This article is published in the January 2014 issue.

Expanding the Pipeline: SC13 Supercomputing Conference

On November 16, 2013, in Denver, CO, the Broader Engagement (BE) Program at the Supercomputing conference opened its doors the day before SC13 to begin this year’s growing event. Kicking off the workshop, three key inclusion activities provided a solid introduction for newcomers to the SC experience.

pipeline-1-jan-2014The BE Program’s goal is to increase the participation of individuals who have been traditionally under-represented in high performance computing (HPC). The program offers special activities to introduce, engage and support a diverse community in the conference and in HPC. Competitive grants are available to support limited travel to and participation in the SC13 Technical Program. This year the program supported 21 undergraduate students, eight masters students, 18 doctoral students, and 19 faculty/professionals. The themes of inclusion, technical/professional development and fun are consistent targets that run through the fabric of the week’s events for BE participants.

The BE program began with an Orientation session providing participants with an overview of the program goals, a sense of the SC community at large as well as introduction to key members of the SC conference committee. A fun interactive session led by Raquell Holmes from improvscience followed, engaging participants into communication and collaboration with the goal of creating a sense of community among the participants. Filling out the rest of the evening, a Joint BE/HPC Educators Networking session brought participants together to enjoy food and refreshments while sharing posters of their research or work in education and workforce development.

pipeline-2-jan-2014An opportunity like no other, the Broader Engagement Workshop provides access to leading experts in the HPC field through its technical session presentations. This year’s speakers covered both emerging research topics as well as state of the art HPC applications. No other venue affords this small group setting for students to have access to so many leading experts in the field within a week’s time span. The technical sessions included two plenary speakers, nine technical presenters, and a hands-on session. The participation of these presenters is a testament of their commitment to the development of our next generation researchers and contributors to the field of supercomputing. In addition to providing excellent technical information, presenters shared stories of their journeys including trials, tribulations, curves and bends in the road.

Back this year, one of the session highlights was a hands-on session with Damian Rouson and Sameer Shende leading the way by showing students how to exploit performance analysis using the TAU Performance System. Following a ‘how-to’ presentation, students worked in small groups loading the software configuration on their personal systems and utilizing the software to analyze performance.

Organized by Jeanine Cook, several professional development sessions were held: Navigating a Computer Career, Building Your Technical Resume, and an HPC Careers and Networking Panel. These informal walkthroughs allowed interactive settings for student volunteers and BE participants to ask questions and to become more familiar with the career transition process. Led by SC12’s General Chair, Jeff Hollingsworth, the session Journal Publishing 101, provided practical publishing pitfalls, practice, and guidelines.

And don’t forget the Scavenger Hunt and all the great prizes! This year’s program had twenty five sponsors contributing donations for the event with students ‘scavenging’ the Denver exhibits, meeting donor members and cultivating peer camaraderie…a great way to cement peer/sponsor developmental relationships that will serve as a springboard forward in their careers.

The Job/Opportunity Fair provided students and postdocs an opportunity to meet face-to-face with potential employers. Opportunities included positions at research labs, academic institutions, private industry as well as one-on-one sessions with recruiting agencies. Here students were able to learn about graduate fellowships, internships, summer jobs, co-op programs, graduate school assistantships as well as permanent employment placement. New for SC13, postdocs were also invited. Students and postdocs were also given the opportunity to submit their resumes for review by the Job/Opportunity Fair participants.

According to a study conducted by Mann and Taylor of Texas A&M University, more than half of the BE participants have at least one submission to the SC program with approximately 38 percent with an accepted submission. Most of the accepted paper submissions occur after participation in the BE program. The average paper acceptance rate over a five year period for BE participants was slightly less than that for the main conference, however the rate was slightly higher for poster submissions by BE participants than for the main conference attendees. Looking to expand the advancement of Broader Engagement participants into the technical community of the conference, additional mentoring components have been added to the core program. Starting with SC13, pre-submission mentoring was made available to BE participants to help them prepare posters for submission to the main conference technical track, and hence get integrated with the larger SC community. Additionally, presentation assistance was made available on-site to help students with last minute preparation for their conference technical presentations.

‘Get connected’ and ‘stay connected’ are two key themes of the BE Workshop. Participants were invited to connect with peers, mentors, and recruiters on BE social media sites with the hope that these relationships will continue on into their professional career growth and development. Content related to opportunities and the SC conference is posted on these social media sites even after the conference is over.

pipeline-3-jan-2014True to its charter of connecting, supporting, and contributing to the BE community, the Mentor-Protégé program is a key activity for jumpstarting the development of professional connections for BE participants at the conference. The Mentor-Protégé event is initiated by the Broader Engagement committee in order to support the development of underrepresented professionals in HPC by creating opportunities for attendees to establish developmental professional relationships. By pairing fairly new SC participants with more experienced attendees the Mentor-Protégé program provides introduction, engagement and support. Beginning with a kick-off exercise of digital storytelling to facilitate introductions and orientations, Mentor-Protégé pairs then moved on to discuss both networking and technical development pathways to help BE newcomers integrate with the larger SC community.

A former BE protégé from 2009 SC Workshop shared his story about how his successful experience in the program led to his developing career and inspired him to give back by serving as a mentor in SC13. As this protégé’s story unfolds he was a first time attendee to SC in 2009. With its record number of attendees of approximately 10,000 such an event can be overwhelming for any newcomer. The protégé indicated, “since I was not familiar with the conference, I immediately pounced upon the idea of having a mentor guide me through the conference.” The protégé described how it was his mentor, assigned by BE, that helped him navigate and find his way through his first SC experience. Not only that, the mentor exposed his protégé to careers in optimizing compilers. He indicated, “it was during these one on one exchanges that I got to know about careers in optimizing compilers. This was crucial, because after returning from the conference, I recalled my mentor’s advice and started looking for compiler jobs.” Today, 2013, that same participant is now happily employed by one of the largest compiler vendors in the industry. To top that off, some of the other PhD students within that protégé’s SC’09 community are his collaborators today! During SC13 this successful protégé returned to the Mentor-Protégé program looking to give back to the HPC community as a mentor, coming full circle. The importance of the BE program and Mentor-Protégé shines through his comments, “I really think the broader engagement program in general and its mentor-protégé aspect in particular helped me in choosing my current career path and in building my network within the HPC community. I hope to continue my engagement as long as possible.”

It is success stories such as these that BE hopes to inspire. The next Broader Engagement program will be held in New Orleans for SC14. We welcome volunteers to serve as mentors, participate in the Scavenger Hunt, serve on the organizing committee, and provide funds to support the program. Look for announcements about the program and application in summer 2014.

About the Authors

Geri Lamble was the SC13 Chair for the Mentor-Protégé program. She is currently a re-entry engineering graduate student at Santa Clara University and a long standing STEM advocate particularly interested in representing returning mothers to the technical career workforce.

Mary Ann Leung was the SC13 Deputy Chair and will be the Chair for the SC14 Broader Engagement program. She is president of Sustainable Horizons, whose mission is to build sustainable connections between students and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by supplying the basic, visible supports students need to participate and achieve with an eye towards celebrating difference as a key ingredient to innovation and discovery.