Dr. Angie Kovarik
Dr. Angie Kovarik

How can you increase student engagement? One way is to link your doctoral coursework directly to projects with businesses in your community. In December, that’s exactly what Dr. Angie Kovarik, an assistant professor at Bemidji State University in Minnesota and a 2016 graduate of Walden University’s Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program, recently did for her undergraduate students in a marketing course.

At the start of the semester, she asked students to come up with a product idea and slowly add in marketing concepts, like packaging, labeling, and product positioning. A few months later, they joined local entrepreneurs at a monthly meetup to host a mock trade show, which allowed local business leaders to assess the students’ products and offer feedback.

“Students shared with me that they really enjoyed that this activity was relatable to real-world experience,” she shares. “They said they would not have met these community influencers without this course. A few are now considering launching a business after they graduate.”

Dr. Kovarik has focused on engagement since completing her doctoral study. Through her research, she saw engagement emerge as one of the primary reasons a merger or acquisition was successful. It’s an under-studied angle—the strategies leaders use to maintain or increase employee engagement and satisfaction in the years following a deal. “A lot of people judge a merger on its financial success. To me, that’s not the only factor,” she says. Her research also revealed that more frequent and transparent communication, intentional and structured leadership, and increased trust and emotional engagement led to more successful outcomes.

After serving in leadership roles for more than 15 years, including in the healthcare industry, Dr. Kovarik recently fulfilled a long-term professional dream by becoming an assistant professor. Not only does she want her own students to succeed, she is also still connected to students in Walden’s DBA program. When asked for advice, she stresses the importance of varying your focus on the big picture and the details by providing an instantly understandable analogy:

“You don’t eat a whole cake in one sitting. You eat one slice at a time,” she explains. When you approach your doctoral study or dissertation, she continues, simply, “Take the next step. Don’t get wrapped up in the whole picture—just focus on your next task.”

If you feel discouraged, she advises, think back to the reason you chose to enroll in the program. “That is still your motivator, even if it’s muddied because you’ve been going through challenges,” Dr. Kovarik explains. Every step is progress that brings you closer to your goal—to earn your degree.

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