UIC Student Shares Experience Graduating During COVID-19

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- More than 5,300 University of Illinois-Chicago students receive their degrees "virtually" this weekend when the school hosts a virtual commencement ceremony.

They're part of the growing number of students who are learning to deal with academic life in the Coronavirus Era.

One of them is Joe Bozeman who has earned a doctorate in civil engineering and has done research on how the eating habits of various demographic groups impact the environment.

Bozeman is in his mid-30s and said he would like to become a professor one day. Before the pandemic hit, he had begun interviewing for assistant professorships until those opportunities dried up.

"I was applying and interviewing for a lot of assistant professorships and the academic community has been hit hard by COVID. Their economic uncertainty has frozen a lot of job opportunities, so I’ve felt it personally, I have to admit," he said. 

For the time being, Bozeman will continue working at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center where he oversees environmental compliance and energy conservation programming.

Bozeman credits his wife, Rayne, with encouraging him to complete his doctorate. She already has one and teaches social psychology at Chicago State University. Bozeman jokes that now his wife isn't the only one in the house with a PhD.

"It was probably my wife that got me over the hump. She’s a PhD herself and a professor, and marrying into a family of other professors and intellectuals really gave me a great foundation and confidence to pursue my PhD," he said. 

Bozeman is a native of Dayton, Ohio. He played basketball as a walk-on at Wright State University where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He said there was a time during his earlier college years when he had trouble "engaging" with his counterparts.

"For the undergrads or folks pursuing graduate degrees out there, if you are feeling a bit dejected, especially in times like these, right? There’s a lot of challenges with mental health and emotion these days, keep pursuing it, find your networks and find your passions to continue on," Bozeman said.

Despite the delay in his dream of joining his wife in the world of academia, Bozeman offers advice to those behind him on the academic trail.

"This time shall pass. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep getting your good grades. Do not fall into despair and lose hope, because at some point, the economic engine will start turning again. It may not look the same, but it will come back," he said.

He adds that they should "stay on the path" and not lose confidence in themselves.

Joe Bozeman said his experience at UIC was the "best collegiate experience" he's had.