Hoos in Education #2: Leidra McQueen

Dreama Johnson

Leidra McQueen

Director of College Success | Lynchburg Beacon of Hope

B.A. in Sociology, Class of 2011

Our Education & Youth Development CPE Kirstena talked with UVA alum Leidra McQueen about her path to working in education and her advice for students considering EYD careers.

During her time at UVA, Leidra served as a Peer Advisor through the Office of African-American Affairs and volunteered with the UVA admissions office. Leidra credits these experiences for laying the foundation for the work that she does today, as she spent a lot of time conducting outreach and welcoming students to UVA to ease their transition. As she was approaching graduation, Leidra was hoping to work in college admissions, but with no positions open at the UVA admissions office at the time, she decided to join the Virginia College Advising Corps to learn more about the college admissions process from the high school side. As a College Adviser with VCAC, Leidra helped students in high-need high schools access higher education opportunities. During this time, Leidra says she “caught the bug” for working with high school students and has worked in similar roles ever since.

After her service as a college adviser, Leidra transitioned to a similar role within a program at the University of South Carolina. While she enjoyed working in this role, she was eager to return to Virginia to reconnect with her hometown and be closer to her family. At the same time, the nonprofit organization Lynchburg Beacon of Hope was expanding in her hometown, providing Leidra the perfect opportunity to move back to Lynchburg and work in one of the organization’s Future Centers within Heritage High School, her alma mater, to increase college access. As a Future Center Director, Leidra managed a space within the school for students to explore and get help with pursuing applications for higher education as well as other opportunities. Being from Lynchburg herself, Leidra already had a strong familiarity with the community and schools when she started at Lynchburg Beacon of Hope. She was able to bond with students right away having had many shared experiences from attending the same high school and sharing many of the same teachers.

After five years in this role, Leidra transitioned into her current position as the Director of College Success for Lynchburg Beacon of Hope. This role is more focused on supporting students after they enter higher education, including guiding them through tasks such as financial aid applications and providing emotional support to ensure a successful transition into college. She currently oversees 400 former students of Lynchburg-area schools and manages Lynchburg Beacon of Hope’s scholarship program. Leidra expressed that she has been very fortunate to have had strong support from her family in her educational pursuits and is passionate about giving that support back to students in her home community that may not have the same support that she did.

Leidra encourages students interested in EYD careers to ask a lot of questions about different roles and stay open to exploring things you might not have known were out there because career paths are often not linear. For Leidra, college advising turned out to be a perfect fit, but she might not have figured this out had she not been open to serving with VCAC after graduation. Additionally, she recommends taking advantage of the network of people that UVA provides because there are lots of people who want to help you find your path. She also wants to remind students that YOU are amazing and that your hard work will take you far in whatever you choose to do!

If you’re interested in learning more about Leidra’s story and the work she does, you can connect with her through Virginia Alumni Mentoring