ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Recovering from a car crash is tough on its own. Doing it while you are trying to complete four college degrees simultaneously? Many would even think it’s impossible.
Not for recent Rochester Institute of Technology graduate Bobby Kovach.
Originally enlisting in the Navy’s Delayed Entry program during his junior year of high school, Kovach says he received a perfect score on his placement exams to determine what job he was going to have when he started.
They let me choose whatever job I wanted. So, I said, ‘Great, I want to be on a submarine,” Kovach said.
After showcasing his talents to the Navy Junior ROTC he was enrolled in, with roles like Recruit Petty Officer, Kovach was offered something that would make him stop and think about what was next in his career.
“I had received a commendation from what’s called the area manager for Navy Junior ROTC,” Kovach said. “He had 52 schools in what was called area four. That’s from Portugal, all the way over to around Ohio. I had received his personal nomination to get a scholarship for college.”
College, however, was not something Kovach had planned on for years to come. That was until, a small nudge from someone he respected.
“I really had my heart set on being enlisted, and going on a submarine,” Kovach said. “That was until my colonel pulled me aside and said, ‘No, son, you’re applying for that scholarship. And you’re going to college if you end up getting it.'”
And — he got it. So, Kovach applied to a bunch of schools, receiving admissions from Yale, which was Kovach’s number one school, but things abruptly changed.
“That was my number one school,” Kovach said. “I had a full-ride scholarship and would have been one of the only people there with it. But then, the next day, I got rejected. I emailed the scholarship coordinator, and they said, ‘Yeah, some things like that happen all the time.”
His number one school, and later, Kovach found out it was the only school he had applied to. After the hassle of figuring out letters of recommendation, emails to admissions offices, talking to the Dean of select college programs — Kovach ended up at RIT.
“They had a long waiting list. Everything was full,” Kovach said. “But they had a discussion to add one more seat to their cohort in the chemical engineering department.”
From advocating to him for his admission, to aiding him when tragedy struck, Kovach said he knew he would not have gone to college at all without the level of commitment and care he received from RIT faculty.
After getting into the flow of college and maintaining his relationship with the Army ROTC, Kovach put the academic puzzle pieces together to double major in Chemical Engineering and Economics.
“I mapped it out on my degree completion plan. I asked my roommate to look at it for me and said, ‘Does this look like it makes sense?’ and he said ‘Absolutely not. This looks ridiculous.’ I said ‘Perfect, let’s try it.”
Shortly after, Kovach worked with one of his professors to add on another major on top of what he was already working to complete.
Taking full advantage of the programs that RIT had to offer, Kovach quickly decided to adopt a master’s degree.
“If you’re an engineering major, in that same five years, you get to swap out your electives with masters level classes,” Kovach said. “That was the first triple major for undergrad at RIT, and the first time someone did four disciplines at the same time.”
After thinking a concrete plan was locked down — duty called while Kovach was working at the Golisano Institue for Sustainability.
“I really wanted to make sure that while the Navy is protecting people from physical harm, who is going to protect them from environmental harm, and things that you just can’t repel,” Kovach said. “I did that for only about a month before I got a call from the Navy saying, ‘Hey, we need you in Pearl Harbor ASAP.”
This abrupt change in routine was beneficial, according to Kovach.
“I got to learn about life on a submarine, I got to help people out, I actually got to qualify to stand some watches.”
After he came home, though, Kovach would not complete school the way he thought he would.
“I was turning left into my driveway on Rosemont Street. Down the hill, there’s a stop sign. I was my house was two houses from a stop sign. The [car] behind me, for some reason thought it would be a really good idea to try to pass me on the left as I was turning left. So, he stepped on the gas and drove right into my driver’s side door. If he’d stayed in the right lane, if he just slowed down, stayed in his lane, he would have gone right behind me. He drove directly into my door. My passenger side door was destroyed. My driver’s side door was destroyed. I had to crawl out the other side of the car and just kind of roll on to the ground. I tried to fight it for a couple of weeks just because I was being stubborn. Eventually, I collapsed in my kitchen and my roommates called the ambulance and I went to the hospital. And that that started the gift that just kept on giving.”
For about three to four months, Kovach was unable to go to school. Professors were doing the best they could to give him some assistance, but it started to become out of their hands.
“My professors ended up saying ‘Hey, we’re going to have to fail you on these classes or take them as incompletes. You don’t have a GPA,'” Kovach said.
But Kovach was not going to let this injury hold him back from getting the degrees he was working with. With the
Through the format classes were due to COVID-19, friends reading him lessons, and lenience from professors, he was able to catch up quick.
“[For one class,] from 11 o’clock at night, until 3 o’clock in the morning, I took the quizzes and tests just back-to-back. I ended up getting an A in that class over the span of like a week,” Kovach said. “That was really exciting. Because in the last two weeks of the semester, I managed to finish two of my classes.”
With the crash placing Kovach on a leave of absence from the Navy, that made him ineligible for the scholarship that landed him at RIT. He says this also took away his housing scholarship.
“So very suddenly, I was homeless, and also owed full tuition, where I was normally paid to go to college,” Kovach said. “That was something really tricky to navigate for the next spring. I ended up winning an award through the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York for $10,000 for the Top Two Up and Coming Engineers in New York.
There was light at the end of the tunnel for Kovach. After uncertainty, Kovach graduated from RIT with a degree from the College from Engineering, a degree from the College of Liberal Arts and Economics, a degree from the School of Individualized Studies and Officially Applied Arts and Sciences, and his master’s degree from the College of Science in Material Science and Engineering.
What’s next after having all of these achievements? Kovach says he recently co-founded a company called SATEG (Scalable Arctic and Antarctic Thermal Electric Generators) and currently serves as the Business Development Director. He also is lending a hand to some of his RIT professors with their projects — who Kovach says he would not be here without.
“My advisor, she helped make sure that I not only had a seat in the cohort to begin with, but that all the way through when life events happened, making sure that I was connected to resources. It’s really just, she trusted in my ability to do things to be resourceful and get things done, and she leaned on that. She really helped me develop that resilience myself, while also making sure that I didn’t slip through the cracks. Being able to balance that was just so skillful, and also so kind at the same time. The last five years at RIT, I got to witness some of the most kindness that I ever have anywhere.”