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UC Davis Bioengineering Graduate Kevin Cappa Reflects on Four Years as an Aggie

July 21, 2014
Kevin Cappa

Kevin Cappa

In October 2010, Dublin High School Class of 2010 graduate Kevin Cappa shared his first impressions of life in UC Davis in the Life in College Series. Fast forward to 2014 and Kevin is a UC Davis College of Engineering graduate, having majored in the emerging field of bioengineering. caught up with Kevin to learn more about his college experience. As with his first article, Kevin shared valuable insights about how to thrive and succeed in college. Looking back on your original article, and the advice you provided to incoming freshman, what have you learned since then?

Kevin Cappa: “Four years ago I wrote an article about my early impressions of heading off to college at UC Davis starting to pursue my degree in Biomedical Engineering. Looking back on it now, I am actually impressed by my younger self, and all of the stuff that I caught on to so early. I also laugh a little about how easy freshman year was and how naïve I was about some things.

“Unlike the student average of 2 major changes, I stuck with Biomedical Engineering the whole way through. It was not an easy major, but luckily for me my major advisor was extremely helpful. The UC Davis College of Engineering requires students to meet with their advisor at least once per year, and I was in touch with mine much more than that. She helped me make sure I was in all the right classes and was staying on track with my major. With a few summer school sessions I was able to stay on track, take some extra classes, and free up my schedule during the year to make sure I had time to work my job and work in a lab.

“This lighter load was really important, because fall of my junior year I started working in the College of Engineering Dean’s Office as a peer advisor. This is when my statement about ‘having more time to yourself’ became much less true. Not only did I add ~10 hours to my schedule with work, but I was also making the transition to taking all upper division classes, which require far more work to stay on top of. This made all of the time management I had learned become even more important. During spring I also started working as an undergraduate researcher, and my time went away even more.” In layman’s terms, what is biomedical engineering and what courses did you most enjoy during your time at UC Davis?

Kevin with UC Davis Senior Design Team

Kevin with UC Davis Senior Design Team

Cappa: “Biomedical engineering is a relatively young, interdisciplinary engineering field that combines concepts and ideas from biology, medicine, and engineering to solve modern problems related to human and animal healthcare and medicine. It includes a wide array of topics ranging from glucose meters and heart monitors to 3D printed organs, and everything in between.

“I really loved my major and the classes I took, but a few classes stand out from the rest. One of the most fun classes that I took was Clinical Applications of Biomedical Devices with Dr. Nam Tran. Dr. Tran not only teaches in the Biomedical Engineering Department, but also works as a clinical pathologist at the UC Davis Medical Center and has a ton of hands on, clinical experience, especially with burn patients. He treated us like first year medical students, to make sure that we had a proper understanding of what kind of environment doctors are working in, and the mindset that have when they are trying to diagnose their patient. That helps us as engineers to better understand what we need to build in order to improve healthcare for both the patient and the doctor.

“Two of the most fascinating classes I took were Synthetic Biology, and Protein Engineering, both taught by Dr. Marc Facciotti. In both of those classes we treated cells as little machines, and their genes as computer systems, and we learned how to manipulate genes and proteins to create cells that have some kind of novel functionality to them. The material that we were learning was so cutting edge that a significant portion of what we learned was coming straight out of peer reviewed journal publications. I loved being exposed to such current research, especially because the topic has almost limitless applications, and the potential to revolutionize such a wide array of industries.” What’s involved with being a peer advisor, and how did you find that opportunity? Did you have other internship opportunities during college?

Cappa: “My primary role as a peer advisor was to be a person that other students, especially first year students, could approach with absolutely any questions they have about being a student. A lot of students are nervous to talk to a professional staff member, or had questions that really only a student could answer. To be successful I had to know a ton about university policy and the resources available to students so that no matter what kind of question I got, I had an answer or knew exactly who did have an answer.

“During my sophomore year I was looking for jobs on AggieJobLink, which is a resource offered to current students and alumni by the Internship and Career Center on campus. It has a ton of job and internship opportunities available both on campus and off. I saw the posting there and thought it sounded like a cool job and I applied. I also worked, starting at the end of my junior year, as an undergraduate researcher on campus, where I designed and modeled microfluidics diffusion chambers for studying cell movement.” Did AP credits help you clear required courses and/or help you transition academically in your first couple of years at UC Davis?

Cappa: “While I did receive some course credit for my AP classes, that was not where they were the most helpful. More than anything, the high level of workload and high expectations of my AP classes really helped prepare me for the academic rigor of UC Davis. AP English was probably among the most helpful in this regards, because communicating effectively on paper is an incredibly important skill no matter what field you work in. Also, having AP units increased my total unit count, which gave me better priority for registration, since units is one of the big deciding factors on the order you register in.” There are lots of stories of students struggling to get into required courses because of budget cuts. Did you experience challenges getting into the classes you needed for your major and what were your strategies for avoiding surprises?

Kevin at UC Davis Graduation

Kevin at UC Davis Graduation

Cappa: “Having extra AP units was definitely helpful in getting the classes that I wanted, but that definitely didn’t happen every quarter. First things first, you need to talk to your advisor to make sure that you are planning on taking your major classes when they are going to be offered. Not every class is offered every quarter so you have to keep that in mind. Secondly, you need a back up plan. And a back up for your back up. And a contingency plan for your second back up. And a second contingency for your contingency. Planning your schedule is a very time intensive process, so you have to everything ahead of time. The last thing that you want is to get ready to sign up for classes only to find out that you can’t sign up for what you were planning to, you don’t have any back ups, and you have class in ten minutes. Plus, if you ever have any questions about your schedule or what you are signed up for, just talk to an advisor. Being on the advising side of things, we would rather have more students come in to hear ‘Your schedule is fine, just breathe and relax,’ if it meant we were getting fewer students that were coming in with major problems, but its too late to help.” Outside of academics and your role as a peer advisor, were you involved in other UC Davis extracurricular clubs or activities?

Cappa: “My freshman year I joined the UC Davis student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, which is a professionally oriented club on campus. It was a great experience, and I made a lot of friends through the club. They held on-campus and industry lab tours, events to talk about what classes you should be taking, and panels from graduate students which were really helpful for professional and academic decision making, but they also had a lot of fun events, like bowling and the House of Horrors the club puts on every year at Picnic Day.” Looking back, what is the one UC Davis event you are going to miss the most as you enter the real world?

Cappa: “Probably Picnic Day. The whole event is one giant campus wide party. All of the departments try to put on a demonstration, there is the Biomedical House of Horrors, a Chemistry Magic show, the on campus dairy brings cows out so people can milk them, there is a dachshund race, and so much more. Campus is packed with students, staff, faculty, as well as their friends and family, and visitors from all over. Everyone is just having a great time, celebrating all of the great stuff that goes on at UC Davis.” Finally, what are your plans looking forward?

Cappa: “Now that I have graduated, I am looking to find my place in the world. I am job-hunting in San Diego and hope to get a few years on industrial experience to make a more informed decision about whether or not I want to go to grad school. I want to make sure that if I continue on my education that it is for a specific, targeted purpose that will advance my career.

Kevin was featured in a UC Davis College of Engineering Design Showcase video for his senior design project with engineering classmates Rachel Gurlin, Joanna Quach, and Alexander Summers:


  1. Goutham Marimuithu permalink
    July 21, 2014 9:31 pm

    I am currently a senior at Dublin High School who is looking into bioengineering as a major. Can I get in get in contact with Kevin Cappa so i can ask him some more questions?

    • July 21, 2014 9:33 pm

      Goutham – we will forward your email address to Mr. Cappa so that he can reach out to you directly.

      • Goutham Marimuithu permalink
        July 21, 2014 9:50 pm

        Thank you very much!


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