News at WilmU

To Survive and Defend

COVID-19 may have delayed Emmanuel Gilbert’s doctoral degree, but it didn’t derail it.

He planned to complete his Ed.D. in Organizational Learning, Leadership, and Innovation by Memorial Day. He was working on the second round of revisions and even scheduled a mock dissertation defense, with the real thing to follow. Then, on March 30, he was hospitalized after contracting COVID-19.

Emmanuel is wheeled out of the hospital as nurses cheerHis stay in the intensive care unit at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, included 29 days on a ventilator, and he wouldn’t return to his Chester home until the end of May.

“That changed a lot of things,” he says. He’s still recovering from the infection and its aftereffects. “But the goal is to finish my degree this summer.”

He has to. His younger brother has no intention of finishing his own doctorate by himself.

Since 2013, both Emmanuel and Darius Gilbert have been pursuing the College of Education’s highest degree. They studied in the same cohort for three years. After four off-and-on years of applied research, as time and finances allowed, both aimed to defend their dissertations in May.

“I was going to earn my doctorate,” says Emmanuel, “and my brother said, there’s no way you’re leaving me behind. We push each other to achieve.”

“Then, from 2011 to 2013, he kept talking about a doctorate,” says Darius. “He’d say, ‘we’ve just got to do it, let’s just see what we can do.’

Their research projects emerged from the work they’ve done with at-risk youth. Both brothers hold supervisory roles at Elwyn, a Delaware County, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization that educates, treats, and supports those with autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Emmanuel’s dissertation focuses on whether local elementary school teachers understand positive behavior intervention and supports an evidence- and data-based alternative to student discipline, while Darius examined whether parents can influence sixth-graders’ academic achievement at the critical transition from elementary to middle school.

When Emmanuel fell ill, Darius stepped up to help coordinate care and communicate between the family, healthcare providers, and others, including WilmU. “Our professors understood we’d have to take a pause,” he says.

Emmanuel describes his continuing recovery from COVID-19 as “an uphill climb,” and it’s nowhere near over. “It’s hard every day,” he says. He’s dropped 45 pounds since his hospitalization. There’s a parade of medications every day, plus physical therapy and speech therapy sessions, twice a week for each. He’s also reckoning with the cognitive impact of the illness and post-traumatic stress.

“I’m thankful that I have a good support system,” he says, “and I have to thank Taylor Hospital for doing their job.”

“I asked him if he was ready to go back to school,” Darius says. “He said, ‘going back to school is what’s going to keep my mind on track, and not falling into depression.’ So far, we’re on the right track.

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