LeAnna Warren’s parents started home schooling her in fourth grade—but after her mom died, her dad wasn’t able to help her much with school. He was a manual laborer who worked a lot, so she had to fend for herself on the learning front.
“Sixth grade was really the last time I had any formal education (from a parent),” she recalls. At the age of 15, she started babysitting and cleaning houses to make ends meet. At 17, she got her first “real job” at a local pizza place.
After working in various service jobs for 10 years, a customer of LeAnna’s recommended that she read a book by scientist and conservationist Jane Goodall. “It changed my life. I thought, ‘I need to get into school.’”
College: Step One
She started out at a community college near her home in Houston. Her parents had never gone to college—her dad actually didn’t finish high school—so she had no guidance on how to navigate the waters of higher education.
This stint at her first college lasted one semester, and then she moved to Austin to become part of a community that is passionate about conservation.
College: Step Two
Over the years, LeAnna did a lot of different jobs—all while in school. “Vet tech, waitress, dispatcher for the phone company, preschool, child care,” she recalls. “I had to work multiple jobs at one time, just making ends meet.”
She also got into rock climbing and started attending Austin Community College (ACC). She describes her time at her second college as “transformative.” Things went well at ACC—and full of optimism, LeAnna moved to Colorado planning to transfer straight to CSU.
College: Step Three—FRCC
“I felt ready for the university,” she recalls. But she applied for a lot of scholarships and didn’t get any financial assistance. “I thought: ‘I must not be doing enough.’”
Determined to see it through, she decided to attend FRCC. “If this is what I have to do, I’ll make this work. But I didn’t think FRCC would be as good as my school in Austin—I had really high expectations.”
A Supportive Environment
“I was blown away by how warm and welcoming all the faculty is. Everybody there seems to want to be there. The professors are so supportive—they really wanted us to learn and get through to our goals.”
She made a lot of close connections with her teachers. “No one ever made me feel stupid for not knowing something from high school.”
She says the faculty and staff at FRCC became a community of encouragement for her. “When I needed help, I would just pop into the tutoring center. I got help with essays or math or physics. There was always someone just waiting. They were so helpful and so ready to help.”
Becoming a Scientist
While taking a full course load at FRCC, LeAnna was also working 20 hours a week—so she had to stay organized and focused. “There was a lot of material to learn. These were dense, science heavy classes like biology and ecology.”
She put a lot of pressure on herself to maintain good grades. “That was a goal I set for myself. I want to learn as much as I can so it’s not a waste.”
About halfway through her time at FRCC, she realized she wanted to study environmental justice and policy. “Once I realized what I wanted to do, that was a big push forward.”
LeAnna’s professor helped her get a paid internship doing environmental scientific research—and that exposure helped hone her focus. “I got to do limnological research, which is the study of lakes. And I learned some coding in a new software program.”
She helped clean up and analyze 40 years’ worth of data that had been collected at an environmental research station. “It was a really cool exploration of the data side of science, and learning how it’s related to providing support for policy making.”
She also got a job on campus as a lab assistant for the natural sciences department. “I learned so much while working there. I worked with a team of wonderful women who taught me so much. They loved that I asked questions. They pushed me and motivated me to apply for the Wolves to Rams scholarship. I got it—and that changed everything.”
College: Step Four—CSU
After just two semesters at FRCC, LeAnna was ready to transfer to CSU. She did all the paperwork and lined up everything well in advance. “My transfer advisor was amazing. And the Wolves to Rams program has provided me so much support, especially during COVID.”
It was the fall of 2020 and LeAnna could not wait to get started. “I was so jazzed to be at school. I knew the workload would be insane. And it is intense but I feel OK. I’ve got this.”
She’s now taking six classes at CSU while working 15-20 hours a week. She’s got a position as a research assistant for the Loch Vale watershed lab at Rocky Mountain National Park, where she helps collect samples in the field.
Arriving Well Prepared
Her time at FRCC taught her many of the basic biology fundamentals she needs for her path. “I know so much terminology that I’m using at work right now. When we’re talking about classes of algae and photosynthesis and gas exchange, I can engage in this conversation because I know what the scientists are talking about. I can definitely keep up.”
She says her teachers at FRCC did a great job with the curriculum. “It was really rigorous and prepared me for the university. I learned a lot that’s applicable now. In my work-study job at Front Range, I used a lot of the instruments that I’m using now in the lab.”
“FRCC changed my life in two semesters. That shows you the impact—my whole life was changed and everything is so much smoother now and makes more sense.”
Next Step: Changing the World
LeAnna is on track to graduate from CSU in the spring of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in ecosystem science and sustainability—and a minor in environmental affairs. Then she plans to go on to grad school. “I feel like that’s a good segue to the real world. I’m looking into applying for an environmental justice master’s program. In the meantime, I can work with nonprofits or local government.”
Her long-term goal is to focus on shaping environmental policy. “I feel an obligation to use my work to do good things. I need to take care of people and our world.”
She wants to eventually be a city council member or state representative—and might even run for congress someday. “I have aspirations to represent people in the places where things get done.”