Even as a valedictorian from a high school just 40 miles away, Srujan Kopparapu felt a little intimidated to start his studies among more than 35,000 students at the University of California, Davis.
But the Folsom resident found his place on the highly ranked campus, threw himself into research and internships, earned two degrees in just three years, and now takes the honor as its top graduating senior.
The 20-year-old, who will receive a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, will be presented with the University Medal at the College of Biological Sciences commencement on Friday, June 16.
The award, which includes a $2,000 honorarium and a plaque, is for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society.
“I am honored to receive the medal,” Kopparapu said. “I hope that I serve as encouragement for future students to pursue their own intellectual goals without restraint.”
For Kopparapu, it has been a hot pursuit.
UC Davis expects students to graduate in four years or 12 quarters and so recommends undergraduates complete an average of 15 units per quarter.
Kopparapu brought with him 68 credits for advance placement courses and testing. Right after graduating from high school, he jumped into Summer Sessions at UC Davis, where he would earn 60 credits over three years of summer study.
“I decided to get going right out of the gate,” he said. “I think the summer courses prepared me a little bit for freshman year.”
Kopparapu took an average of 21.3 credits in each of the nine quarters over three regular academic years — his highest load was 28 credits in fall 2016 and again in winter 2017.
And on the way to earning a cumulative grade point average of 3.99 through last quarter, he received an A+ in 39 courses, an A in 14, and an A- in one.
The brain is on his mind
Kopparapu became interested in science during middle school, and his fascination with the brain set him on a path toward medical school and a career in a neural-related field such as neurosurgery or neurology. He chose his UC Davis majors to understand not only the neural process of perception and the mind but also the molecular and cellular mechanisms of how the brain creates the mind.
He pursued a minor in human physiology to study how the brain interacts with the rest of the body. And he topped that off with a second minor in statistics to improve his ability to understand scientific papers and statistical analysis.
Maximizing learning opportunities
Kopparapu has been involved in the experiential learning opportunities that are hallmarks of UC Davis.
Since his first quarter, he has been an intern in the lab of Neil Hunter, a UC Davis professor of microbiology and molecular genetics who studies the most fundamental processes of how genes are shuffled and passed to the next generation.
“Srujan is simply a force of nature!” — Professor Neil Hunter
“Srujan is simply a force of nature!” Hunter said. “He has excellent scientific sense and was quickly able to master the experiments required to work independently in the lab and keep his project moving forward.
“He is truly deserving of the University Medal and all the successes that will be coming his way,” the professor added.
Kopparapu has presented research twice in the campus’s annual undergraduate research conference, teamed up with other students in a biomedical engineering competition and been a tutor.
He has also interned at UC Davis Medical Center and Mercy Hospital emergency rooms and a local chiropractic clinic. Through the student-run Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative, Kopparapu has helped provide health screenings and health education for underserved populations in the area.
Finding his place at UC Davis
Kopparapu said his decision to study at UC Davis was sealed by two things: the offer of a prestigious Regents Scholarship, now valued at $7,500 a year, and the opportunity to participate in the University Honors Program.
The community provided by the honors program — including the option of living with other honors students during freshman year and taking smaller classes — helped dissolve that initial feeling of intimidation. And then the large campus wasn’t a disadvantage.
“It’s the opposite,” he said. “Because there are so many people, you will be able to find people you can connect with.”
Kopparapu’s commencement will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 16, in The Pavilion of the Activities and Recreation Center on campus. In all, the campus holds 13 spring commencements, and its 10 remaining ceremonies fall between June 14 and 18.