Student Commencement Speaker Jordan Cioni finds shocking results at UW-Green Bay

Student Commencement Speaker Jordan Cioni
Student Commencement Speaker Jordan Cioni

These days, strolling out of UW-Green Bay with a degree in engineering is a very good thing. With the rapid growth of high-tech manufacturing in our region, most graduates can just keep walking into extremely well-paying jobs and flourishing careers. But Jordan Cioni marches to the beat of his own sine wave.

“Once I polish off this engineering degree it’s off to River Falls.” To pursue a degree in physics.

Physics? While one of the most elegant of intellectual pursuits, (Cioni calls it “the science of all sciences”), physicists typically do not command the income-generating potential of engineering. And there are a lot fewer of them.

Student Commencement Speaker Jordan Cioni

Student Commencement Speaker Jordan Cioni

If UW-Green Bay had a physics major that would have been his first choice. The primary influence to embrace engineering was something far more impactful than earning potential—the personal attention and professional camaraderie of Jagadeep Thota, associate professor and chair of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“I’m working with Professor Thota researching shock mitigation.” Temptingly described in the professor’s bio as the analysis of structures under severe loading conditions such as explosions and projectile impacts. Does that mean they get to blow things up?

“We do not. I was kind of hoping we could.” All shocks occur as computer simulations and equations.

Professor Thota’s admiration for his student is obvious. “Jordan is one of the most well-rounded and self-motivated students I have come across in my more than a decade of higher education experience,” he noted in a letter of recommendation.

Cioni concedes he had no idea what his major might be or even if college was the right choice. “For my first two years in college, I was pretty much lost and spinning my wheels. I could have put on a master’s class on how to disappoint parents.”

That state-of-affairs hardly seems possible for someone whose current resume includes a 4.0 average in his engineering classes, presidency of UW-Green Bay Engineering Club, selection to present at 18th Annual Research in the Rotunda conference and an Elijah high-altitude balloon scholar—a NASA sponsored Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium funded research scholarship. Along with conducting research and publishing work with Thota.

For Cioni, math has always been a true love/hate/love relationship. “When I was walking out of high school, pre-calc was my last exam. I told myself ‘I’m never going to do math again!’ Then two years later I was sitting in statistics class as a sophomore college and I realized, ‘Man, I miss math!'”

As an engineering major, he made up for lost time, taking Calculus I and II as summer classes. Then something remarkable happened, the spinning wheel achieved traction. “When I was about two weeks into the summer classes, I realized this was precisely where I needed to be because it was so much fun.”

And, he had found his flock. “With engineering classes, it’s no secret that they can be really challenging. There’s a lot of classes. You see each other in literally all the same classes for the next three years. You start working together, collaborating and helping each other out.”

But there was still the siren’s call of physics to contend with. He considered transferring for a time, And that’s when Professor Thota had his biggest impact. “He made me the one offer I couldn’t refuse—the chance to do research with him.”

Next fall, the dream of studying physics will become a reality at UW-River Falls. But at this moment, Cioni is convinced it wasn’t just science that saved his college career, but UW-Green Bay’s spirit of community.

“I really credit this school, all the people, all the professors, all the students for creating this supportive environment that allowed me to grow, make better decisions, and have a lot more hope for this future.”

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