Mindful and ready

by Matt Jardin  |   

Cody Kapotak
Student speaker for the fall 2021 graduate degree hooding ceremony Cody Kapotak, B.S. Civil Engineering '20, M.S. Project Management '21. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

All things are ready if our minds be so. This excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry V is civil engineering and project management alumnus Cody Kapotak’s life motto. The quote has helped Kapotak through everything from school to work, and more recently continuing to his Ph.D. and serving as the inspiration for his speech as the fall 2021 graduate degree hooding ceremony student speaker.

“When I heard that, I applied it to classes and tests. Then I thought about it more and applied it to everything in general,” said Kapotak. “Concepts that seem foreign or unachievable because they are so big and intimidating — other people have learned to do them — so it's possible for us. It's all ready, it's all there, we just have to make ourselves ready.”

Before finding his Shakespearian-inspired motivation, Kapotak admits to not always being academically focused. Born in Dillingham and raised between Portage Creek Village and Reno, Nevada, he describes always having a natural interest and talent for math but never building on those inclinations beyond what was required.

Those inclinations were eventually reinforced and encouraged in high school thanks to two discoveries: an aptitude test suggesting Kapotak would excel as an engineer, and learning about the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at UAA.

“ANSEP always felt like another home, and if you ask any other ANSEP student they'll say something similar,” said Kapotak. “What inspires me today is what they're doing with Indigenous students — reaching out to them in middle school and high school and giving them so much of a head start. That's huge and I love that effort.”

Despite the direction provided by ANSEP, Kapotak found the transition to self-motivated learning in a university environment to be too big of an adjustment at the time and put his UAA journey on hold to join the U.S. Marines.

Kapotak served for four years, completing two tours in Afghanistan as a lance corporal in communication maintenance management. After active duty, he continued to travel, working government contracts across the country and as far as Germany before returning to his home state to operate commercial vehicles on the North Slope.

On one of his days off, Kapotak broke his collarbone during a bicycle accident, causing him to be unable to work for five months. After recovering, he learned his job was no longer available, leaving him to sit and wait for another opening. Instead, he decided to take advantage of his GI Bill® to return to UAA.

“[I realized] I did not want to be limited to my physical well-being for employment,” said Kapotak in an interview with the USDA Forest Service, where he currently works as a full-time civil engineer assigned to the Chugach National Forest. “[So] I decided to again seek higher education and re-enrolled myself at [UAA].”

With his Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and Master of Science in project management, Kapotak now has his sights set on his Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering, which he will begin in fall 2022 at UAF after some much-deserved downtime.

While working on his Ph.D., Kapotak plans to research the effects of climate change on rural Alaska. Additionally, he hopes his story inspires other Alaska Native people to pursue engineering doctorates, currently numbered at three individuals, which Kapotak considers to be “just not enough.”

“Coming from rural Alaska and seeing the effects of climate change, coastal erosion and permafrost melting first-hand, a lot of that hits home for me,” he said. “Another part of it is continuous improvement. If there is a better way to do things with energy or conservation or any area that could help with climate change, then I would love to play some part in that.”

Kapotak’s goal to improve the land and inspire the people of Alaska goes hand in hand with his desire to stay in Alaska — a sentiment reinforced by his years of traveling before returning to UAA.

“Nothing really compares to Alaska. Nowhere else really felt like home,” he said. “So if I was going to be successful, I knew I wanted to be able to do it living and working in Alaska.”

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at benefits.va.gov/gibill.

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