A student explains his engineering project to someone at the Summer Undergraduate Rsearch and Internship Symposium
The Composer, the Engineer
Music, STEM interests lay out unique path for Trinity senior

Robert Furuya ’24 loves music and engineering.

At Trinity University, the STEM-focused Semmes Scholarship, within the University’s flexible liberal arts environment, gives this music composition and engineering science double major a pathway to thrive in both passions.

“What Trinity has allowed me to do with these two majors is a pretty unique thing,” says Furuya, who hails from Raleigh, North Carolina, has dual Canadian citizenship, and also finds time for a Math minor. “I haven't seen a lot of other schools where you can do both.”

And that’s a good thing for Furuya, who is just as masterful at composing new music on the keys of one of Trinity’s 43 Steinway pianos as he is machining with a Haas Mini Mill CNC router in Trinity’s Makerspace. Indeed: where else was he going to find an All-Steinway campus with a thriving music and arts scene on the same campus as a collaborative engineering shop packed full of state-of-the-art equipment that you’d typically expect at a bigger University?

Furuya says that the process of applying for the Semmes Scholarship was rigorous but also accessible. The Semmes Scholarship, alongside full tuition, also provides a $5,000 stipend for research support, professional travel, materials, and supplies.

Furuya was also offered one of Trinity’s music scholarships—awards for vocal or instrumental performances that are available to music majors and non-majors alike—but elected to choose the Semmes, which covered full tuition.

Still, Furuya’s musical side shines at Trinity in a hands-on way. 

He plays piano, performs in solo recitals, writes music for various types of ensembles, and has even joined Trinity’s unique Handbell Ensemble, one of several ensembles on campus. He’s now in the middle of preparing for a senior composition recital, but his musical influence has extended far beyond campus.

Robert Furuya ’24 (center) is a talented music composer and performer who’s had his work featured at an international composition festival.

“In June 2023, I went to Italy for a premiere of my composition in the Alba Music Festival, which was actually funded in part by another music scholarship, the Calvert Scholarship, and I attended a sound and music computing conference in Stockholm, with help from the Semmes stipend, while across the pond,” Furuya says. “Seeing your music brought to life by live performers is an amazing experience. And working with the Transient Canvas bass clarinet/marimba duo on my premiere, and interacting with the faculty and other students in the program, was unforgettable.”

Engineering science has also been an incredible experience for Furuya, who says he has enjoyed Trinity’s unique curricular approach to the field as well as stellar faculty.

“In Trinity’s engineering science curriculum, you get to explore multiple disciplines: electrical, chemical, and mechanical,” Furuya says. “I think we also have, probably, one of the most open and caring engineering departments. Our faculty, you can just go in and talk to them.”

This includes faculty such as associate engineering science professor Kevin Nickels, Ph.D., whom Furuya conducted summer research with. “Dr. Nickels has been a great source of support, from providing summer research opportunities and scrambling to put together all of the paperwork I needed,” he says. “Dr. Nickels has high expectations, which I appreciate. He’s a good sounding board and offers a lot of suggestions and feedback.”

Over his summers, Furuya has had the chance to work on projects such as an autonomous planetary rover, where he helped hone the rocker-bogie suspension, researched worm gears, and began developing a new gearbox design for the drive wheels.

Furuya has enjoyed working with the aforementioned Haas Mini Mill, a big white box in the back corner of the Makerspace that helps him machine his own parts for projects instead of having to order them from off-campus suppliers. “People like Ryan Hodge, Trinity’s machine shop technician, have made the Makerspace into such a great resource that's fun and very fulfilling to use,” he says.

Furuya is right at home in Trinity’s Makerspace, where he works with state-of-the-art engineering technology.

And, as if his senior music project wasn’t enough, Furuya is also hard at work on his senior engineering design project right now. (At Trinity, engineers have a design element all four years.) 

“I’m pretty excited about this,” Furuya says. “We’re working on this automatic desktop plastic injection molder that we’re aiming to put into a K-12 classroom as part of a curriculum about plastics.”

As he pursues both music and engineering, Furuya appreciates the space that Trinity’s flexible, liberal arts education offers him to balance both.

“In terms of scheduling, things have surprisingly not conflicted that much,” Furuya says, laughing. “I’m very thankful for my professor-advisers, Dr. Kelly-Zion, Dr. True, and Dr. Bondari, for helping me find options and flexibility, which is a perk of going to a small school.”

Beyond his academic priorities and career aspirations (with potential graduate studies in either field on the horizon), Furuya says his path through both majors has been valuable for a more personal reason:

“Getting to know students both in Trinity’s music department and in engineering,” he says, “has given me a really nice range of friends on campus.”

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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