By Hayley Cox
University Honors Program Associate Director Jonathan Kotinek has recently become Dr. Kotinek! Kotinek completed the dissertation process in early June, and in August he will be receiving his diploma for his Ph. D. in educational psychology from Texas A&M University. He has been selected for recognition as a Distinguished Honor Graduate for the Department of Educational Psychology.
Kotinek began working in the University Honors Program office in 2003, becoming Assistant Director in 2007 and Associate Director in 2012. He received both a B.A. and M.A. in English from Texas A&M. Since 2007, he has been selected for the President’s Award for Academic Advising, the Diversity Staff Service Award, and the President’s Meritorious Service Award. He was also selected as a Texas A&M Fish Camp namesake.
Kotinek had not considered graduate school before his mentor, Dr. Finnie Coleman, encouraged him to do so. Kotinek was an undergraduate student in Dr. Coleman’s Introduction to African American Literature in fall 1999, after which Dr. Coleman encouraged Kotinek to apply to the master’s program in English. Kotinek took time off during his master’s program because he was working full-time, and when he returned his professor for Issues in Child and Adolescent Development, Dr. Joyce Juntune, encouraged him to apply to the doctoral program in educational psychology.
By this time, Kotinek had begun working as a graduate assistant for Dr. Coleman who asked him to assist Dr. Edward Fry in hosting a group visit of Davidson Young Scholars in March 2003. Over the course of these students’ visit, Kotinek saw the frustrations of these young high school students due to the limited opportunities to start college as full-time students. Kotinek said, “This experience really helped to crystallize my desire to study giftedness and how these gifted persons are served by the university.”
Dr. Kotinek’s graduate dissertation is titled “A Narrative Examination of the Experience of Early Entrance to College,” which is a qualitative study that examines the experiences of eight college graduates who entered college as freshman at age 16. The results of Kotinek’s study suggest that “intellectual ability may be sufficient for early college entrants to complete college, but they might need additional support such as specialized advising, mentors, and peer groups to fully realize their academic potential.” He saw this in the young students’ reliance on figuring problems out on their own and a common decrease in achievement levels in college relative to their achievement levels before college.
Kotinek’s Ph.D. in educational psychology ties well into Honors classes and programs which are a fit for gifted college students, focusing on providing additional challenge and enrichment at Texas A&M. He said, “Gifted college students often have a lot of passion for a particular subject, and Honors provides both a community that understands that kind of intense focus and provides opportunities, like undergraduate research and Honors classes, to pursue their interests in great depth.”
Dr. Kotinek had a difficult doctoral education due to competing priorities such as working full-time, having a family, and being engaged in the community. He said he likes to a lot of advising by “negative example,” and from experience could now tell students to consider pursuing graduate work as a full-time student if possible. He also likes to let people know that “graduate school is one of higher education’s best-kept secrets” due to the different relationship between faculty and student that was not so present in undergraduate education.
Kotinek noted that a lot of people are scared by the prospect of a dissertation. But, he said like any large project this could be managed by breaking it into chunks. According to Kotinek, any question that sparks a person’s interest can be a dissertation topic, and “there is a very real sense of accomplishment in adding to the body of knowledge about a subject.”
Dr. Kotinek wanted to thank all of his supporters throughout his doctoral process. He said, “I have been blessed by having such a supportive community as I pursued my degree. Everyone in Honors and Undergraduate Research helped by letting me focus on writing this past Spring. Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, and our former Associate Director, Dr. Dave Louis, have been especially encouraging as I have worked toward this goal. I have also had wonderful support from my committee members: Dr. Laura Stough, Dr. Joyce Juntune, Dr. Edward Funkhouser, and Prof. Rodney Hill. Thank you to all of these folks and the countless colleagues and students that have offered encouragement and advice though the process.”
Kotinek added, “Mostly I have been trying to get people to just call me ‘Jon’ instead of ‘doctor.’”
The Department of Honors and Undergraduate Research congratulates Jon Kotinek on becoming Dr. Jon, along with all of his outstanding achievements at Texas A&M!