By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Throughout her nearly 11 years at Grand Canyon University, within numerous positions, Dr. Breanna Naegeli was asked the question continually:
“Are you a GCU alumna?”
All her siblings have attended GCU, she is the Associate Dean of the Honors College, she teaches and celebrates thousands of graduates every semester, and she has been an active member of the GCU community for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until this summer that she could say that she is, in fact, a GCU graduate.
Naegeli successfully defended her dissertation, “The Influence of Fan Engagement Through Social Media on Performance Anxiety and Male, NCAA Division I Athletes,” in May from the College of Doctoral Studies. She now holds her Ph.D. in Performance Psychology.
“It was always kind of funny because people just assumed that I’m an alum because I’ve been around for 11 years,” she said. “My prior degrees were from other institutions, but now I finally get to call myself an alum, which is rewarding.”
With a background in sports and exercise psychology, it was important to Naegeli to expand her knowledge in the field to combine her love of athletics and academics. With such a prominent role in the Honors College, one might wonder how she is able to use her degree in her career. Naegeli said she uses her degrees more than you’d think.
“At the time, I was really invested in pursuing sport psychology as a profession, given my background in coaching and leading in various sports organizations. But then while growing within my role at GCU, I realized I was able to integrate a lot of those same concepts within various student programs I launched throughout the Honors College,” she said.
“Performance psychology, and even sport psychology, is heavily focused on professional and leadership development, team dynamics, character coaching, strengthening mental performance and so on, so I was able to integrate a lot of those pieces with what I was already doing in the Honors College.
“I felt a little relieved after discovering those parallels between my education and my passion. I additionally get to work with our NCAA student-athletes in UNV107: University Success for Student Athletes, which is a fun way to bring my passion for sport into the classroom.”
Her seven-year doctoral journey took a little longer than she had expected, but if it meant taking a little extra time because something else in her life needed her primary focus at the moment, then that was what she had to do.
“In those seven years, I got married, had two kids and had five job-title changes,” she reflects. “My priorities and focus shifted often, to say the least.”
She felt blessed to have Dr. Lori Wieters as her chair the entire time. Naegeli joked that her time in the program lasted so long, family members constantly asked where she was with it.
“From year three they kept asking me, ‘Oh, are you done yet?’” she said with a smile. “As the first in the family to pursue graduate school, let alone a doctoral program, I had to keep telling them, ‘It’s not just writing some paper or taking a list of classes and hoping I pass.’ I was like, ‘This is a five-chapter book.’ It’s 250 pages, and it’s not just writing whatever I want to write. It’s a process.
“I finally got to a point year five and I’m like, ‘Don’t ask. I’ll tell you when I’m there.”
Naturally, when she gave her family the news, they were both proud and shocked since it had been awhile since they had heard an update -- but they were more than happy to celebrate the first doctor in the family. Now that she has successfully obtained her doctorate, Naegeli says the thing she is looking forward to the most is being able to hood her younger sister, who also is pursuing her doctorate.
Naegeli’s program completion also was part of a notable achievement for the Honors College. She is the third member of her team to complete a GCU graduate degree in 2020 -- Program Manager Dennis Williams and Program Development Specialist Faith Beatty both completed their MBA's in April, and Program Managers Anna Cofrancesco and Cathleen Daly hope to finish their master’s programs in the coming months.
The postponement of Commencement because of COVID-19 might enable Naegeli and the other four members of her team to participate in the same ceremony despite completing their programs at different points in the year.
“We’ve all been a huge support group for each other," she said. “They already knew and felt confident about their graduation dates, but since the dissertation component is somewhat of a move-at-your-pace process with a handful of pending approvals, they were looking at me like, ‘Well you better finish, too.’
"So it really encouraged me to finally wrap up those loose ends and get done.”
Mission accomplished, Dr. Naegeli.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]
GCU Today: Honors College assistant dean receives national award