By Brian Brownfield-
Friday, April 8, 2016. A morning that I still refuse to accept for reality. My 10:10 AM Campaigns and Elections class was cancelled, so I planned to get some extra sleep until my Sports Ethics class at 11:10 AM. My alarm went off, and I rolled over to check my phone and make sure it was time for me to get out of bed. The first thing I saw on my phone was an email from President Moran titled “Professor Ron Kovas.” My heart beat a little faster, not knowing what to anticipate. I unlocked my phone and headed to my Gmail app to read the email. There, I read the news that stunned the entire campus: Professor Kovas passed away in his sleep the night before.
Thoughts started running through my mind like a buffalo stampede. Tears started to fall from my half-awake eyes. I could not believe it. Not only did this campus lose a beloved professor who did anything to be there for his students, but it also lost a mentor. For as good of a teacher as Professor Kovas was in the classroom, his guidance and wisdom outside class hours is where he proved even more valuable. Those fortunate enough to take his Integrated Marketing, Capstone, Business Management, Sports Marketing, or Sports Economics classes know just how much he cared about each student.
I had the privilege to take both the Sports Marketing and Sports Economics classes taught by Professor Kovas this spring semester. I had not known him personally prior to enrolling in these courses, but I went into each having heard stories about the man he was. I was also alerted that he can come off as slightly intimidating initially. The moment I sat down in his 3:40 PM Sports Marketing class on the first Monday of the semester, I could clearly see that all of the stories were true. The first words he told our class came out as swiftly as any that would follow: “Gentlemen, please remove your hats and hoods. Gentlemen do not wear hats and hoods indoors. I love wearing hats and wear them quite often, but I do not wear them indoors.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen students take off their headwear any faster! If that didn’t set the tone for the remainder of the course, I’m not sure what would.
The first two weeks of class, I kept thinking to myself, “How am I going to get past all the work that he is placing on us?” The amount of work and the apparent strict-nature of his grading made it seem like an insurmountable task. But with the passing weeks, it became clear that each of us were falling into Professor Kovas’ cycle. The two-page write-ups, the in-class presentations, the constant harping on us to be better thinkers and presenters, it was all a successful effort to help each student become as professional and intellectual as possible. That’s the thing about Professor Kovas, he pushed each individual student to their limit in order to help each succeed. If you felt like you were under a bit of a strain, but still felt the urge to continue, you were a microcosm of his plan working.
Today I feel as if my personal ability to communicate and articulate my ideas are at an all-time high thanks to Professor Kovas. One of the major ideas he stressed to each of his classes was the importance of being able to present in front of a group. Public speaking is a craft that most people are not almost a fan of, myself included. However, it is a necessary skill to have in the workplace and is something everyone will have to do at some point in their professional careers. Projecting your voice, speaking to the entire room, rehearsing your presentation, and clearly enunciating were just a few of the tips given to us by Professor Kovas. Most importantly, we practiced, practiced, practiced. The repetition of speaking in front of our peers gave us the confidence needed to get through each presentation. By the middle of the semester, every student saw considerable growth in their skills.
For Professor Kovas, it was not just the experience inside the classroom that mattered. He sought to connect each student to professionals in the Silicon Valley so he or she could be better prepared for the business world. Students in his Marketing and Business courses were taken to Facebook, Google, and ABC. Students in his Sports Management classes heard from guest speakers such as Al Guido, Andy Dolich, and Ted Leland. My personal favorite was getting to hear Ted Robinson, the play-by-play radio voice of the San Francisco 49ers. Professor Kovas knew I have a passion for sports broadcasting, so when Mr. Robinson arrived to class, he personally sought me out. Following class, I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with Mr. Robinson for about fifteen minutes. I made a connection with one of the best professionals in the business who is willing to help me get started in the broadcasting world. Without Professor Kovas, that opportunity never would have presented itself.
Listen to a few stories from students and faculty who have had the pleasure to learn from Professor Kovas.
“Professor Kovas expressed a great amount of passion for teaching and sharing his life experiences with his students. The desire he had to push his students to question the norms, think beyond imaginable, and make things happen was immense. Professor Kovas inspired me to be excited about my life after Menlo. The inspiration and drive he instilled in me will forever be cherished and appreciated.” – Kelsey McKeon, ‘17.
“Ron Kovas showed dedication to his students. He was there for them despite medical conditions until the very end.” – Doug Carroll, Associate Professor of Mass Communications.
“I’ve had the privilege to have been taught by Professor Kovas on two separate occasions at Menlo. My first class with him was an 8:00 AM Sports Economics class that I really didn’t want to wake up for. However, as Professor Kovas began to address the class it didn’t take long before he had my undivided attention and earned my utmost respect for the way he spoke and carried himself. On our first writing assignment, it’s safe to say I didn’t place forth my best effort, because I knew that in most other classes I would be able to get away with it. I saw him later at the women’s basketball game and he told me, ‘Josh, I can see the potential in you. I know you are capable of much more. This was a BS effort on your part, wasn’t it?’ I smiled and nodded my head while saying, ‘How did you know?’
Professor Kovas had a remarkable ability to inspire students to put their best effort forward, even more effort than they knew they had. He inspired us to always do more, try harder, think differently, and give our personal best in everything we do. If I can become a fraction of the person Professor Kovas was, I will be content knowing that I’ve made a difference. I will miss knowing that I can’t give him a hard time next year when USC beats his alma mater, Stanford. I will miss his constant mentorship and tutelage. But the lessons I learned from him will constantly remind me of his memory.” – Josh Szin, ‘16.
I can say with confidence that I will never have another professor like Professor Kovas. The lessons I have learned and the connections I have made are things I can never repay him for. I will never have the chance to thank him for what he has done in my life. And so, with that, I hope that everyone reading this can try to pay forward anything they learned from this man. Nothing will ever do him justice, but the spreading of his knowledge with a similar passion will help keep his memory alive and help inspire others. Professor Kovas, thank you for making a difference in my life and for guiding me towards success. I can’t wait to see you again someday.