By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
A quick Google search of Dr. Kennie Leet solidifies just how awesome she really is. Every photo shows her in one of two elements – inside her SUNY Broome classroom or in the great outdoors, enriching her students’ lives through immersive field study in locations like the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Yellowstone National Park, and the Fagradalsfjall volcano in the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. Throughout her career as a student, professor, and researcher, Dr. Leet is best known for her positivity and willingness to implement innovative ways to excite her students about Environmental Science: A.S.
Kennie Leet was born in Endicott, NY. When she was five years old, her family relocated to Montrose, PA, commuting to the Southern Tier on a daily basis. Leet’s life in Montrose was a happy one, packed with school sports and extracurricular activities. But what ranked highest amongst basketball, color guard, and band, was the time that Kennie spent taking walks in the woods with her grandmother, Wilma Lass. Under Wilma’s wing, Kennie was introduced to both the beauty and the science of the outdoors. Walks with Wilma always included lessons on the identification of trees, fossils, and birdsongs. As Kennie got older, their trips were not confined to the landscapes of North Eastern Pennsylvania; together they traveled to explore the geology of the country.
The combination of Wilma’s influence, an amazing eighth-grade earth science class, and the iconic movie Twister (1996), solidified for Kennie that she was meant to enter the world of meteorology. After graduating from Montrose Area High School, Leet attended SUNY Oswego, where she played DIII basketball, worked for the campus’ TV station, WTOP, and basked in the variety of lake effect weather. A college internship with WBNG gave Kennie the context to realize that broadcast meteorology was not for her.
“My exposure to meteorology was largely through watching the evening news,” explained Leet. “My internship did exactly what an internship is supposed to do. It gave me insight into the work environment. For me, TV meteorology played to my weaknesses, not to my strengths. I knew that I needed to work outside in the field, not inside on a soundstage.”
Leet graduated from SUNY Oswego and entered the job market. Two weeks before the beginning of the fall semester, a friend, of a friend, of a friend, contacted Leet’s mother about a teaching opportunity at SUNY Broome. The College needed someone to cover two sections of atmospheric meteorology, and the name “Kennie Leet” kept coming up.
“The whole experience was a whirlwind,” admitted Leet. “I would love to invite those first students back to retake my class now. I’ve hopefully improved a lot since then.”
Kennie thrived in the classroom, incorporating experiential learning into her lectures long before the pedagogy was considered good practice. Dr. Leet loved her job, but the life of an adjunct professor had its struggles.
“The main stipulation in the world of meteorology is that you go where the job is,” Leet explained. “I was confined to the area. My life was established here. The salary and the schedule of an adjunct is never guaranteed and I needed to regroup.”
Leet’s father owned an accounting firm in Endicott, so she took some prerequisite business courses at SUNY Broome and transferred to Binghamton University to complete a second bachelor’s degree in accounting. Just as she was about to accept a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Syracuse, a full-time instructor position in geoscience and meteorology opened at SUNY Broome, a first in 14 years. Kennie took the new position as a sign and applied. She was hired as a full-time instructor under the stipulation that she complete her master’s degree pre-tenure, so back to school she went. This time, opting to study something far more interesting to her than accounting.
Kennie earned her master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University. While most of her classmates worked as environmental lobbyists in D.C., Kennie focused her studies on GIS satellite data and mapping. In addition to her online classes, Johns Hopkins facilitated a summer exchange course, where Leet studied water quality in Nanjing, China. The experience was transformative for Leet, both as a student and as a professor. So much so that she now duplicates this blend of online and travel learning for SUNY Broome students via her 7-week field study course format.
“My course in China reinvigorated my love for international travel and experiential learning,” reflected Leet. “As a student athlete in undergrad, I wasn’t able to study abroad for a full semester, and I always wished that I could. I found that short term travel courses are the best way to offer global learning opportunities in an affordable and timely manner for students.”
Throughout her tenure as both professor and chair at SUNY Broome, Dr. Leet has led several immersive fieldwork courses in locations around the nation and world. Thanks to the generous philanthropic support of many alumni donors and community partners, large portions of these travel courses are funded for students via the SUNY Broome Foundation.
A true lover of education, Leet continued her studies at Binghamton University, earning her doctorate in geology. Her revolutionary research again sent her across the globe, but this time to Kenya’s Lake Magadi, where she collected and analyzed sediment cores to forecast the weather of the past. Her work is consistently praised by top scholars in her field. A fact that would make her grandmother Wilma beam with pride.
June 24, 2022, marked the first time that Kennie was not simultaneously a student and a professor, a feeling that made Leet slightly uneasy. With her “free time,” she is continuing her research, developing new travel courses, and planning some personal, international adventures with her husband, Ethan, and two teenage children, Billie and Travis.
Read more stories like Dr. Kennie Leet’s in the digital edition of BROOME Magazine!