Student Speaker Spotlight: Ryan Kappes

Quintuple major transferring to St. Thomas to study civil and mechanical engineering

Ryan Kappes, 32, is graduating from Inver Hills Community College this May with five associate degrees. Ryan earned his Biology Transfer Pathway A.S. in August 2022, his Environmental Science A.S. and Individualized Professional Studies A.S. in December 2022. He’ll be earning his Mathematics Transfer Pathway A.A. and Engineering Fundamentals A.S. this May.

Ryan Kappes

Ryan is serving as a student speaker at the Inver Hills Commencement Ceremony Thursday, May 11, 2023, at 7 p.m. at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood, Minnesota. “The theme of my speech is about looking at where we came from, the skills we learned, and how we can apply them moving forward,” he said.

A member of Phi Theta Kappa, Ryan has worked as a chemistry, biology, and mathematics tutor, and he belongs to the Engineering Club at the college. In fall 2022, he attended NASA L’Space Academy, where he was tasked with designing satellite instrumentation to examine near-Earth objects (NEOs) and study the composition of asteroids. He worked on a team of peers from around the world.

Ryan participates in the NASA Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE) as a member of a team responsible for programming two of the expedition’s 700 satellites. He also took part in a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) activity for six months in 2022. He studied NASA’s project management concepts and worked on a team competing to design and execute a mock Martian mission, including marketing, budgeting, engineering, and mechanics.

“I plan on transferring to University of St. Thomas this fall to major in civil and mechanical engineering,” Ryan said. “I wish to continue following the NASA path, but I am also very interested in integrated civil projects that bring the natural and constructed worlds together. I would also like to work in habitat systems for Lunar or Martian exploration, and I want to bring my career to an end as a professor of mathematics or engineering.”

More about Ryan…

Ryan with Rose, his fiancée

Originally from Mendota Heights, Minnesota, Ryan graduated from Henry Sibley High School (now Two Rivers High School), Class of 2009. Before arriving at Inver Hills, he worked as an aquarist and husbandry assistant at the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium. His duties included caring and maintaining aquarium exhibits featuring corals, cold-water invertebrates, and large sharks.

“I was able to work  with one of the best teams I have ever been on caring for amazing animals,” Ryan said. “Being able to dive with sharks and get paid for it was an incredible experience. I learned a great deal about work ethics and team dynamics, and it kick-started my passion for working with my hands. This then led to both biological and engineering coursework at Inver.”

Ryan is engaged to be married and his fiancée, Rose, is a University of Minnesota Twin Cities graduate who works as a medical laboratory scientist. Their wedding date is planned for next year. Ryan and Rose have an alligator snapping turtle named Bowser.

In his free time, Ryan enjoys playing real-time strategy and survival horror video games and Dungeons & Dragons, working out, sword-fighting (Kendo and lightsaber), and cosplay.

“What I like best about Kendo is that it is hard,” Ryan said. “Kendo teaches humility. When you finally do a strike correctly that you have practiced for months, or even years, it is an amazing feeling. My favorite character to cosplay is Saruman from The Lord of the Rings.”

Ryan resides with Rose and Bowser in Mendota Heights.

Ryan life gallery

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


Ryan Kappes Q & A

Ryan Kappes
What did you like best about studying biology and environmental science at Inver Hills?

The instructors were so passionate, and that passion was infectious. The coursework itself was very engaging, and group projects brought the freedom to explore ideas.

What do you find most interesting about your mathematics coursework?

Mathematics is the language of the universe. Being able to learn about mathematical systems and see how they translate to the physical world is like learning how the world around us is written.

What inspired you to pursue a career with NASA?

I never intended to have any affiliation with NASA. Dr. Joan Carter [engineering fundamentals faculty] sent an email with a link to the NASA LCAS program. After completing it, I realized that working for NASA was a real and tangible possibility. I have always wanted to be someone on the front lines of discovery, and this opportunity, and the several that came afterward, showed me a new path to achieve my goals.

What advice would you give students thinking about majoring in more than one subject in college?

If you are pursuing multiple disciplines, have a clear idea in your mind about how an additional major will aid you. Scout the market you wish to be in and see how an additional major will impact your earning potential and marketability in that field.

Three words that describe you as a college student:

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

There are too many people in my life who have influenced it. My parents and fianceé have influenced me in more ways than I can count, and so have many of the incredible people in my life. All them aside, one name comes to mind for a person who had a significant role in my life’s path, and that is the Crocodile Hunter himself, Steve Irwin.

One common theme throughout my childhood was watching Steve Irwin whenever I could to get a glimpse of his incredible life. His form of teaching, whether it be on conservation, animal facts, or how to problem solve, resonates with me.

Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?

In 20 years’ time I hope to be guiding my own children on their career path. I wish to have my doctorate, as well as continuing to work in the field or in education.

Ryan Kappes 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Kendo
  2. Place you would most like to visit: New Zealand
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Being featured on ESPN for lightsaber fighting
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Establish a scholarship foundation 2) Build an animal rescue sanctuary 3) Construct a real-life version of Rivendell (from The Lord of the Rings)
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Hidden Figures
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: 2600 B.C.E (Old Kingdom, Egypt)
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: To be someone my future children will look up to and be proud of
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Potoo
  9. Dream occupation: Professor
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Peter Jackson
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Piano
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Climate change
Learn more about the Biology, Mathematics, Engineering, Environmental Science, and Individualized Professional Studies at Inver Hills by contacting:

Inver Hills Community College
Virtual Visit

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