Senior Isabelle Leon can’t help but smile when she reflects on her college journey. Those who have connected with Isabelle say her grin and positive energy are infectious, but she says the same about Olivet College’s friendly and welcoming campus. While her time as a student has come to an end, Isabelle says she’s ready to put her degree to use backed by her OC family.
Hailing from Grand Rapids and a graduate of East Kentwood High School, Isabelle was used to attending a large school. A small, private, liberal arts college wasn’t on her radar until she connected with coaches and an admissions representative at Olivet College. During just her first visit, Isabelle was overwhelmed with the warm welcome she received on campus. Now, she says it’s a memory she’ll never forget.
“I thought it was really cool how much effort my coaches and admissions representative put into staying connected to me. They helped me really see how I would fit in at Olivet College,” Isabelle explained. “During my visit, I got to meet criminal justice professors, other students and even the soccer team. I felt instantly welcomed, something that just didn’t compare at other colleges. OC is for you if you don’t want to feel like just a number. Everyone, especially professors, really care and want to see students succeed.”
Isabelle’s first impression of Olivet College never waivered, including her perception of the criminal justice program and opportunities as a student-athlete. In the classroom, she was prepared to take on the hard work to become a correctional officer, but didn’t expect to build such close relationships with professors like Regina Armstrong, Ph.D., associate professor and director of criminal justice, and Phil Reed, associate professor of criminal justice.
While exploring career paths for correctional officers, Dr. Armstrong suggested Isabelle look into working with youth, and even helped her land an internship and the Calhoun County Juvenile Home. Isabelle enjoyed her experience so much she pursued a role at a similar facility in Eaton County during her senior year that she will continue after graduation.
In addition, Isabelle’s dedication to her studies and career even earned her the Donald A. Morris Award as one of the Class of 2018 top five graduates. She named Professor Reed her most influential professor for his impact on her success. “Professor Reed taught the first criminal justice class I ever took, and he made it exciting and showed us right away that he cared about each person – even the students that don’t talk a lot in class. He invited students to his home over break if they weren’t able to spend time with their own families,” Isabelle said. “Professor Reed has always been incredibly involved, and supported me at my games too. In meetings, he takes time to ask about my family and goals before academics, and when he knew I could do better, he encouraged me to put in the extra work.”
Isabelle’s success and support system didn’t end there, calling her soccer teammates and coaches part of her family. She began playing soccer at just 4-years-old and her passion for competition and building relationships with other like-minded individuals never faded. During the 2017 season, Isabelle even helped lead her team to the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Tournament championship game for only the second time in school history. She started all 20 games, leading the Comets in scoring with 45 points on 17 goals and 11 assists, including six game winning goals during the season, five against MIAA rivals.
Isabelle ended her college career as the MIAA Most Valuable Player and a member of the 2017 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District VI women’s soccer team. She also earned First Team CoSIDA Academic All-America® honors, United Soccer Coaches First Team All-Central Region honors and first-team All-MIAA honors. Most importantly, Isabelle says she gained lifelong friends, mentors and supporters through her experience playing soccer.
In addition, Isabelle joined the track and field team, following her passion for running discovered while competing in high school cross country. She especially enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other student-athletes and learning from head coach Karen Lutzke, an exemplary leader.
“I love that being part of a team meant I entered college as a freshman and already had a circle of friends to make me feel comfortable,” Isabelle explained. “Throughout my entire time as a student, participating in athletics encouraged me to learn time management and strong scheduling skills. My coaches have also been really great. They worked with my professors to make sure I never had to sacrifice things for my other interests.”
Isabelle also joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and attended several service trips, falling in love with additional ways to connect with fellow Comets and give back to the community. Further, she was a member of the Criminal Justice Honor Society and served as the organization’s secretary, gaining real-world experience she will be able to transfer to her career.
“There are so many opportunities at Olivet College,” Isabelle exclaimed. “I was able to play two sports, have an active role in clubs, travel and serve, and be a great student. Olivet is really about growing and finding yourself, and there are tons of ways to do that, as well as lots of coaches, professors and staff members to support you. I feel well prepared and confident in my future thanks to that. Even though I’m sad to be graduating, I know everyone is just an email away and will be happy to answer my questions, give a reference or just talk anytime.”
Isabelle is looking forward to Commencement next week, but is especially excited to be applying her degree to her role as a youth specialist at the Eaton County Youth Facility. She hopes to set a strong example for the young adults she works with, encouraging them to create successful futures for themselves by building relationships with them, just as Isabelle’s professors and coaches did for her.