Creating a new path: UB student poet turns academic difficulties to triumph with new book
Charles Joseph Augustin anticipated a future in engineering.
But when Joseph was struck by a speeding car that ran a red light, he didn’t expect to have a future at all.
The impact had Joseph flying 30 feet in the air, landing on his head and suffering from severe damage. Doctors had no choice but to put Joseph into a medically induced coma.
He had a 48 percent chance of living.
He beat the odds.
After 11 days in the coma, Joseph woke up to find himself in therapy for the remainder of his 11th grade year.
“When I got out of therapy, I went back to my senior year of high school. That’s when all of the emotional bullets started hitting me: suicidal thoughts, depression and my friends migrated away from me. I felt alone,” Joseph said. “Poetry was my way of expressing myself when all of these emotions started coming at me.”
Poetry has always been a lifeline for Joseph, but engineering was in the rear view.
Around the time of the accident, Joseph had decided to pursue mechanical engineering. He continued to take physics courses in high school and was ready to explore the major at UB.
“When I was younger, I was into machinery. I deconstructed toys and put them back together. I made robots move, I just thought, ‘That stuff is so interesting, I want to go into that field,’” Joseph said. “Sophomore year [of high school] I started to pursue physics, and thus, I realized that mechanical engineering was the perfect career to accomplish my dreams.”
During Fall 2016, Joseph’s grades came back and his love for engineering backfired.
The head injury that Joseph suffered in 2014 proved to berelentless. Joseph’s injury made him prone to migraines in the years following the accident.
“To start this semester off, I had a migraine every single day,” Joseph said. “I went to the neurologist a few times because they were getting crazy. Not only were my classes hard, but I kept on hitting walls. I studied, pulled all-nighters, went to office hours, asked students to help me, but I just couldn’t get it.”
These struggles inspired Joseph to seek refuge in poetry – the same art form that kept him grounded years before.
The poet, currently a sophomore communication major, took up the penname Charles Joseph and published a book.
Joseph’s first published work, How I Escaped Engineering School, is a collection of poems he wrote while struggling with his engineering major last semester. The poems reflect on his emotional hardships as well as his decision to say goodbye to his dream.
“I knew I wasn’t going to do engineering anymore but I had to finish the semester. I started writing poetry. It wasn’t just an escape, but something that kept me sane,” Joseph said.
When his exam questions started making less sense to him, Joseph wrote poems in place of test responses.
Many professors were dissatisfied with his new exam habits and took points off while leaving no comments. Others gave him words of encouragement.
Joseph wrote the poem “Known Unknowns” instead of an answer to a short response question on an exam.
“Excellent use of exam time,” the grader commented. “Seriously though, pretty good poem.”
Joseph, who signed each poem as Sir Charles the Poet in commemoration of a high school nickname, has original copies of each poem at the end of his e-book.
But after a hard semester as an engineering major, Joseph stopped answering questions with poetry and switched his major to communication.
Ashley C. Goodwin, a Residence Hall director who oversees Joseph’s work as an RA, noticed the positive change in Joseph when he switched majors.
“During one meeting, Charles came in my office smiling from ear to ear. I said ‘Oh boy, what are you up to?’ Charles said with enthusiasm, ‘I changed my major!’ I knew at that moment that he had made a decision that made him feel purposeful and happy,” Goodwin said. “Since his book release and major change, Charles is back to his usual self. Full of zest, smiles and insight.”
How I Escaped Engineering School is Joseph’s realization that he will always be an engineer, just not professionally.
“Engineering is more of a mentality. It’s the ability to look at something and create a whole new object out of it. It’s the ability to think beyond the limits that society allows you to think. I still have that mentality and I incorporate it in my poetry. Engineering is my soul, but poetry is my spirit,” Joseph said.
Joseph sees a future in this new field. He plans on writing for a long time and doesn’t want to stop until his work reaches its “highest level.”
Joseph hopes his work can help others in similar situations.
Paul Meier, a freshman who plans on majoring in civil engineering, read Joseph’s book and can identify with what he experienced.
“The book has shown me how I'm not the only one who finds it hard wanting to be an engineer,” Meier said. “It isn't the end of the world if you plan on switching majors and many college students have switched because their previous major was either not for them, or it was too difficult, like Charles' experience with engineering.”
Joseph has advice for anyone who may be in a similar situation to what he dealt with last semester:
“It’s OK to give up on your dreams. It really is. They don’t tell you that every day but it’s a messed up truth,” Joseph said. “If you feel like your dream is slowly killing you, just do whatever you think is best for you.”
Brenton J. Blanchet is an arts staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org