MSU’s newest PPIA Junior Fellow: ‘I want to be an intentional leader in my community’

Semaj Martin-Redd (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Semaj C. Martin-Redd, a junior political science major in Mississippi State University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, is a Princeton University selection for the 2019 Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Fellowship.

As a PPIA Junior Fellow, the Brandon resident will spend the summer at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in a cohort with 30 other fellows selected from universities across the nation.

Since 1985, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs has hosted a Junior Summer Institute to prepare students from diverse backgrounds for graduate study and careers in public policy.

A recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Hunter Henry Undergraduate Excellence Program Scholarship, Martin-Redd is MSU’s fourth Junior Fellow and the third to be accepted into the Princeton program in the last six years. Other recent Junior Fellows include Jamie Aron, Feifei Zeng and Khalil Markham. More information about this prestigious fellowship can be found at

Tommy Anderson, honors college associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs and director of the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, offered words of gratitude to multiple faculty members who have helped shaped Martin-Redd’s trajectory. They include Thessalia Merivaki, assistant professor of political science and public administration; Don Shaffer, associate professor of English, African American Studies program interim director and Presidential Endowed Scholarship program mentor; and Vasabjit Banerjee, assistant professor of political science and public administration.

“Drs. Merivaki, Shaffer and Banerjee have been such a positive intellectual force in Semaj’s development, and we thank them so much for that,” said Anderson, who also serves as an English professor and the College of Arts and Sciences’ interim assistant dean for undergraduate academic affairs.

Martin-Redd, a Northwest Rankin High School graduate, is the newly elected president of the Mississippi State College Republicans organization, of which Merivaki serves as faculty adviser. He also serves as Resident Advisor Association president, as well as co-director for the Student Association Cabinet’s Community and Governmental Relations Committee. Through his involvement with the Mississippi Model Security Council co-advised by Banerjee, Martin-Redd has helped expose high school students to the world of international politics through thoughtful debate on world issues at the organization’s annual conference.

“I remember a good quote from President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 inaugural address where he said ‘Use power to help people.’ That quote has been the motto of my RA experience because I really love my students,” he said. “I want to give them all the help I can.”

Martin-Redd said in addition to the aforementioned advisers, he is grateful for the wisdom of Brian Shoup, associate professor of political science and public administration, who has been selected multiple times for his department’s outstanding professor recognition. Martin-Redd also appreciates the support of MSU alumna Natalie Jones, the university’s 2016 Harry S. Truman Scholarship recipient who encouraged him to get involved in the honors college from the start.

“Dr. Shoup is a great guy, and it’s been wonderful to engage in conversations with him about everything from presidential matters to political theories,” he said.

The rigorous Princeton application process proved just the challenge Martin-Redd said he was looking for in his junior year. He said Anderson not only encouraged him to pursue the PPIA Fellowship, but also was willing to critique the narrative he was required to write as part of the application process. The university’s Writing Center staff provided helpful insight as well, he said.

“I remember talking to an information assistant at the desk of my residence hall when I got an email that I had been accepted to the PPIA program,” Martin-Redd recalled. “I ran all the way over to Griffis Hall and told Dr. Anderson. We were both really excited.”

Martin-Redd, who aspires to become a member of the U.S. Congress, is considering academic minors in philosophy, German and international relations. He is hopeful that pursuit of an international relations-focused fellowship at Princeton can strengthen his oral and written communication skills.

“I want to learn how to be a better writer, and I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people,” he said.

Martin-Redd said his life’s mission is to honor his adoptive mother for her support of him and his brother. The siblings grew up, for a time, in the Cabrini-Green public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, a place that Martin-Redd said was a stark contrast to the loving home he has experienced in Mississippi.

“My mom sacrificed and made sure we were taken care of, and I want to take that same approach,” he said. “There was a banner at our church that read ‘You are blessed to be a blessing and raised up to raise others up.’ I want to be an intentional leader in my community.”

Learn more about the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College at and the College of Arts and Sciences and its Department of Political Science and Public Administration at and

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