Alumna Killed in Russia is Remembered as Dedicated Student

Woman casts a critical eye on a furniture design project.
Catherine Serou takes a hard look at a project in Tom Maiorana’s “Furniture Design” class at UC Davis.

Quick Summary

  • Design and art history grad Catherine Serou was studying law in Russia
  • Suspect there is arraigned on murder charges in 34-year-old’s death
  • Chancellor May and other faculty members express condolences

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May and faculty members expressed condolences and admiration Monday (June 21) for Catherine Serou, the recent alumna who was found dead in Russia after going missing there last week. The Associated Press reported Sunday that a suspect had been arraigned on murder charges in the 34-year-old’s death.

Serou had gone missing Tuesday (June 15) in a suburb of Nizhny Novgorod, a city on the Volga River 250 miles east of Moscow, according to National Public Radio, which reported Saturday that Serou’s body had been found that day.

News media reported she had been waiting for a car service at the time of her disappearance.

“We were so saddened to hear about the death of Catherine Serou, a UC Davis alumna twice over,” said Chancellor Gary S. May. “Catherine studied design and art history, and she is remembered fondly by her professors for her passionate and positive approach to both her undergraduate and graduate studies.

"We are shaken by the loss of such a bright and warm person and for the future she should have had. We send our deepest condolences to Catherine’s family and friends during this extremely difficult time.”

'She could do anything'

Serou had served in the Marine Corps, including a tour in Afghanistan, before earning two UC Davis degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in 2017 and a Master of Arts in 2019, and was most recently pursuing a master’s degree in law from Nizhny Novgorod State University in Russia.

Her sister, Marie-Claire Serou, set up a GoFundMe account over the weekend, titled, “Saying Goodbye to My Beautiful Sister,” explaining on the webpage that the family would need to repatriate Catherine’s body from Russia to give her an appropriate burial, and thus was seeking contributions for expenses. The webpage includes a place for tributes to Serou.

“Catherine Serou could do anything,” her sister wrote on the site. “Brilliant and beautiful, she found joy in learning, growing, eating, traveling, building, crafting and caring for animals.” Catherine, she added, had served in Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and was a certified diesel mechanic.

“On Tuesday June 15th, 2021, at 7:17pm MSK, she sent the last message we would ever receive from her — ‘I'm in a car with a stranger. I hope I'm not being abducted.’ Three days later, her remains were found by the Russian police. Our family is devastated, left only with memories of her wonderful spirit and our time together.”

Her passions blossomed here

Ari Kelman, interim dean of the College of Letters and Science, where Serou earned both her degrees, issued the following statement:

“This past week, our college has been stunned by the tragic loss of alumna Catherine Serou. She impressed our faculty with her warmth, kindness, keen intellect and thoughtfulness. Her passions for design, art history and Russian culture blossomed at UC Davis, and we are devastated to learn of her death. I send my deepest condolences on behalf of our entire community to her family and friends during this difficult time.”

Design professor Michael Siminovitch, director of the California Lighting Technology Center and associate director of the Energy Efficiency Institute, said: “A very bright young lady sadly gone.”

She was a research assistant, he said, in the lighting center and working on a design for security lighting for the Navy. “She represented Davis at a number of conferences and seminars and was always up for new challenges,” he said. “She was very dedicated to the work, and the staff enjoyed having her at the center.”

He added that most people did not know of her combat experience. “She saw real action,” he said. “She was quiet about it.” He found out only because he had specifically recruited veterans for the Navy project.

Woman displays furniture project (bookcase).
Serou in “Furniture Design” class at UC Davis.


Tom Maiorana, assistant professor in the Department of Design, knew Serou from his class on furniture design, DES135.

“I remember that she was an incredibly driven student who had a tremendous amount of skill as a maker. She was serious about the class and yet open and generous with her classmates.” 

In his class, he said, she undertook a “deceptively simple bookshelf that she executed really well.” 

Catherine participated in a Summer Abroad program in Ireland, on the subject of filmmaking, co-taught by Glenda Drew, professor of design.

Catherine was a lovely, lovely student and person. She was committed to her projects and studies, and she was a friend to all of the other students,” Drew said. Her work was thoughtful, literary and historic."

No better ambassador

Jenny Kaminer, associate professor of Russian and chair of the Department of German and Russian, talked to media about Serou. Kaminer had written a letter of recommendation for her when she was applying to the program in Russia.

She said: “I only knew Catherine for a few short months, but she left such an impression with her keen intelligence, warmth and humor. She was so articulate, thoughtful and kind — I cannot imagine a better unofficial ambassador for UC Davis in Russia than Catherine. Her passion for Russian culture was deep and infectious. I am utterly heartbroken by her loss and send her family my most sincere condolences.”

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