Alum extols virtues of biology


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Contra Costa College STEM alumnus Muhammed Kamil Shams discusses biological robotics at a workshop in the Center for Science Excellence Feb. 21.

By Jose Arebalo, Scene Editor

Alumni Muhammed Kamil Shams spoke with students from the Center for Science Excellence Feb. 21 in GE-225, sharing his experience at UC Berkeley and beyond.

He also talked about the differences between community colleges and four-year colleges.

Shams recently graduated from UC Berkeley and will be working at Chevron as a facilities design engineer.

“Once I transferred, there was just a lot more to do,” Shams said. “I had to create my resume, go to career fairs, go to info sessions for companies, prepare for interviews and figure out how to get research opportunities. There are just a lot of things you have to face once you transfer.”

Since he joined an engineering lab that was relatively new and his professor didn’t have many graduate students, he was able to interact with the professor more often than a typical undergraduate student.

“I would recommend, if you’re looking for research opportunities, to look for labs that are relatively new because that would make for a better learning experience,” Shams said.

As his professor received more projects, she later assigned Shams a leadership role in their lab. He showed footage of a robot that could dive as deep as 60 meters that his engineering lab created.

“Usually divers go and collect coral. We are trying to make a robot that biologists can then use to collect instead,” he said.

Over the course of his presentation, he recalled his first truly helpful connections with campus educators.

“(Contra Costa College engineering) professor (Mark) Wong. I used to go to all his office hours and I think we became very close. Every (letter of recommendation) that he wrote me was very valuable everywhere I was applying,” Shams said.

He said community colleges are a better source for the first two years of college because of class sizes exploding at larger institutions reducing face-to-face time with the professor. Once students transfer, they’ll need to learn proper time management skills.

Shams said, “Here, it’s all just go to lecture, take notes, and go home and do homework. There you had to kind of figure out ‘OK, for this course, the lecture isn’t really helpful. What else can I do? Do I buy other textbooks? Do I find online tutorials?’ It’s figuring out a lot more than you’re used to at a community college,” Shams said.

Shams has always been a high achieving student, Wong said. “The thing that always impressed me most is the joy he takes in learning things. It makes teaching fun when you have students like that.”

“I also am incredibly grateful when students come back. It’s always wonderful to get to hear the things they go on to do,” Wong said.

At the seminar, students were given a look at what hard work can bring to them.

Student Johnny Nguyen said the event was full of information.

“I definitely gained some helpful insight on what to expect after transferring and some things that I can do to be proactive in my own academic pursuit,” Nguyen said.