- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The University of Wisconsin-Madison will award a posthumous degree Friday for just the second time in the school’s 168-year history to a student who faced enormous obstacles on his way to a doctorate.

The university will honor Craig Schuff with a doctorate degree in electrical and computer engineering during commencement ceremonies. Schuff died unexpectedly in October at age 30 of complications of his paralysis. Schuff was paralyzed from the neck down after diving off a pier into Lake Monona and hitting his head in May 2011.

He was well on his way to a master’s degree when the accident occurred after enrolling at Madison to study nuclear engineering in 2008, according to the university. Schuff worked his way back to living relatively independently following the accident. At the time of his death, Schuff was just months away from wrapping up his doctoral dissertation.

Schuff’s research adviser, engineering physics professor Jerry Kulcinski, said Schuff’s work ethic and inquisitive nature led to steady progress toward his doctorate.

“He was a very energetic young man and a very hard worker,” Kulcinski said. “He had a genuine drive to do things, and he was always generating new ideas.”

An anonymous donor retrofitted Schuff’s lab space to accommodate his needs following the accident, according to the university. Other donors funded special lab equipment Schuff used to run his experiments. An undergraduate student was hired to serve as Schuff’s “hands” in the lab because of his paralysis.

He earned his master’s degree in 2012 after developing a method of using a pulsed neutron source to detect nuclear materials through thick metal walls. Kulcinski said Schuff’s attitude as he dealt with his physical limitations was quite remarkable.

“He never let it slow him down,” Kulcinski said. “He had a lot of trouble with his immune system after the accident. He would be very subject to infections and all kinds of things that we would be able to handle, but his body couldn’t. So sometimes he would come in and it would look like a real chore. But he came in. Quite frankly, I think that’s what kept him going - he’d come in and work.”

Schuff was also a Badger football fan and would motor from his apartment to nearby Camp Randall Stadium for home games.

After Schuff’s death, the College of Engineering pushed for a posthumous doctorate for Schuff, which needed approval from several committees and individuals. Kulcinski said considering how slowly academia can move, approval came “almost at light speed.”

Schuff’s parents, Mary and Rick Schuff, will be presented with their son’s degree at the commencement ceremony.

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