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Personal tragedies can't keep Josh Biris from graduation day, GE Aviation operations management leadership program

"It could be worse," University of Dayton senior Josh Biris said during the first week of December, near the anniversaries of his parents' deaths. "I could have given up after their passing, but that's not what my parents wanted for me. They wanted me to finish college. They wanted me to succeed and become something. I did it for them." Come this Saturday, Biris will have "done it for them" with a mechanical engineering degree with honors and a job in GE Aviation's Operations Management Leadership Program. In future Decembers, the calendar will feature the anniversary of his graduation.

"I've been thinking about it a lot," said Biris, the youngest of seven children who moved in with a sister when he was 16, and "began taking care of myself and basically paying my own bills." "I have a feeling I'm going to break down after I walk off that stage and see my family. After everything I went through, and them seeing me through everything, just to see them … I don't know how to put it into words."

Biris, a graduate of Berea-Midpark High School near Cleveland, will have three siblings and their families plus extended family and high school friends watch him and nearly 650 classmates receive their degrees at the University's fall commencement exercises at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, in University of Dayton Arena. Click here for information about fall commencement exercises and a live stream of the ceremony.

Biris' father passed away the first week of December 2014, during Biris' senior year of high school, right before he got his acceptance letter to UD. Going into his junior year at Dayton, Biris reconciled with his mom and then shortly thereafter "we got the news that she had stage four cancer." Biris went back to Cleveland every weekend to take care of her during his co-op at GE Aviation, until his mother passed away in December 2017.

"I think they are proud. My dad didn't get to see me go to college. He always told me how proud he is of me. He was my biggest supporter. Anything I needed, I could always call him," Biris said. "My mom would always tell her friends about me and call me to tell me how proud she is." 

At the University of Dayton, Biris said he found several "rocks" in the Minority Engineering Program and Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center who "supported me, were my safe space and also kept me pushing" along his journey to graduation.

Among them are former Minority Engineering Program Director Laura Bistrek who welcomed Biris to campus and offered initial support, and current program Director Gerica Brown who helped Biris land the co-op at GE Aviation during college that led to his job after college. Biris said Maceo Cofield in the School of Engineering dean's office was always there with advice: "He kept me pushing and gave me a different outlook on college, how not to let yourself slip. He tells us not to sell ourselves short, not take anything for granted, go after what we want." And there's Cynthia Payne, an assistant director of academic success in the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center, to whom Biris said he can "reach out for anything and who he can vent and talk to." She inspired him to give back to other students as an academic success ambassador.

Biris also earned a Minority Engineering Program scholarship and benefited from several other support services the program offers students.

"It lessened the financial burden most college students had. It helped me focus more on my academics. I could buckle down on my schoolwork and not worry about how I'm going to pay for school," he said. "The MEP program offers so much more than financial support. It offers resources, people to talk to, and a place to find people with similar experiences and backgrounds.

"UD is an amazing place. I'll tell everyone that. When you're here, you don't feel like you're at college. Everyone is willing to help you. 'Community' is a huge word here, but it means something. It's a home away from home."

After graduation, Biris will have a well-earned three-month break before starting his first of three rotations in GE Aviation's two-year Operations Management Leadership Program. Until then, he'll return to Cleveland to relax, tinker with his new-found hobby building computers, and play basketball and video games.  

For more information or an interview with Josh, contact Shawn Robinson, associate director of news and communications, at 937-229-3391 or srobinson1@udayton.edu. 


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