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PhD student named Illinois Student Veteran of the Year

UIC PhD candidate Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson may be busy researching robotic prosthetics and working on his PhD at UIC, but that has not stopped him from helping others.

For his efforts, the Marine Corps veteran and UIC PhD candidate was recently named the 2024 Illinois Student Veteran Leader of the Year by the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs.

“Michael is very generous with his time and will join meetings upon request and often on short notice to offer insight and recommendations. He takes advantage of every opportunity that comes his way,” said Mia Garcia-Hills, director of Student Veterans Affairs at UIC.

Jacobson has offered his services to save animals and provide humanitarian aid to people in war-torn Ukraine through Breaking the Chains, speaking at Student Veterans Affairs events, and mentoring veteran engineering students.

“I’ve been doing a lot of help with student veterans in general. I like to give back to veterans,” he said.

While Jacobson has always been an ambitious person,  his experience as an undergraduate student working under the direction of Professor Myungee Kim in the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at UIC had a major impact on him and partially inspired him to mentor others and introduce them to research.

“She showed me how she was a very hard-working person, and I thought if that type of person can entrust me with this type of work that is very laborious and rigorous, then it kind of sets you up for the mindset that I could keep doing more and more,” Jacobson said. “’You’re perfectly capable of doing it,’ she said to me as I was being assigned projects as an undergraduate where I didn’t even think that somebody would allow me with that responsibility. It was the trust in the beginning and the amount of trust that she instilled in me that is pretty powerful.”

With that empowerment, Jacobson took it upon himself to actively engage with veteran and undergraduate engineering students and introduced them to research.

“It’s very impactful to expose the younger generation because they need to see what people are doing and see that they are capable of doing it, too,” he said. “Inviting undergraduates to do research with me, that’s actually a huge door being opened. Similar to how my professor was willing to open that door for me.”

Jacobson is slated to start a software engineer internship with Amazon Web Service’s AI team this summer.

“I want to get into industry because there’s a lot of engineering that is industry specific and very different from academia. I want to be a well-rounded engineer,” he said. “Once I set my mind to something, and get passionate about it, it will eventually happen.”