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Kean University

Kean Q&A: Dean James Konopack, Ph.D., Joins CHPHS

James Konopack, new dean of CHPHS, stands in front of NAAB

The Kean College of Health Professions and Human Services (CHPHS) welcomes new Dean James Konopack, Ph.D.

A New Jersey native, Konopack most recently served as dean of the College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation at Salus University in Pennsylvania. 

“His breadth of experience as an administrator, clinician and scholar matches well with our leadership needs for a College on the move in all of those areas,” said Kean Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Birdsell, Ph.D.

Konopack, who called Kean “a force for upward mobility and access,” spoke to Kean News about his background, his vision for CHPHS, and why his hobby – running marathons – fits his research background.

1. You arrived at CHPHS from a similar position at Salus University, which offers programs in the health sciences. What do you bring from that experience? How does it compare with Kean?

A: My college at Salus had many of the same programs as CHPHS, but graduate-level only. One thing I missed was undergraduates, athletics, student activities – the whole campus involvement.

I launched new programs at Salus and at Monmouth University, where I spent 12 years. I’ve worked in public and private universities, small institutions and larger. That breadth of experience gives me perspective to better serve the Kean community.

2. Had you ever been to Kean before? What do you like about Kean?

I had not been to Kean. I grew up in New Jersey, and knew of it as Kean College, but my desire was to leave home. I attended Cornell University as an undergraduate, then Boston University and the University of Illinois. I was shocked at how beautiful and modern the Kean campus is, the buildings, facilities and size. 

I love what Kean is doing for students within the state and region. It’s a force for upward mobility and access to expertise and thought leaders. I also love its upward research trajectory. I’ve always been excited about supporting research, being involved in knowledge creation as well as dissemination. The president and provost are doing so much with their teams; the more I learn, the more impressed I am.

3. What is your vision and what are your goals for CHPHS?

I see CHPHS as a leader for interprofessional education and collaborative, evidence-based practice. I have a vision of the college offering unparalleled access to expertise, to recruit and retain students and cultivate future generations of healthcare practitioners and scholars. We’ve got some amazing people here and are growing even more on the faculty side. That’s aligned with the University’s R2 research aspirations. 

4. CHPHS includes programs in allied health fields, human services and more. What do you plan to do first as dean?

I have so many things I want to do first. We have already strengthened our faculty by recruiting new scholars. We’re outfitting multiple research labs; we have two new labs coming this fall, and more ahead.

Another goal is to grow our clinical opportunities, both in number and physical spaces. We have clinics for occupational therapy, communication disorders, counseling and psychological services – and aspirations for more.

5. Your academic background is in psychology and kinesiology, and you've done significant research. What are your goals for research?

I fell in love with research early in my academic journey. I began my undergraduate career as an engineering student, and my research experience with a project in nuclear science and nanofabrication. I switched to psychology as a sophomore because I loved everything about it – so much, I would read my textbooks in advance. 

My doctorate is in kinesiology, which is the study of body movement, and my doctoral research was in the psychosocial factors related to physical activity in older adults. I’ve written book chapters, with messages for practitioners, about how resistance training can have functional consequences for successful aging. 

For me, having a graduate research assistantship allowed me to go to graduate school. That’s something I’d love to enhance here at Kean.

6. You mentioned you're a runner in your spare time and have a goal of running a marathon or ultramarathon in every state. What do you enjoy about that? Where have you yet to run?

I like to practice what I teach and preach, which is physical activity for maintaining function and quality of life. To me, it’s useful not just physically and mentally; I also love nature, and spending free time with my family, my wife and two teenagers.

I sometimes travel to races myself, but also enjoy going with my family. A marathon in Kona, Hawaii was a family trip. This summer, my wife and I visited New Mexico, and I ran a high-altitude trail marathon there.

I have three states left: North Dakota, Arkansas and Alaska. It’s a glorious way to stay in shape and see the diversity of geography and people in our beautiful country.