue graduate degrees and careers in math. She encourages students to tackle assignments in creative and engaging ways, such as by creating a YouTube video to explain a concept from class to a middle school student.

“I try to connect math directly to students' interests,” Leonard said. “When a mathematical problem is tied to a problem in the world that a student wants to know how to solve, suddenly that key theorem that seemed so pointlessly tedious before shimmers with possibility.”

An applied mathematician, Leonard involves students in research projects constructing mathematical models for shapes and textures in images and teaching computers how to recognize them. Their work could lead to groundbreaking advances, such as robots that could perform dangerous or unpleasant tasks, more efficient prosthetic devices, or automatic medical diagnosis systems. Under Leonard's guidance, students have helped build strawberry-picking robots, worked on a method to classify and diagnose schizophrenia in MRI images, mentored K-12 students in math, and won an award for the Best Paper at an international conference.

“Math majors develop powerful intellects and broadly applicable skills,” she said. “Every math faculty member does research with undergraduates, so any student who is interested in learning what mathematicians do outside the classroom has an opportunity to learn first-hand while developing great skills. We are also strongly committed to helping students navigate their difficulties to complete degrees and move on to the next phase of their lives. Any student who has a problem can find the support they need.”