Leonardo Gonzalez-Smith

DNA of an LMU Education


The college experience for Leonardo Gonzalez-Smith was anything but microscopic. Honored as LMU’s 2021 Program Scholar for Biology, Leonardo tackled several faculty-led undergraduate research projects, which provided him with high-impact, active learning opportunities at the top-ranked LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Upon graduation, the California native says he feels amply prepared for the first step in his professional career as a research lab technician focusing on epigenetics, the study of heritable phenotype changes.

“The world of science is all about a certain set protocol,” Leonardo, who also minored in biochemistry, said. “My LMU experience pushed me outside my protocol, my comfort zone, to learn and explore new things through the act of doing.”

In 2019, Leonardo spent six weeks in the LMU Seaver College Summer Opportunities for Advanced Research (SOAR) program. SOAR provides funded opportunities for Seaver College undergraduate students to participate in faculty-mentored, hands-on research that deepens their academic experience and analytical skills.

Leonardo worked alongside faculty mentor and LMU professor of biology Demian Willette to research the evolution rate of a rare sardine found in the Philippines' Taal Lake; a volcanic lake formed 300 years ago. The pair aimed to see if the rare sardine is related to another sardine species that lives in a different environment using RAD-Sequencing Genotyping.

“During this research project, I not only became familiar with the world of bioinformatics, but my relationship with Dr. Willette grew immensely,” Leonardo said. “Under his guidance, I had the opportunity to learn so much about basic lab techniques and to become a more independent researcher. Moreover, his unwavering enthusiasm for his students has inspired me to explore a future path into the realm of teaching and has encouraged me to apply to grad school down the line.”

Faculty mentorship and networking opportunities are just a few of the student experiences at LMU, and Leonardo’s efforts to embody the university’s Jesuit ideals and make the most of his college experience haven’t gone unrecognized. He is also the recipient of LMU’s prestigious 2021 Ignatian Award, which is given annually to a male student who has been awarded a Presidential Citation. The awardee is selected by a committee of faculty and administrators for his selfless service, ethical leadership, and academic excellence.

Leonardo’s academic pursuits also included several leadership roles while attending LMU. An active participant within the classroom and beyond, he was on the Residence Hall Association’s executive board, a university program comprised of student leaders responsible for establishing, maintaining, and presenting a positive living, learning environment for LMU students. Additionally, Leonardo worked as an International Orientation Leader for the Office of International Student Scholars, was a Teaching Assistant for general biology courses, and is a Delta Sigma Phi fraternity member, among other pursuits.

“LMU taught me that it’s fine to fail and it’s fine to be a student and just to learn,” Leonardo said. “I put myself out there and used that as a starting point, and it taught me to have more confidence in myself.”

An advice for students interested in an LMU education?

“Be open to exploring new opportunities,” Leonardo said. “A lot of my most enjoyable experiences at LMU were taking part in activities I didn’t originally think I’d be a fit for, but take a chance and have a little faith in yourself; you’ll be surprised with the results.”