Meet a Retriever—Xavier Smith ’23, M31, computer engineering, scholar and mentor

Published: Apr 3, 2023

A young man stands in a black polo shirt talking into a microphone
Smith speaking at an IEEE event with corporate sponsor IBM, and Student Events Board (seb). Photo courtesy of Smith.
Meet Xavier Smith, a senior computer engineering student who is heading to MIT next year to pursue his dreams of earning a Ph.D. and starting a biotech company. As a part of UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, the U-RISE Scholars Program, and a number of other organizations on campus, he truly understands the meaning of community. Take it away, Xavier!

Q: What’s one essential thing you’d want another Retriever to know about you?

A: I am a senior studying computer engineering on the communications track. In fall of 2023, I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I will be pursuing my Ph.D. in electrical engineering as a recipient of the MIT Presidential Fellowship supported from the Lemelson Foundation (Lemelson Minority Engineering Fellowship). 

I will be focusing on engineering magnetic nanoparticles for wireless neural stimulation with hopes of developing non-invasive therapeutic treatments for individuals diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. My future career goals are to start a biotechnology company that practically implements these therapeutic innovations in a translational manner, and my professional goals are to make biomedical technology more accessible and equitable for individuals from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

Headshot of a young man in a buttoned up sweater and a tie with a white shirt

Q: What’s the one thing you’d want someone who hasn’t joined the UMBC community to know about the support you find here?

A: UMBC has many niche communities, and although it’s important to find the one that fits you, the university has a way of mixing those communities together in an energetic way that helps spark interesting conversations and life-long connections. Additionally, UMBC is hyper-focused on their students, which allows your voice to be heard on a larger scale.

Q: Tell us about someone in your community who has inspired you or supported you, and how they did it.

A: My father, Brian Smith, has inspired me as an black engineer and entrepreneur in STEM through the various companies he has owned that are either technologically-based or focus on exposing students to opportunities in science and engineering. His tenacity, optimism, work ethic, positive attitude, adaptability, and collective success of more than 25 years motivates me to push the boundaries of science and technology in my community, and to be just like him.

A father and son stand with their arms around each other.
Xavier Smith (left) with his father, Brian Smith (right) at a research presentation in 2018. Photo courtesy of Smith.

Q: Tell us what you love about your academic program or an organization you’re involved in.

A: What I love about UMBC’s computer engineering program is the overall focus of implementation and practicality of content. The faculty prepare students to tackle real-world problems from a plethora of perspectives not just from STEM. Separately, I am currently president of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) at UMBC, and I lead this organization with my stellar executive board of friends I made along the way in computer engineering. What I love about this organization is its versatility of impact as we focus on getting students of all majors and backgrounds excited about STEM, and exposed to real-world opportunities and applications of science and technology.

A group of students and scholar mentors pose together
Smith with computer engineering friends and IEEE executive board members running an event at hackUMBC, from left to right: Christopher Slaughter ’23 (vice president), Xavier Smith ’23 (president), Andrew Mathew ’23 (secretary), Caden Ertel ’23 (lab director), and David Nguyen ’23 (public relations chair/historian). (Nkosi Cruickshank, the group’s treasurer, is not pictured). Photo courtesy of Smith.

Q: What brought you to UMBC?

A: I came to UMBC because of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which is a Ph.D. pipeline-program focused on preparing historically underrepresented students for higher education in academia and industry. I knew I wanted to earn a Ph.D., but I didn’t know why or in what specific field, and the Meyerhoff Program here at UMBC provided me with resources that helped me figure out the answer to those questions. As I took advantage of these opportunities to set my foundation in research, I joined the U-RISE Program here, which guided me on manifesting my desire to enter the world of biomedical science.

I got involved with organizations here such as the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Black Student Union (BSU), etc. and teaching opportunities as a teaching assistant and learning assistant in the computer engineering department. Overall, before I entered UMBC I had one perspective of what the university had to offer me, however, as I continued to explore, I began to see the multitude of opportunities that UMBC provides that can be encompassed into one word: community.

Not only have I found exactly what field of science I want to pursue and why, I have found my voice in STEM and the confidence to pursue my goals and dreams of making a lasting difference in the world because of the Meyerhoff Scholars and U-RISE Scholars programs.

Xavier Smith ’23

Q: What are some of the benefits of your involvement in student activities?

A: I am a student leader in many different contexts: the president of IEEE, a peer advisor in the Meyerhoff Program for incoming computer engineering students, and a research project leader in Dr. Ramana  Vinjamuri’s Brain Computer Interfaces lab. As president of IEEE, I get a chance to break the barriers of the club in terms of our impact, event sizes, and activities with my friends on the executive board. We have focused on creating a makerspace for students of all majors and backgrounds, giving them a physical place to be able to express themselves, explore their creative interests, or simply complete homework with friends.

As a peer advisor for the Meyerhoff Program, I have the opportunity of mentoring other students in the program interested in computer engineering. I serve not only as their go-to person for when they need help, but also as an advocate for them if they need support inside or outside the program.

Lastly, as a research project leader in Dr. Vinjamuri’s lab, I’m mentoring students on projects that focus on improving the lives of patients with physical and mental disparities by engineering novel myoelectric prosthetics, neuroprosthetics, recording devices, and robust decoding systems. I love being able to give direction and inspiration to the next generation of students in science through my efforts, especially to those who originate from historically underrepresented communities.

Q: What’s it like to be part of a scholars community at UMBC?

A: I am part of the Meyerhoff Scholars and U-RISE Scholars programs here at UMBC, and the main thing I enjoy about both programs is the overarching support that they provide me as I’m working toward reaching my academic, career, and professional goals. The resources that they routinely provide me are invaluable: mentoring, contacts, support groups, advising, and most importantly, communication. Not only have I found exactly what field of science I want to pursue and why, I have found my voice in STEM and the confidence to pursue my goals and dreams of making a lasting difference in the world because of both programs.

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UMBC’s greatest strength is its people. When people meet Retrievers and hear about the passion they bring, the relationships they create, the ways they support each other, and the commitment they have to inclusive excellence, they truly get a sense of our community. That’s what “Meet a Retriever” is all about.

Learn more about how UMBC can help you achieve your goals.

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