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A new playing field: former athlete turned educational leader inspires students to be campus, community leaders

(l-r): Steve Tolman, Ed.D., assistant professor of educational leadership; John Egan, Ed.D.; and Juliann Sergi-McBrayer, Ed.D., assistant professor of educational leadership

John Egan, Ed.D., spent his undergraduate and graduate academic career pursuing degrees in sports management. As an award-winning college pole vaulter, Egan wanted to continue his passion for sports, melding it into his career. Yet, when he began as an advisor in Georgia Southern’s Student-Athlete Services, which provides academic support and development to student-athletes, in 2012, Egan’s professional focus shifted quickly from sports management to students.

“I knew after some time at the University that I wanted to continue my work with college students, but perhaps not in the way that I had really ever thought of before,” said Egan. “My career goals suddenly were no longer about sports but focused more on students.”

In 2014, Egan started the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program at Georgia Southern. 

“To continue working with students in the higher education workforce, I wanted to make sure there was no ceiling or barrier for reaching my potential and goals so I felt I needed to pursue a doctorate,” said Egan.

The College of Education’s doctoral program only strengthened what Egan already knew – that he had a passion for helping others develop their leadership skills. In July 2016, Egan was named the leadership educator in the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement (OLCE).

“I always had my eye on this office,” admitted Egan. “I knew the culture in the office was positive and highly regarded on campus, and the work itself was compelling and attractive to me.”

Since joining the team over three years ago, Egan’s role has grown, as has his enthusiasm for the work he does in OLCE. One of Egan’s primary roles is to assist with the coordination of the Southern Leaders program, a three- to four-year program that engages students in interactive leadership development and community service during their academic career at Georgia Southern. Egan also teaches non-credit courses in leadership for students and the larger campus community. Each fall, Egan coordinates the Southern Collegiate Leadership Conference (SCLC), which hosts over 300 college students from across the Southeast.

Egan’s doctoral studies worked hand-in-hand with his job, allowing him to use experiences from his work during his research efforts, and found that his coursework enhanced his ability to help college students.

“I find that my work as a leadership educator is more rooted in research and evidence-based practices since completing my work in the program,” he said. “For example, I’m now able to build more meaningful leadership programming through the backwards-course-design approach, and I am able to align leadership learning with evidence-based teaching strategies.”

Egan completed and defended his dissertation in summer 2019, in which he focused his mixed-methods research on the skills derived from alumni of the Southern Leaders program, analyzing if and how the program’s alumni utilize skills from the program in the workforce.

“Professionally, it is my hope that students who are engaged in programming through the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement will see direct benefits in their future careers,” said Egan. “The study allowed me to explore this professional aspiration. Also, in writing the literature review, I learned a great deal about undergraduate leadership learning, and this has directly impacted my approach as a leadership educator.” 

As a part of the OLCE team and through his doctoral studies, Egan has submitted two manuscripts for publication with members of his dissertation committee that includes College of Education’s (COE) Juliann Sergi McBrayer, Ed.D., Pamela Wells, Ph.D., and Steven Tolman, Ed.D. These articles were developed out of Egan’s dissertation work, exploring leadership programs from the alumni perspective.

“We’ve formed a great team, and we are now starting on a third manuscript,” he said. “This third manuscript is really an idea that spun off of my dissertation. Dr. Tolman recognized that we were using Experiential Learning Theory in a unique way.”

Egan, fellow OLCE colleague and COE alumnus John Banter, Ed.D., and COE faculty member Carl (“Kip”) Sorgen, Ed.D., have also created and submitted a manuscript assessing the use of escape games as leadership pedagogy, a practice Egan and Banter began in 2017 at the SCLC. The pair also presented their framework of designing leadership escape games at the 2018 Association of Leadership Educators (ALE) conference where they were named the conference’s Distinguished Educator Workshop and the University’s Southern Leaders program received the ALE’s Outstanding Program of the Year Award.

Now that Egan has completed his doctorate, he plans to continue research and collaboration with the COE faculty members and his fellow doctoral colleagues. 

“I really enjoy working here,” said Egan. “We have a great team and are doing some amazing work with students.”

For more information about the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, visit https://coe.georgiasouthern.edu/edld/p-12-leadership/p-12-ed-leadership/.

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