Undergraduate Vincent Barfield to Present Commencement ADdress

Vincent Barfield ’24 BS in Computer Science and Mathematics

Vincent Barfield, completing his bachelor’s with dual majors in mathematics and computer science this spring, will deliver the undergraduate address at Michigan Tech’s Class of 2024 Spring Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, April 26, 2024.

Barfield is one of three Huskies who present addresses. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Chang K. Park ’73 (B.S. Electrical Engineering/Engineering Administration) is the featured commencement speaker at both ceremonies. Zazil Santizo-Huerta, who earned her Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences, will address her fellow graduate students Friday. Vincent Barfield, completing his bachelor’s with dual majors in mathematics and computer science, will deliver the undergraduate address.

More than 1,000 Huskies in the spring Class of 2024 will celebrate a hard-earned and long-awaited milestone. Graduate student commencement is at 3 p.m. Friday. Undergraduate commencement is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Both take place in the John J. MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

Learn more about the speakers and their journeys and get additional commencement details at Michigan Tech News.

Undergraduate Speaker Taps into the Value of Data

Vincent Barfield wasn’t certain he’d be walking in the commencement ceremony this spring, let alone serving as undergraduate student speaker. Fall 2024 graduation had been an option. The timing came together shortly before the deadline to submit speeches. On Saturday, Barfield will address approximately 759 of his fellow undergraduates before they cross the stage to commemorate the finale of their bachelor’s degree coursework.

“Once I realized I was going to be walking, I knew that the opportunity to be the student speaker would be an incredible honor and I would regret not submitting a speech,” Barfield said. “I want to talk about how amazing it is to have the opportunity to study at Michigan Tech and emphasize how well-positioned we are to make a difference in this world.”

A prior fortuitous spur-of-the-moment decision brought Barfield to Tech. “I was working in the shipping department of an RV factory for two years after high school,” he said. “One day after returning home from work, I decided it was time to enroll in a college in order to start my long-term career, like I had always intended. I spent that night applying to a number of different colleges. All that I knew about Michigan Tech at that time was that it had a well-ranked computer science department. And now, it’s been my home for four wonderful years. Crazy to think about, really. It changed my life.”

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Barfield’s hometown for the last decade has been Three Rivers, Michigan. The 2022-23 recipient of an undergraduate student Mathematics Achievement Award, Barfield is interested in machine learning, high-speed computing and data analysis. He’s wanted to be a programmer since middle school. “Enrolling as a computer science student was an easy decision,” he said.

“Programmers are sort of like wizards and programming is sort of like casting a spell. Who doesn’t want to be a wizard? That was my thought process as a child, and, for the most part, I still feel the same. There are a lot of problems in the world. However, if you know how to program, a lot of those problems can be solved with a good idea, an internet connection and a computer.”Vincent Barfield, undergraduate student speaker, 2024 Spring Commencement

“Unlike my first major, mathematics was something that I never expected to study in any depth. I enjoyed mathematics quite a lot throughout early K-12, but my enjoyment tapered off somewhat once I entered middle school,” Barfield said. “However, once I was at Tech, Calculus III with Alexander Labovsky sparked a curiosity in me. Upper-level math has so many cool symbols and hard-to-understand concepts that I wanted to learn more about. So, in the spring of my sophomore year, I decided to take a second major in applied mathematics.”

Barfield worked on two Michigan Tech Enterprise teams, Blue Marble Security (BMS) and Humane Interface Design Enterprise (HIDE). BMS was his first experience in the program, which pairs students with clients to work on industry projects.

“With standard coursework, you don’t get a ton of opportunities to work on real problems, and that was exactly what BMS was for me,” he said. “I worked with a small team to finish an autonomous robot named Charlie. The team was chaotic and unorganized in the beginning because we were all new to the project. However, over the coming months, we became familiar with the technology and comfortable with the environment. That feeling of growing with a team and being united to achieve a common goal is still to this day one of my greatest motivators.”

In the fall of his second year, Barfield joined BMS’s Robotic Bookshelf project. “Our goal was to design and implement the prototype for a bookshelf that could replace the shelves on the garden level of the campus library,” he said. “Unlike the previous project, many of the students working on this project had been in BMS for a while. The older team members taught us a lot about robotics, programming and just general stuff about being a student. Their insight helped me to traverse the struggles of being a college student and I am incredibly grateful.”

Barfield decided to explore more Enterprise opportunities at Michigan Tech by joining HIDE in spring semester 2022. This time, his team worked for the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center. “I was assigned to the GVSC Simulation team that was developing a virtual reality simulation game to test the effectiveness of different heads-up displays (HUDs) for the Ground Vehicle Systems Center. It was very fun to learn how to implement user interface elements using Unreal Engine (a game engine),” he said.

Barfield hasn’t decided on a specific company yet, but knows what he wants in a career. “I’m looking for a software development position where I can solve difficult problems,” he said. “Machine learning seems to be one area where I can do that. In the last decade, talented software developers and data scientists have solved very difficult problems by building data-based models. I would like to begin my career by helping build these models.”

A former Computer Science Learning Center coach, Barfield is also a guitar player who tends to cycle through different musical phases, often playing jazz, rock or metal. “Lately, I’ve been into folk music,” he said. “I’m trying to learn a Romanian folk song right now.”

Not surprising for a Michigan Tech student, he enjoys exploring interesting research and fantasy tabletop gaming in his spare time. “Earlier this semester, I was talking with Ronghua Xu about his research involving blockchain integrated into IoT (Internet of Things) networks. This sparked my interest in nonfinance-oriented blockchain applications. There are so many technologies where trust-free record-keeping could make a large impact,” he said. “And I’ve been playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons this semester. It’s a fun, creative hobby where nerds like myself can roleplay a character of your creation within the confines of game mechanics.”

Barfield is also destressing with the help of a new addition at his fraternity, Sigma Rho Alpha Chapter. “We just got a pingpong table, and that has been intense. It’s a great way to competitively relax after a long day of classes and homework,” he said.

Barfield’s face lights up when he talks about what he’s most thankful for during his time at Tech. “I’m grateful to have discovered and become a brother at Sigma Rho,” said Barfield, who currently serves as treasurer, IT chair and a management committee member. “Having companions to more pleasantly pass the days makes the entire college experience that much more enjoyable. Though Sigma Rho, I have made relationships that will last a lifetime and, for that, I could not be more grateful.”