Hard Work Pays Off

SCSE student receives a scholarship in honor of George Perry Floyd, Jr.

One night Alexander McCray was sitting at his machine. He was near the end of a 12-hour night shift during the second year of his summer job. He was packaging plastic medical equipment, “pen tips” for insulin needles. He examined each tip for quality, one by one, before boxing them for shipment.

He had plenty of time to think and an idea popped up. “I could tell my manager about what I’m going to college for and see if there are any opportunities to help the company,” says McCray.

The company was Nolato’s Contour in Baldwin, Wisconsin. McCray’s major was environmental science and his minor was environmental engineering. The next day he reached out to his manager who liked the idea and advocated for McCray. Soon he was the new quality engineer intern. He learned how to notice when things went wrong with a product and kept track of reports on environmental compliance.

Following His Dream

McCray is a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “An environmental engineering position is something I can be good at,” says McCray. He’s always been passionate about managing ways to reduce waste. He looks forward to getting a job that addresses environmental concerns as well as making companies safer.

All this passion stemmed from his high school experience helping out at his aunt’s thrift shop, Adoray’s Treasures From The Heart. He saw the power in recycling. As he volunteered to deliver or pick up furniture, he thought about reusing items and being resourceful. “I’m a thrifty person. I save money and rarely take things to the landfill,” says McCray.

George Perry Floyd, Jr. Scholarship 

In 2021 McCray found something special in his emails. It was a list of opportunities for African American students at UMD. The list included the scholarship honoring George Floyd. McCray was immediately interested and started the application process. He had to write an essay using multiple prompts. For instance, “How should you stand for social justice?” and  “What is the significance of this scholarship?”

McCray wrote about growing up in a town of 3,000 people. “Being one of the only black people was hard,” says McCray. “Not seeing anyone that looks like you was hard too.” These experiences have contributed to McCray's outlook today, “I’m just embracing who I am. I’m being a black man in today’s society,” he says.

One day in summer 2021, McCray had just gotten home from work at Nolato’s Contour when he saw an email notification. He paced around his house as he read the message on his phone. It said “Congratulations! You have received the George Floyd scholarship.” The email was really good news. “Wow! I was super excited,” he says. “I told my aunt immediately and she was so proud.”

The scholarship made him feel accomplished. “I want to keep working and put the scholarship to good use,” says McCray.

To the Finish Line

The lesson McCray learned during his summer job and at UMD was to go out and ask for opportunities, they aren’t always handed out. “Don’t be complacent,” he says.

McCray plans to find a job near home in Wisconsin or around the Twin Cities area after he graduates in May 2022. He wants to continue to make the world a better place and looks forward to “finding an environmental engineering position.”

About the UMD Earth & Environmental Science degree

About the Scholarship in Memory of George Perry Floyd, Jr.

This story was written by UMD student Eva Moua, who is majoring in communication. Eva works with Cheryl Reitan in University Marketing and Public Relations.