Friday, December 5, 2014

UC Berkeley freshman Selam Sekuar dies at 19

Selam Sekuar, a UC Berkeley freshman and international student from Ethiopia, was fatally struck by a train at the Downtown Berkeley BART Station on Nov. 25. She was 19.

Known for her warm personality and dedication to her studies, Sekuar was a MasterCard Foundation Scholar. The program provides financial and academic support for successful students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa. Studying in the College of Letters and Science, she aspired to pursue architecture and public health.

Sekuar was the scholar program’s first student from Ethiopia. To her peers within the Center for African Studies, which works closely with the scholar program, Sekuar had an infectious passion for a wide range of academic interests, from physics to premed studies.


“She was very bright and talented,” said Martha Saavedra, the center’s associate director. “There’s this notion that scientists aren’t interested in literature and art and things like that. I know that she had a full spectrum of appreciation for the world.”

Sekuar attended UC Berkeley’s Summer Bridge Program this year and was involved in the Horn of Africa Student Association. During the fall semester, she lived in Foothill as part of the Women in Science and Engineering theme housing program.

Within the small but tight-knit community of international students from Africa, Sekuar is remembered for her sense of humor and enthusiasm for all things Stephen Hawking. She was also an ardent fan of “The Big Bang Theory,” an American TV sitcom.

“She was always the bubbly one. When you saw her, she was always smiling, and she’d crack a joke or two,” said Munya Mahiya, a campus freshman and international student from Zimbabwe and fellow MasterCard Foundation Scholar. “Usually, I wouldn’t understand them because they were based on science and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ … but she was funny, and she was smart.”

Jessica Clarkson, program adviser for the scholar program in the Center for African Studies, said Sekuar was a compassionate and caring member of her community. Clarkson recounted how at a memorial service for her friend’s father, Sekuar comforted her friend and shared a poem about her own experience with losing her father.

Zerihun Feki, a UC Berkeley sophomore who is also from Ethiopia, echoed Clarkson’s sentiments, recalling how Sekuar helped his cousin with the process of applying to UC Berkeley.

“She helped (him) like it was her brother or sister. It goes to show how nice she was and how generous and willing (she was) to help wherever she could,” Feki, vice president of the Horn of Africa Student Association, said. “The whole community is hurt.”

The student association is set to meet Friday to discuss plans for commemorating Sekuar, including a memorial service.
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