By Nicole Capozziello
Published April 27, 2022
Azriena Jones and Tyree Smith both came to the University at Buffalo from Brooklyn, N.Y. to study engineering. To get to that point – of being a college student in engineering – required each of them to overcome an array of challenges.
“Growing up as a black male in Brooklyn, the world already has assumptions about how your life will turn out,” says Smith, who like Jones, asserts that most people in his school and community did not expect him to go to college.
However, both students met these challenges with determination, driven by a deep desire to positively impact the world through engineering. Since reaching campus, Smith and Jones have dedicated themselves to not only individually excelling as engineers but drawing on their perspectives to make the field more supportive, inclusive and impactful.
“Being aware that I did not have family members who were able to attend college and get this far, I’ve always known that getting this degree meant more than just me,” says Jones. “It represents those who look like me who did not get a chance to get this education.”
This year, Jones and Smith were chosen as the first recipients of the Fred Bargetzi Memorial Scholarship, a new scholarship that was created by Crestron Electronics to promote inclusive excellence in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as honor the late Fred Bargetzi, a UB alumnus and former chief technology officer of Creston.
“The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is dedicated to actively helping the engineering and computer science fields become more diverse and inclusive,” says Kemper Lewis, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Scholarship funds like this are integral to this goal, enabling us to support and recognize underrepresented students for their contributions. We’re grateful to Crestron Electronics and Fred for setting such a shining example of how one can use their success to uplift others.”
When Fred Bargetzi passed away in January of 2021, his family and colleagues wanted to honor the memory of a man who had inspired them so much. His colleagues at Crestron Electronics, where Bargetzi worked for over 30 years, decided to establish the Fred Bargetzi Memorial Scholarship at UB, where Bargetzi graduated with a BS in electrical engineering in 1990.
“One of Fred’s greatest passions in life was empowering others to achieve their dreams and understand that anything is possible if you have the mindset and will to accomplish it,” said Dan Feldstein, chairman and chief operating officer at Crestron Electronics.
Bargetzi’s kindness, creativity and passion is something that will not be soon forgotten. “Fred’s enthusiasm was contagious. He had enthusiasm for everything he was a part of; enthusiasm for Crestron, for the AV industry, for his family and friends, for his colleagues and co-workers, for innovation itself. Just by being around Fred, people felt energized by his desire to challenge the status quo and write the future,” says Chris W. Fitzpatrick, manager, University Relations and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Crestron Electronics.
During his time at Crestron Electronics, Bargetzi led a global team of more than 700, mentored countless engineers and professionals and had a hand in the evolution of AV technology. His vision motivated many who met him and helped set Crestron Electronics on a path to becoming an industry leader.
“We are pleased to establish the Fred Bargetzi Memorial Scholarship to provide new opportunities to students by giving them the resources they need to advance their education. Fred has inspired a countless number of people throughout his life, and we hope to honor his legacy through this scholarship,” says Feldstein.
Fitzpatrick adds, “It’s possible the next industry innovator, disruptor, or revolutionizer is currently enrolled at University of Buffalo just as Fred once was, and we want to do everything in our power to help them achieve their dreams.”
The endowed fund provides scholarships to underrepresented students, including students who are female, LGBTQ, Black, Latinx, Native American, veterans, or have a disability. Each year, at least one scholarship will go to a student majoring in electrical engineering.
“Fred was a family man through and through. Crestron is a family company through and through,” says Fitzpatrick. “I look at Fred, and I see a man who left the world better than the way he found it, and through this scholarship, we want to keep his legacy alive and well here at the University at Buffalo.”
Azriena Jones is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. A first-generation college student, she has been dedicated to creating community and mentoring others since she came to UB. She serves as a leader of the Black Student Union and National Society of Black Engineers. “I’ve used my leadership positions, especially being the People of Color Council Coordinator at UB, to reach out to other girls who look like me and share similar interests,” says Jones. “They see a face like mine who’s able to create a different image from just the professional engineer. One who demonstrates that there’s no one way to look as an engineer. One who emphasizes that it’s more about how you carry yourself and how you let your knowledge and creativity merge.”
Jones has not only shared her perspective as a mentor and leader but has sought to raise important questions regarding diversity in her biomedical engineering classes. For instance, when synthesizing a drug-infused patch to aid gout, she made sure to include different skin tone colors so that the style applies to all customers. Through projects and coursework, she has also brought attention to the lack of medical treatment black women receive in comparison to other patients.
“By doing projects on these topics, as well as presenting them, I am raising awareness and starting uncomfortable conversations that are not spoken about in engineering classes. However, these conversations are necessary for understanding how to create devices in the first place,” Jones says. “We have to emphasize the importance of inclusion of underrepresented individuals. Often there’s no voice to represent them, and they’re left behind.”
After graduating in May, Jones plans to work in the biomedical engineering field, where she wants to create better quality medical devices for members of undeveloped communities. “By integrating my biomedical engineering experience and quality engineering experience, I plan to create more cost-effective yet high-quality devices for these communities,” she says. Down the road, she also hopes to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical or industrial engineering.
Tyree Smith is a senior majoring in electrical engineering. He is a residential advisor and participated in UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad Summer Accelerator program, where he and his team collaborated with a startup business selling upper limb prosthetics. He was also an Intern for the IT Department at Brooklyn Defender Services.
“Since I was young, I knew I wanted to be an engineer and that has been my drive to push me forward in accomplishing my goals. As I got older, I started to notice that there aren’t many African Americans in STEM fields. It really started to bother me because I wish there were more people like me in my classes, but then I realized that this is the case because of the current systems in place in this country,” says Smith.
In summer of 2021, Smith completed The Green Program course, which focused on water resource management and sustainable practices in Peru. He learned about how rapidly weather is changing in Peru and how it’s impacting people’s lives. “Seeing how little people can do about their current situation made me want to focus more on sustainability and making an impact in the world.”
After graduation, Smith will start a job as a special inspection engineer for AK Engineering in New York City. Smith also hopes to apply his experience to the field of energy systems. He is not only passionate about the potential of energy systems to mitigate climate change, but also wants to help groups particularly harmed by climate change, in the United States and beyond.
“As an engineer it will be my duty to not only figure out more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to climate change but also make sure that underprivileged people are accounted for and are protected,” he says.
Founded in 1972, Crestron Electronics is a global leader in workplace technologies, engineering and transforming corporate automation and unified communication (UC) solutions for enterprise organizations across Fortune 500 corporations, campuses, facilities, and more, as well as a premium home automation provider who creates platforms, devices, and systems across residential properties.
Crestron Electronics products are backed by more than 90 fully staffed offices that provide 24 x 7 x 365 sales, technical, and training support across the globe. In addition to their World Headquarters in Rockleigh, N.J., Crestron Electronics has sales and support offices around the world.