Don’t tell Leona Keller she can’t do something.
Keller planned on serving her country after graduating high school, but she didn’t know which service branch to enlist in. She kept hearing she wouldn’t make it as a Marine, so she decided to prove her doubters wrong.
Ten days after graduating from Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois, Keller found herself lacing up her boots in Parris Island, South Carolina, ready for three months of boot camp. She then completed her Military Occupation Speciality (job training) and was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, where she served for five years.
She quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant, directing more than 40 Marines and overseeing their timely completion of assigned tasks.
Not knowing what she wanted to do after graduating high school, Keller’s time in the Marines helped her focus on pursuing a degree in Movement Science. “I could have told you, if it wasn’t math, I would’ve done anything,” she said. What solidified her choice were the athletic trainers and physical therapists in the therapy clinics she visited for rehab.
From there, she started researching Kinesiology programs, which led her to U-M.
Now she is a senior majoring in Movement Science.
I feel like I have a great background to go into it. So I’m really excited to be able to use Movement Science and the knowledge I’ve learned, and apply it to something kind of different.
Keller said it was an adjustment getting back into schooling after spending six years away from the classroom. She discovered the Comprehensive Studies Program through the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts, which helped her enroll in smaller classes and connect with professors, and made connections with other veteran’s through U-M’s Veterans and Military Services.
“It’s nice to have a support system of people who know what you’re going through,” she said. “So that definitely makes it easier to succeed in your classes.”
Now, Keller is returning the favor by serving as a Peer Advisor for Veteran Education. She works with first-year and transfer veteran students who are new to U-M.
“I had a peer advisor myself and they guide you through Michigan – places to study, places to eat, things to do when you get here. I think having that peer help you out, take your hand, take you through the ropes, show you how it’s done, it’s definitely beneficial,” she said.
Keller also joined the Student Veterans Association.
“It’s good to have people that you can hang out with and socialize with,” she said. “I feel like, a lot of times, military members, we’re not as free with things we would say with people who haven’t served in the military. Then when we’re around the people who have, that’s also a good way to be yourself.”.
One skill the Marines taught her was time management.
“I know when I have to do certain things. Being at Michigan, it’s kind of sink or swim. In that sense it’s good for me because I know what I need to do in order to succeed,” she said. “And I make sure I get it done and I don’t need someone sitting on my shoulder being like ‘you need to do this.’”
Right now, Keller is doing an independent study in the Child Movement, Activity, and Developmental Health Laboratory measuring the effectiveness of yoga interventions on preschool children. She is assisting with data entry and collection.
“In our classes, we read tons of scientific articles and you see what they’re doing. But reading isn’t the same as you’re the one testing, you’re taking the data, you’re importing it, you’re analyzing it,” she said. “It’s been awesome to find out more about research firsthand, which was one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Michigan because they have so many opportunities for you to get involved in research.”
Keller’s plan is to get her master’s in Athletic Training while continuing to do the research she has grown to love. She is looking into programs that offer similar opportunities as U-M. “I’ll be able to use a lot more of my Movement Science background,” she said. “I’ll be able to use biomechanics, exercise physiology. I feel like I have a great background to go into it. So I’m really excited to be able to use Movement Science and the knowledge I’ve learned, and apply it to something kind of different.”