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LeAnna Cates chose UMKC for its life sciences opportunities

Get to know our students, and you’ll know what UMKC is all about.

LeAnna Cates, ’17
Bachelor of Science in Biology
School: School of Biological Sciences
Groups and organizations: Honors College, Lucerna and Residential Life
Hometown: Wildwood, Missouri

Why did you choose UMKC?

I chose UMKC because of the Honors College. One professor in particular, Dr. Gayle Levy, arranged a very personalized visit for me. I shadowed an honors student in her honors genetics course; that was the first time I had heard about the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and I knew I wanted to be a part of the exciting research going on in Kansas City.

I think the most interesting place to be right now is at the interface of biology and mathematics, so I chose a field of study that incorporated elements of public health, computer science and mathematics. I have many questions about basic disease outcomes and health care, in general, and I think being a scientist is the best way to address them. I want to go to grad school and study epidemiology.


Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

I learned that sometimes when I become too invested in a future outcome, I lose track of something very important: self-care. I also learned how to enjoy the process. I no longer believe that I must struggle through sleepless nights in order to reach a long-term goal. If you’re not enjoying the majority of the process, you’re not doing it right.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve met. During my junior year, I was in a difficult place because I decided I didn’t want to do my original career goal anymore (become a physician). I leaned on people I was working with in Honors, Res Life and professors. They helped me redefine success. It doesn’t mean an “A,” but being happy with what you’re doing. Day to day, for me, it meant that I journaled. What did the day mean to me, who did I meet, how can I add value to life … I used the UMKC counseling center too. We’d talk about my journal and they really helped me. Every day, I also practice mindfulness meditation and rock climbing—I love it so much!

I learned that if you pour too much of yourself into something, you lose track of the important things like family. Now I feel so alive and aware — I’m excited about this stage in life.

Are you a first-generation college student?

Yes. My parents both emigrated here from Vietnam in the ’70s. They are both intelligent people who sacrificed a lot to be in this country. I feel a sense of responsibility to recognize their sacrifice by working hard to achieve my personal goals. For them, success means limitless opportunities, and that is what America has given my family.

What motto do you live by?

Always have a question.

What do you admire the most about UMKC?

I admire how incredibly diverse, inclusive and aware the UMKC climate is. UMKC is constantly improving, and they emphasize how important it is that we, as students, feel comfortable and confident enough to chase after our dreams. I feel so lucky be a member of a community that is full of activists, world changers, philosophers, scientists and people going places.


From across the country and around the world, our students come together in Kansas City to study business, medicine, theatre and more than 100 other academic areas. Roos become leaders in their fields and give back to their communities. 

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