Forty years at Neumann University is quite an accomplishment, but for Dr. Claudia Kovach, it is only the tip of the iceberg for this Renaissance woman. In addition to being a professor of English and French, Kovach is an award-winning figure skater and holds a black belt in karate.
Kovach is not one to sit on the sidelines and watch, and she prefers to be a part of the action. During her tenure at NU, she has worn many hats. From adjunct professor to dean to executive director of Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Catholic Honor Society), Kovach has been drawn to challenges that excite her physically and mentally.
Prior to becoming a Knight, Kovach was a Boilermaker, earning her master’s and doctorate at Purdue University in Indiana. Both degrees were in Comparative Literature. Kovach worked as a teaching assistant at the university and credits this experience with giving her the tools she needed to become a better teacher.
Kovach grew up in Western Pennsylvania and completed her bachelor’s degree at Seton Hill College in the Pittsburgh suburbs. When her husband, Ronald, finished his PhD in Organic Chemistry at Purdue, the young couple began to look for jobs on the East Coast.
DuPont hired her husband, and Kovach accepted an adjunct position teaching English at Neumann, then Our Lady of Angels College. She quickly fell in love with everything about the school, especially the Sisters of Saint Francis.
During afternoon tea in the Crystal Room with Mother Everilda Flynn, former NU President, Kovach was told to “make sure the Humanities stay strong” at NU. She took that task to heart and never forgot it.
“I’ve never forgotten that. It was like she was handing me this important work that I needed to do. I asked her if I could bring my students into the Crystal Room because I thought they should know what a lovely legacy we have here. I would have them write about it in what we call a descriptive essay,” Kovach explained.
Sister Vincentine, who ran the bookbindery in the basement of the Bachmann building, was another sister that Kovach introduced her students to. They watched her demonstrate bookbinding and were then required to write a process essay for Kovach’s class.
“I just felt drawn to the sisters, and I fell in love with them. I have worked with so many of them,” she said. “Unfortunately, some of them are no longer here, but they’re still with us.”
Kovach has also traveled the world with Neumann students, going to France and Romania to attend a vampire conference with fellow professor Bill Hamilton and a student. “I always loved Neumann students. They have a lot on their plates, but they have a good attitude and work hard. I enjoy being with them.”
A lover of languages, Kovach has studied German, Chinese, and several medieval languages.
Her interest in learning to speak Chinese and the culture surrounding this country stems from her two daughters, whom she and her husband adopted from China. Francesca, 26, is an occupational therapist, and Chiara, 22, is working on her master’s in Environmental Engineering at Princeton University. Both daughters are named after the saints that the university holds in high regard. In 2009, Kovach traveled with her family to China to expose the girls to their homeland.
She started a Chinese school at Neumann University for people who are of Chinese descent and wanted their children to know about the culture and language. Her children fit that description, and in addition to forming the school, she also became a student, taking a Chinese language class.
Kovach and her daughters competed in skating competitions around the country and earned several medals. At the Pennsylvania Keystone Games, Kovach ended up qualifying for the national games.
“I applied one of my Chinese dances to an artistic program on ice. I was competing against a lot of other skaters who were better, but I was so excited, and I felt like I’d won the Olympics,” said the ice skater who incorporated jumps and spins into her routine.
Karate classes were also a family affair. When her daughters took Tang Soo Do classes, Kovach decided to join in once again. In 2015, she earned her black belt.
“That’s the way I’ve approached things. I don’t like to sit around and watch. The girls were doing all of these things and I wanted to be involved.” she said.