Student services and engagement director fulfills longtime goal of earning Ph.D.

Brad Kovaleski with parents at Ph.D. graduation ceremony

Penn State Scranton Student Services and Engagement Director Brad Kovaleski, center, poses with his parents, Frank and Peggy Kovaleski, after earning his doctoral degree in organizational learning from Gannon University in Erie. 

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. — It took a tremendous time commitment, countless miles on his car and a seemingly endless amount of research and writing, but Penn State Scranton Students Services and Engagement Director Brad Kovaleski can now call himself "Dr. Brad Kovaleski."

Kovaleski recently earned his doctorate in organizational learning from Gannon University in Erie, after successfully defending his dissertation, titled “Exploring University Employee Perceptions of Engagement.”

Weeks later, he said the accomplishment still hasn’t quite sunk in.

“A lot of people keep asking me this, and I feel bad saying it, but it just doesn’t feel real,” Kovaleski said. “I am so glad it’s done, but at the same time, it’s an odd feeling to be done and to hear people refer to me with such a prefix. But it is very gratifying.”

The doctorate marks another milestone in Kovaleski’s longtime career in higher education, which included an extended stint at his alma mater of Slippery Rock University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and master’s degree in college student personnel and counseling.

At Slippery Rock, Kovaleski served as the director of student involvement and leadership before becoming the executive director of student development. Before that, he was the director of student activities and later the assistant dean of students at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

About a decade into his career, Kovaleski decided to pursue his doctorate. He knew it would be a difficult goal, but one that would ultimately pay big personal and professional dividends.

“Getting my Ph.D. was something I considered for a long time, but I couldn’t find a program that really clicked with what I wanted to do for a living,” he said. “Someone forwarded me the Gannon University program and it was focused on organizational learning and how to understand the working pieces, structures, politics, symbolism, et cetra. I thought, 'Wow, that’s super interesting and completely practical in terms of enhancing my management abilities.'”

By the time Kovaleski arrived at Penn State Scranton in 2016, he had completed all of the program’s coursework, which required two to three courses a semester, plus summer classes and frequent trips to Gannon – all while working full-time.

“It was very difficult to balance, but thankfully I was able to make it work,” he said.

Kovaleski spent the past four years working on his dissertation. After much thought, he settled on the topic of employee engagement, which he said came out of a desire “to explore a manager or supervisor’s emotional intelligence and its impact on employee engagement."

Essentially, Kovaleski said, he wanted to study how employees perceive their level of engagement within an organization. That led him to interview employees at a number of universities, a laborious process that required him to transcribe, code and find patterns in the responses. 

The data led to some interesting results, which were well-received at Kovaleski’s dissertation defense.

“It was a very positive experience,” he said. “It went on for over an hour of them questioning the results and how I got to them. But, the questions were very curious in nature and not questioning the legitimacy of the data. So that made me feel good.”

Overall, Kovaleski said the experience proved to be extremely useful, given how much it’s enhanced his ability “to analyze and assess the various components and stakeholders that comprise an organization," including his current workplace.

“In my current role, I utilize that knowledge on a day-to-day basis. I’m always focusing on continuous improvement in areas like employee development and engagement, assessing co-curricular learning outcomes, student retention and overall campus success,” Kovaleski said. “I’m definitely a better researcher and manager because of the experience and expertise I’ve gained through the program.”