About Leonard (Leo) Savala

LScreen Shot 2017-05-17 at 6.40.43 PMeonard A. Savala III, Ph.D., is a Grand Rapids native who has served in higher education for a number of years. Dr. Savala earned his bachelor of science degree in dietetics from Michigan State University. Additionally, he earned a master’s degree in agricultural and extension education from Michigan State University.

His professional experience includes a stint working with the Urban League a non-profit organization based out of Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Savala worked specifically within human services as a nutritional educator to help eliminate health disparities through prevention.  Dr. Savala also worked for Lear Corporation an automotive parts manufacturing plant out of Grand Rapids, MI. While in this capacity he worked on the assembling line before deciding to return to college to complete his degree.

While at MSU, Dr. Savala has served in a variety of roles in the Dean’s office in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, including as interim director of undergraduate diversity and graduate student coordinator. Additionally, he served as a community outreach liaison in the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives and also served as the Academic Services Coordinator for the Vetward Bound Program within the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU.

In 2005, Dr. Savala was awarded the Michigan State University Excellence in Diversity Award (2005) for his work in supporting an inclusive campus. In 2013, he was awarded the Hispanic Educator Award of the year for his outreaching efforts. Dr. Savala completed his doctorate in Higher Education from Western Michigan University 2014 where he researched the experiences of minority executives working in higher education.

My Background (Life Unfiltered) 

As a Latino male who has worked primarily at predominantly White four-year universities in the Midwest I have learned a great deal on navigating higher education as a student and working professional. I have served as an advisor to a number of student organizations and also served on professional organizations. Through my experiences working within higher education, I have learned a great deal about the importance of listening and gaining understanding before rushing to make judgments regarding any situation a student or colleague may bring to my attention. My experiences, as a student and now as a professional, are mine and may not be the same for others given their ethnic/racial backgrounds, ages, genders, or sexuality.

As a person of color in higher education I have been frustrated with the lack of Latinx professional role models who are working in higher education. I have worked in higher education for over decade and during this time I have interacted with only a few Latino faculty, staff, and executives. Those that I have interacted with have had similar experiences as mine. I have also had to engage with those that are driven by their own egos. They refuse to impart their knowledge on navigating higher education because they feel in some way we will take their position or prestige. As the number of students of color increase in higher education, it will be critical for the next generation to assume leadership roles.

I have a passion for motivating all students but my heart is pulled towards young men of color. Growing up in a single parent household I understand the challenges from marginalized communities. Early in high school I intended to pursue a career in the military because I felt I did not have any other options. My counselor told me to consider trades school. It was not until my junior year in high school that many of my goals in life were put on hold. At that time I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer (Note: It’s the last stage). After many months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, my prognosis improved. I was bedridden for so long that I had to use a walker.  It was during this time that I learned a great deal about patience and listening to others. I spent a lot of time in the hospital listening to how others dealt with their illness. Slowly I worked my way back to good health and was able to graduate high school. After high school I attended community college before moving on to a four-year institution and receiving my bachelor’s degree. I earned my doctorate in 2014 from Western Michigan University.

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