calvin susbilla headshot

KGI Student Calvin Susbilla Capitalizes on Research Opportunities

Opportunities come to those who pay attention and look for openings when everyone else is preoccupied. This lesson was demonstrated by Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) student Calvin Susbilla, MS ’20, when he applied to do an independent research project with the University of Southern California (USC) and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“The email informing us about the project came out during finals week, and the application deadline was during that time,” said Susbilla. “So I’m thinking, ‘Okay, no one else will notice this email, so I should apply.'”

Susbilla did right by following his intuition as he got the position, starting the project in Spring 2019. Then, in August 2019, Dr. Anastasia Levitin, KGI professor of practice in translational medicine, informed students that they could apply early for a new Public Health option the school was offering for the Master of Science (MS) in Applied Life Sciences program, so Susbilla decided to change his concentration from Clinical Research Thesis to Public Health Research Thesis.

“Currently I’m the first and only MS student with a Public Health option,” said Susbilla.

His research involves analyzing trends in publicly-available data from the CDC website, specifically mortality rates of patients comorbid with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in the 45 to 64 age range.

Susbilla received his master’s in Biology from CSU Bakersfield, where he was on the pre-med track. He applied to KGI after learning that the faculty and resources would help him to effectively prepare for medical school.

Additionally, KGI has provided him with volunteer opportunities that not only strengthen his resume but also align with his larger goal of becoming a pediatrician. These include mentorships with Uncommon Good, an organization that provides tutoring, college preparation, and real-world education in agriculture to low-income children and teens in the Pomona Valley.

Susbilla has also volunteered at a local elementary school, helping with after-school activities that got children excited about science through interactive games.

“All of these experiences reaffirm that I want to continue working with kids going into a healthcare setting,” said Susbilla.

One of the highlights of his KGI experience has been the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program, which provides students with research and networking opportunities as well as field trips to local and regional medical schools such as UC Davis and UC San Francisco. He credits PPC advisors Elba Muñoz and Joon Kim for helping him navigate the applications process, stating that they were very approachable and always made time for him when he needed it.

Additionally, Susbilla has enjoyed participating as Social Chair of Student Government, establishing KGI’s first Lunar New Year celebration, which he hopes will become a new school tradition. Last semester, he helped KGI’s Student Government organize the Winter Gala Masquerade, which saw an over 25% attendance rate among all KGI students.

This collaborative spirit extends to KGI’s group projects, which Susbilla has found challenging but ultimately rewarding.

“I’ve always thought, ‘I’m a sociable person; I can get along with anybody,’ but I’ve learned to really appreciate how individuals have their own personalities and their own approach to doing things,” said Susbilla. “So if we’re trying to achieve the same goal, we have to take into consideration everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. If you put in the time to get the communication down and expectations clear, then the teamwork will go more smoothly.”

Overall, he cherishes the wealth of opportunities that KGI has provided him with, many of which—like the research project he landed with USC—have arrived via email.

“The most valuable thing is just checking your email and knowing that an opportunity can come any time—especially if it’s during finals week,” said Susbilla.