“When I first visited UC Merced, I had already committed to attending San Francisco State and had put down a deposit on an apartment. I walked on campus and what I saw was the library, housing and dirt – lots of dirt.”
But the San Francisco native also saw something else: possibilities. And those possibilities enticed him to walk away from his original plans and enroll here.
“Even in high school, I could tell UC Merced offered me more than any other university could at that time,” he recalled. “I could create my own student groups, be among the first to work with faculty, even create policy for future generations to come.”
And in four short years, Sabba has done all that.
He’s worked in the laboratory of bioengineer Michelle Khine, who is known internationally for her use of Shrinky Dinks in creating microfluidic chips. He helped to create the American Medical Student Association, a nationally recognized student group that promotes AIDS awareness. He was a driving force behind the Prodigy, UC Merced’s student newspaper. And he’s the current president of the Associated Students of UC Merced, which governs the study body and allocates how student fees are spent.
His work with ASUCM has been most satisfying of all.
“It’s ASUCM’s job to advocate for student needs and desires,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re here to make sure they get their money’s worth when it comes to their UC Merced experience, and I think we’ve done a great job in that realm.”
ASUCM has financially supported CatTracks, the free transportation service that shuttles students between campus and a variety of locations in the town of Merced. Without ASUCM’s support, CatTracks would be limited to the fall and spring semesters. Thanks to the student government, though, service is also offered over the summer.
“For a college student, getting to and from campus can be a major obstacle if you don’t have a car or license – especially in the summer,” he said. “CatTracks offers students a measure of freedom at no additional cost.”
Personally, Sabba says, he’s gotten way more value from his UC Merced education and experience than he ever bargained for. And that’s something he hopes to pass on to future generations of students.
“College isn’t just about figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Sometimes, the best lesson of all is just discovering what you don’t want to do.”
That’s what makes UC Merced’s openness to having students work as researchers early in their academic careers so important, he said. Majoring in biological sciences, Sabba immersed himself in all aspects of the field. He’s now found his interests lie elsewhere, most likely in law or political science.
“Working in Professor Khine’s lab was a defining moment for me. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my work there, but I walked away knowing that bioengineering was not the field in which I wanted to build my career.”
Even now, a semester before graduation, Sabba has a relaxed air about him that comes from feeling confident that even though he’s not sure exactly where his future will take him, UC Merced has prepared him for the journey. He’s applying to graduate school and toying with idea of pursuing an advanced degree in public policy. But UC Merced is home, and he’s considering staying here for grad school.
“If being in the first freshman class allowed me such incredible opportunities, I can’t even imagine how phenomenal the experience would be at the graduate level. At the very least, it’s worth making every effort to explore my options here.”