First Generation College Student Semaj Troupe smiling
I chose this location because it is a place to slow down and embrace the wildlife so close to home. Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Family Inspiration - Semaj Troupe

Semaj Troupe ‘20

Chemical Engineering

By Sharon Knox

Semaj Troupe’s family has been his biggest motivation for coming to UC Davis. The third oldest of ten children, he is the first to go to college. Throughout high school he was inspired by his dad, who took college classes while working and being involved with his kids. “He kept trying. He just got his degree. It was inspiring – he understands the importance of education. I felt like if he was continuing to do this and working really hard, then why couldn’t I do it too--go to college and be an example to my siblings.”

Another big motivation has been my younger siblings. I was killing the game senior year – I was prom king, and I got an awesome scholarship. Seeing that effect on my family -- they were like, ‘Oh Semaj, we’re so proud of you' --  I motivated my family and my younger siblings. I found that to be pretty awesome.

Semaj is one of 47 Gates Millennium Scholars at UC Davis. The highly selective national scholarship funds first-generation college students of high academic achievement and leadership excellence to attend the university of their choice.

UC Davis, Engineering, and Belonging

A visit to UC Davis on an Upward Bound college tour made a big impression. “I remember trying to copy my tour guide and walk backwards. I felt at home – it was small town, very nature oriented, very different from LA, but a good type of different. It’s peaceful and there’s not as much noise.” On the other hand, his home city was more diverse. “When I got here I felt like the only person who was black. I didn’t know if I should actually be here. At the same time, I got in here by applying and I knew that I could do the work. In some ways, I feel like there’s always a doubt, but now this is my home.”  

Semaj’s engineering pathway was inspired by a high school math teacher, Mr. Alvarez. “He really wanted students to do well in math and become engineers. I always went early to his class to learn – if you were interested in math he was definitely going to put you there. I didn’t apply [to UC Davis] as an engineering major but I knew I wanted to switch in. I came in as a biochemistry major, did the 21 series. I fell in love with chemistry because of Dr. Enderle, and because I fell in love with chemistry, I decided to do chemical engineering. I also took ECH 5, Intro to Chemical Engineering Coffee Lab, which gives you an engineering perspective on how coffee is made. That was the deciding factor!”

Looking to a future in international development

Motivated by desires to travel and to help underserved communities, Semaj drawn to international development. He joined the campus Engineers Without Borders chapter on a friend’s recommendation. “I didn’t know how to get involved, so I started going to board meetings just sitting in. They’re very welcoming. In sophomore year I was public outreach chair. This summer I’ll be going to Peru on a Blum grant to work on a reservoir project.” He hopes to work in the UC Davis D-Lab with Professor Kurt Kornbluth in the future.

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