February 14, 2020

Name: Benjamin Barkai '22
Major: Materials Science and Engineering
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Scholarship: Vickie Lynn Durbin Murphy President’s Endowed Scholarship

You were the first in your family to be born in America. What has it been like to grow up with your Russian heritage in the United States?

It’s been interesting! Though my parents first landed in Texas when they came here from Russia, we moved to Arizona when I was about 4 years old, so the desert will always be home for me. Growing up, however, my parents wanted me and my brother to be able to communicate with our grandparents in Russia, so they taught us Russian, which is the main language we speak at home. When I visited them in St. Petersburg, I was introduced to a completely different environment. The vast, arid landscape of Arizona compared to the bustling, compact city of St. Petersburg really reflects the two different cultures I’ve grown up in. It can be difficult at times to straddle them both, but I think my experiences have ultimately equipped me to connect with people of many different backgrounds.

What was it like for your family to move from Russia to the United States?

My parents moved from Russia to the United States in the ’90s, and it was a whole new world for them. Coming from urban St. Petersburg to a rural area in Texas, they were shocked to be in such close proximity to cattle and other livestock. During their first few years here, they worked any job they could just trying to make ends meet. My dad was a licensed physician in Russia, but he had to basically start over in America. Now, he is back to practicing medicine in Arizona, but my parents both had to work really hard to build a life for us here. Their story has played a major role in how I pursue my own goals.


Do you have any secret talents?

That’s classified information.

Top three places in the world you’d like visit?

Australia, Egypt and Ireland.

Favorite place in the world?

Home. Isn’t that where the heart is?

Something that never fails to make you happy?

Spending time with my family.

Best book you’ve ever read?

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?

I would love to have some kind of ice powers, so I could make the Arizona summers a little cooler.

What is something that surprised you about Russia?

The first time I visited Russia was in the summer, and the sun didn’t even begin to set until 10 p.m. I thought that was crazy!

Something you’re passionate about?

Music! I’m a huge fan of electronic music, but I’ll listen to any genre. I’m pretty much always wearing a pair of headphones!

How did you choose Texas A&M University?

When I was thinking about where to attend college, I knew I wanted to move somewhere new. Not only was Texas A&M the perfect distance from home, but campus also had this friendly, energetic culture that I could see myself fitting into. Receiving the President’s Endowed Scholarship really sealed the deal for me as it alleviated the financial burden that being an out-of-state student imposed. I was a little nervous when I first moved here, but with time, I made friends and settled into my classes. I even joined a DJ club on campus! I do find myself missing home and the Arizona desert every now and then, but I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.

What drew you to major in materials science and engineering?

The emphasis on chemistry and the fact that it was a newly developed major. As a kid, I loved reading. My parents took me and my brother to the library at least once a week, and books about the periodic table, chemists and alchemy always caught my eye. Learning about the distinct personalities of different elements and how they interact with each other captivated me. When I heard about the recently established major in materials science and engineering, I found the opportunity to be part of something so new really exciting. After seeing that I would also have the chance to dive into chemistry with this field of study, I was hooked.

Where do you see your studies taking you in the next few years?

Right now, I’m just taking life one day at a time and trying to get through my classes. I love chemistry, but it can be pretty challenging at times! This semester, I plan to get more involved in research to gain further experience working with different chemicals. After graduation, I’d really like to enter the industry and perhaps eventually start a master’s program. Ultimately, I hope my future discoveries will contribute to this exciting field of science. Only time will tell!

Attracting Top Talent

For more than 50 years, the President’s Endowed Scholarship (PES) program has attracted top scholars from across the nation to attend Texas A&M University. As the recipients of the most prestigious academic merit scholarship awarded by the university, students in the PES program embody the Aggie value of leadership through academic achievement.

Individuals or groups can establish a PES endowment with a one-time gift of $100,000 or through a series of gifts over a period of up to five years. A PES may also be created through your estate plan. The endowment’s stipend funds one student for four years while also providing a bonus to support a study abroad experience. Managed to provide for both the current student and the long-term growth of the principal, a PES endowment will continue  funding the education of top scholars for years to come.

To learn more about creating a PES, contact Marcy Ullmann ’86, senior director of scholarship programs, at (979) 845-6383 or mullmann@txamfoundation.com.