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Take 10 with a Triton: Navy Vet Nat Kapp on Knowing Who Packs Your Parachute

Nat Kapp
Nat Kapp

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Name: Nat Kapp

Pronouns: they/them

Position: Program Manager at the Student Veteran Resource Center

Years at UC San Diego: Kapp originally joined UC San Diego in 2021 as a part of the student affairs department. They transitioned into their role at the Student Veteran Resource Center at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, and have been there ever since. 

Before coming to UC San Diego, Kapp served as a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy for four years; they spent two years on a ship based in Everett, WA, before joining the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. Ultimately, though their bachelor’s degree is in mechanical engineering, Kapp decided to switch career paths post naval service. They received their master’s in higher education administration from Georgetown University in 2022.

Kapp standing with other soldiers on the USS Gridley
USS Gridley, Everett WA, August 2018

What they do at UC San Diego: Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Student Veterans Resource Center aims to ensure the personal, professional and academic success of the campus’ military-connected community; Kapp explained that this includes veterans, active duty service members, ROTC students, and dependents/family members of those who served or are currently serving. A Navy vet themself, Kapp keeps the center and day-to-day operations running smoothly.

“We have a huge military-connected community on campus,” Kapp explained, noting that there are over 300 military-affiliated students and over 2,500 dependents at UC San Diego. The center saw over 4,000 visits during the last academic year. “I facilitate a lot of our resource programs, including our in-center food pantry and grocery box delivery pilot programs.”

Kapp with cat Kaiju and dog Lou Dog
December 2022 with Kaiju (cat) and Lou Dog (dog)

As one of two professional staff members at the center, Kapp also manages the student staff of 10, coordinates events (most recently those celebrating Veterans Week and the center’s 10-year anniversary) and develops programming with internal and external campus partners. They regularly work with other veterans resource coordinators from around the UC system to ensure universal best practices and improve the experience of military-connected students on campus. 

Kapp also runs the center’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA); one particularly poignant project they discussed was the Colleges United in Fighting Veterans Suicide initiative, a partnership between UC San Diego, the VA, Mira Costa College, Palomar College and CSU San Marcos focused on curbing veteran suicides on campus by fostering an atmosphere of connection and support for student veterans.

“I wrote my master’s thesis on creating a sense of belonging and community for LGBTQ+ veterans throughout their educational journeys,” Kapp said, adding that they also sit on the campus-wide Sense of Belonging working group. “Making sure students feel they have a welcoming community on campus is so important; our center helps provide that for student veterans.”

Kapp smiling with partner Hannah Tolksdorf
Kapp with partner Hannah Tolksdorf in May 2023

What they love about UC San Diego: “I just love how much there is for students to do here,” they said; a graduate of Villanova University, Kapp’s undergraduate experience had fewer opportunities to get involved with student affairs programming. “There are so many places for students to find their niche, and that’s so important for making the educational experience a holistic one. You have the chance to get outside of the classroom, find what you love and who you love to do it with and that’s wonderful.” 

Kapp also spoke to the high quality leadership environment they’ve found at UC San Diego. Particularly in student affairs, Kapp noted, the vision the leadership team has for making the student experience whole by focusing on equity, inclusion and student success and wellbeing is inspiring. 

Best advice received: During high school, Kapp attended a leadership seminar, where Vietnam War veteran Captain Charlie Plumb spoke. He told the audience, “Know who packs your parachute.” That phrase has stuck with Kapp. 

“I ask myself this all the time,” they said, reflecting on how his metaphor reminds them to express gratitude for key people in their life. “Really recognizing the people in your life that have your back and knowing how they support you and how you support other people is so critical—you no doubt have someone’s back, and you can’t take care of others without taking care of yourself.”   

“Something I see frequently in the veteran community is this continued desire to serve others in their community,” Kapp added. “They want to lead amongst their peers and provide mentorship and support; still, sometimes, we need to think about what we need and focus on ourselves too.”

Something unique about their workplace: “I have a lot of hats,” Kapp admitted with a laugh. “In my field of the Navy, you wear different ball caps based on the command you’re at, so I have a hat from each of my past commands.” 

Kapp playing rugby
Kapp playing in the Whiskey Row 7s Rugby Tournament, Prescott AZ, June 2022

They paused briefly, ducked out of view, and rejoined our Zoom meeting holding a khaki outback style hat. “This one’s my favorite!”

Kapp also spoke on the center, mentioning that the space is very familial, communal and filled with laughter. There exists an undercurrent of mutual understanding between those who have served and there’s a common thread of being military-connected that runs through the center regardless of any other lived experience. That mutual understanding, they said, fosters community and brings folks together. 

Favorite spot on campus:  “Whenever I need a pick-me-up—caffeine wise or joywise—I head to the Art of Espresso coffee cart and grab a white lavender mocha.”

Something most people don’t know about them: Kapp pondered for a moment before admitting they “have two hobbies that are both fairly dangerous.”

One is riding motorcycles. The other is playing rugby; Kapp is an alumni of the San Diego Surfers women’s rugby team and the Charleston Hurricanes rugby team. Even though they didn’t play this year, they emphasized that rugby holds a special place in their heart. 

Kapp adds that playing the drums is another favorite hobby, albeit a slightly less dangerous one.

If they had one day to do anything they wanted: “It would be summer, and I would take my dog to the dog beach on Fiesta Island,” Kapp shared, adding that they’d set up a fire pit, have a bonfire with their partner, watch the fireworks from Sea World, and explore Mission Bay on a jet ski. “Being able to hang out around the water next to a fire would be wonderful; still, I love hanging out with my dog and my partner regardless of what we do. Spending that quality time with them is what matters most.”

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