Class of 2021: Computer science student Max Safo immerses himself in technical topics

Safo’s deep dives into computer science and mathematics have led to leadership roles and research opportunities

Max Safo
Max Safo has taken 10 computer science courses since transferring to VCU in 2019. They have helped him discover a passion for the topic. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

By Dina Weinstein
University Public Affairs

Max Safo used computers from a young age and always liked cars, so he initially thought he would study mechanical engineering in college, but he ended up veering away from that field because he was apprehensive about the math requirements.

“It's now refreshing that I know the intricacies of how computers work and how to program,” said Safo, who transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University from Reynolds Community College and will graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the College of Engineering and, ironically, a minor in mathematics from the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Safo said he was drawn to VCU for the distinctiveness, diversity, urban setting and proximity to his Henrico County home. Safo already felt comfortable on campus. His father, Martin Safo, Ph.D., is a professor of medicinal chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

Safo’s favorite professors at VCU include computer science associate professor David Shepherd, Ph.D., graphs and algorithms instructor Debra Duke, Ph.D., mathematics assistant professor Neal Bushaw, Ph.D., and computer science assistant professor Caroline Budwell, Ph.D., who teaches theory of computation, database theory and software engineering, specification and design. In some class projects, Safo even made connections to his automotive interest.

“I learned Java application in software engineering, specification and design that teaches students how to learn programming,” said Safo. “We basically learned the ins and out of software, the software development life cycle. With database theory, we built another project, anything we wanted using the database. I built a car database that a dealership could utilize to see what cars are for sale.”

In another class, as a member of a four-person team, Safo created an application utilizing Android Studio, Java programming, GitHub, and the Agile software development process to ease the development of the project. The application was designed to educate any beginner in the basics of Java introductory programming. Safo was predominately in charge of creating test cases for the app and coordinating in-person and virtual meetings.

Shepherd advises Safo for his senior capstone project, in which Safo is creating an application for DuPont to help calculate the velocity of projectiles (including bullets) shot at a test-pallet of materials, in collaboration with a lab that works on Kevlar.

“I've helped create the graphical user interface,” said Safo. “I've done some of the backend coding. I've done a lot of the requirement documents that our mentor asks for or our DuPont mentor asks for. It involves making sure that all of our documentation is put [in a place] to allow team members to collaborate easily.”

Shepherd describes Safo as a hardworking student whose dedication has earned him high grades. Safo said that took a lot of hard work, staying up late to work on projects as well as often going to office hours.

“Just making sure I do the assignments a hundred percent the way they want it,” said Safo.

In his last semester, Safo got involved as a research assistant in the lab of computer science assistant professor Irfan Ahmed, Ph.D.

“We're currently creating a graphical user interface that uses virtual machine introspection to see the memory of the virtual machine of a host computer,” said Safo. “It could be used for memory for forensics conducting operating system attacks and looking at malware on the virtual machine. I'm creating the graphical user interface and then we're going to apply that to the virtual machine introspection.”

In total, Safo has taken 10 computer science courses since transferring to VCU in fall 2019. He also has become involved in the cyber security and blockchain clubs as well as the VCU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. He plans to continue his education in VCU’s master’s degree program in computer science and also wants to pursue more research opportunities.

“These last two years, [VCU has] really prepared me to further pursue any future endeavors with computer science or research,” Safo said.