Katharine O'Connor, Ph.D. is a 2022 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Katharine O'Connor at her Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Member, Dr. Cara Meixner, Committee Member, Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Committee Chair.

Dissertation Committee

  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Cara Meixner, Ph.D., Committee Member


empathy, leadership, community-engagement, interpretive phenomenological research, service-learning, women’s leadership

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Community-engaged learning is a high impact educational practice that has been proven to aid in retention rates and overall student success (Kuh, 2008). As an educator, I have had many students tell me that their community-engaged learning experiences helped them develop leadership skills. And while there have been many quantitative studies considering the grade point averages and retention rates, there is a need for research that focuses on the lived experience of people who participate in community-engaged learning. This dissertation focused on young adult women who have emerged as leaders through their community-engaged learning experiences. Through the use of interpretive phenomenological research, the stories of five women who had life-changing leadership experiences through their community work were discussed in terms of the four main themes that emerged from the analysis: Discovery of Self, Family Experience, Empathy, and Transformation. Each theme had associated subthemes that further described the meaning in the context of women’s leadership. The results were considered through the lens of major leadership theories: relational, servant, adaptive, and transformational. The findings showed considerable promise for deepening knowledge of the pedagogy and impact of community-engaged learning. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive ( and OhioLINK ETD Center (


Katharine O'Connor

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0003-1175-5305

Katharine O’Connor, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication and Foreign Languages at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers, Florida, where she teaches Intercultural Communication, Creative Capstone for General Education, Public Speaking, and Fundamentals of Human Communication. She earned her PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University and has an MA in Communication Studies with a specialization in Public Service Communication from Monmouth University. Her scholarly interests are community change, diversity and inclusion, global learning, intercultural communication, and public service. Within her work as a scholar, Katie works to integrate high-impact practices, including community-engagement and global learning throughout various courses and across the curriculum.