Alex Popoff

Alex Popoff
Photo by David Schmitz

Dean’s Scholar

Major: Music
College of Humanities and the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

I've always known that I would never be able to succeed in a typical work environment. My brain was just not wired in a way that makes it easy for me to do things that would fall under the umbrella of "white-collar" work. Deciding to major in music was not a difficult decision for me, music is pretty much all I know. From the day I first picked up a clarinet in the fourth grade I have always felt that this is where I belong. As a working musician I get to regularly perform all around the country, meet and make music with all types of musicians in the Bay Area, arrange and write music for others, and also teach and inspire the next generation of musicians as a teacher. The hours are all over the place and it is extremely difficult and exhausting at times but not once have I ever doubted the choice I made. Being a musician is without question what I was born to do.

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

Receiving this award means a lot to me. Both school and being a good student are things I've struggled with ever since the very beginning. For a long time l always thought of myself as someone who was just born less intelligent than everyone else. I eventually realized that even though school may not be easy for me, there are many things that do come naturally to me that don't to others and that intelligence isn't measured only with a letter grade. I am proud to receive this award and am grateful to have the honor of being nominated to share my story.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

Easily my parents have had the greatest influence on getting me to where I am today. I am lucky to have parents who 100% supported my desire to become a musician and never discouraged me from pursuing that. They paid for me to go to a private high school for the awesome music program there that fostered my talents and prepared me for college. I realize that having parents who encourage their kid to pursue music as their career instead of just a hobby is not the norm and that I would not be doing what I love without their continued support.

The jazz faculty at SJSU are some of the best mentors I've ever had. They are truly world class players with years of experience and wisdom to share that have affected me in various ways throughout my time here. Jazz department head and my private teacher Dr. Aaron Lington has been the most influential of the group since before I even arrived at SJSU as I was a part of his High School All-Stars band before college. Not only has he been a great saxophone teacher, he has helped me with my academic life numerous times and helped to keep me on track multiple times when I felt like I was close to giving up. On top of that he consistently sends a lot of opportunities my way that have given me some invaluable experience. I am grateful to be his student and beyond honored that he would choose to nominate me for this award.

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

Moving out and living away from my family has been the biggest change in my life that affected everything about me. Ever since I was a freshman in high school I've wanted to live on my own, not because I didn't like my home but because it's just who I am. After four years of living in various new places with a variety of different people I have come to learn a lot about myself. I feel like I have developed a deeper understanding of myself and my own behavior by having to rely on myself all the time, not my parents. Personal responsibility, consequences, and dealing with adult situations are things I have learned a lot about through making mistakes and learning from them. While always being by myself can feel lonely at times, I would never trade it for the amount of personal growth I've attained. When you are 100% in control of your own life you find that both your successes and your mistakes have twice the impact they would otherwise.

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Your grades do not define your worth as a student. Focus on doing the best that you can and simultaneously seek out help from your professors. I learned early on that there is a lot to be gained from taking the extra time to visit your professors during their office hours and asking for help. They will do the best they can to help you and it also shows them that you care enough to try your best. Show up to their office hours and show up frequently, that's what they're there for. Emailing a professor the night before an assignment is due is not the same thing. If you are serious about improving in a class then it's the best thing you can do. It sounds obvious but it is surprising how many students don't think to go to their teachers for help until it's too late.

What makes you a Spartan?

What makes me a Spartan is my drive to succeed at whatever task I decide to set my mind on.


Nominated by Aaron Lington
Professor, Music Department

“A Senior BM_Jazz Studies major, Mr. Popoff has done amazing things with his group, the Super Soul Bros., a jazz fusion group that performs new arrangements of video game music.  They are flown all around the country playing video game conventions.”