UC cheers grads via virtual commencement
By Michael Miller
University of Cincinnati Communications
The University of Cincinnati celebrated fall commencement virtually on Dec. 11 and 12 with virtual ceremonies to recognize the accomplishments of more than 2,400 students.
UC is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. As a national research leader, UC faculty and their students have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in extraordinary ways.
UC Health and the UC College of Medicine helped test the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, which has proven 95% effective in clinical trials.
“Human beings now have hope,” lead investigator and College of Medicine professor Carl Fichtenbaum.
UC College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Pharmacy joined with Children’s Hospital Medical Center to create the Geospatial Health Advising Group to track the spread of coronavirus across Ohio and the United States.
Across all colleges, UC responded to the pandemic in ways big and small.
Early in the outbreak, science and engineering departments donated needed personal protective equipment to hospitals. UC’s COVID-19 Design Innovation Team designed new formfitting personal protective equipment for health care workers.
About the fall 2020 class
UC’s 2020 fall commencement class consists of 2,348 students earning 2,457 degrees. Some UC programs allow students to earn dual degrees. The class includes 186 associate degrees, 1,315 bachelor’s degrees, 827 master’s degrees, 124 doctoral degrees and five professional degrees.
Nearly 400 of the graduates are first-generation college students. One hundred are U.S. veterans or dependents of veterans. Another 61 are graduates of Cincinnati Public Schools.
While 62% of the graduating class are from Ohio, the fall graduates come from 48 countries on six continents, including Australia, India, Colombia, Jordan, China, Ethiopia, Norway and Indonesia. In the United States, UC graduates hail from 48 states. The youngest graduate is 18; the oldest, 67, both earning a bachelor’s degree. Women make up about 56% of the fall 2020 class.
UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Querida Gyimah hosted a Zoom graduation party for family in Atlanta, Ghana and England.
“It would have been a trek for them to come to Cincinnati, so this is kind of advantageous for us. We can watch it virtually,” she said. “It’s a silver lining.”
Gyimah, a neuroscience major, will celebrate receiving a second bachelor’s degree at UC’s commencement after earning a degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She wants to pursue a career in medicine after working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the opiate crisis in rural Appalachia.
“That opened my eyes to the disparities in access to public health in rural areas,” she said. “If I referred people for HIV or hepatitis C treatment, they would have to travel for hours to get medical attention.”
First in family
Tyla Thompson, a liberal arts major, will celebrate commencement in Cincinnati with her family. She is a first-generation college student who has faced unthinkable challenges. Her mother suffered a fatal heart attack when Thompson was 9. Her father, Donald Hill, raised her and her five brothers and sisters.
“I’m beyond proud of her,” Hill said. “She is showing me she’s got what it takes to succeed. She doesn’t let obstacles get in her way. Her mom would be very proud.”
Thompson, a Cincinnati Public Schools graduate, worked a part-time job at a day care center to put herself through college while taking on a full course load.
“I was taking 18 credit hours to graduate this semester. There were times I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.
Thompson wants to work in education, perhaps as a guidance counselor. She studied minority health, sociology and early childhood education in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Nationwide, fewer first-generation college students make it to graduation compared to students who have college graduate role models in their families. Thompson said the support of her classmates in Impact House, a UC residence hall for first-generation college students, helped her persevere through the rough patches.
“We were very friendly. If anyone needed something, someone had it,” she said. “Once I asked for tea in the group chat and a classmate brought me a box. We definitely looked out for each other.”
Thompson said this support made all the difference.
“One thing we all have in common is we know that our children will not be first-generation college students,” she said.
A challenging year
The global pandemic forced universities across the country to respond quickly to keep students and faculty safe. UC faculty leaned on technology and innovation to keep courses on track, while students rose to the challenge of remote learning.
UC students took part in national protests for social justice, leading peaceful demonstrations in Cincinnati.
Despite the biggest health crisis in generations, UC began the academic year in 2020 with record enrollment — its eighth straight year of increasing the student body.
One reason UC continues to attract student interest is its nationally renowned cooperative education program or co-op. UC ranks third in the nation for co-ops and internships, topping schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke and Stanford universities. Among public universities, UC is No. 1 for co-op in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.
UC co-op students collectively earn $75 million per year at 1,300 international employers in alternating semesters of study and work tied to their majors. UC continues to place students in positions with business partners despite the pandemic.
“Even before the pandemic, we recognized and anticipated that work needs would increasingly rely on virtual or hybrid semi-virtual environments,” said Gisela Escoe, dean of UC’s Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education. “That foresight is allowing us to quickly expand capacity on a foundation that already existed.”
Meanwhile, UC students continue to pursue their dreams undaunted and undeterred. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recognized UC this year for posting a record graduation rate among student-athletes at 94%. This exceeded the national average of 90%.
All 14 of the Bearcats’ teams achieved a graduation success rate of 85% or higher. Seven UC teams had 100% success in earning diplomas.