Computing4Change: Bringing Students to HPC to Change the World

Students and Mentors from Advanced Computing for Social Change at SC17

ACM’s Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing (SIGHPC) recently announced the 16 undergraduates chosen to compete in the inaugural Computing4Change competition. Co-located with the SC18 conference in Dallas, TX, Computing4Change introduces students to the potential of computing to create positive change in our society.

Students learn to work as part of a team, applying data analysis and computational thinking to a social challenge while experiencing the latest tools and techniques from computing and data science.

Why Computing4Change?

For most of us, computing is a way of life; we use it for work, for research, and for play. But are there novel areas, or new ways, to apply computing power to solve societal challenges? Could it be used to address our public education system, which is uneven at best? What about tackling the opioid crisis? Or reducing gun violence?

The 16 students who will participate in Computing4change will choose a major societal issue that impacts their lives, and learn the programming skills required to begin to tackle it.

Research has shown that students from under-represented groups are more interested in STEM activities when they feel the project can have a direct impact on their community. Since 2016, Dr. Kelly Gaither and Rosalia Gomez from TACC, and Linda Akli of SURA, have organized Advanced Computing for Social Change programs at the annual XSEDE and SC conferences. Computing4Change grew out of these efforts.

According to Gaither, “these programs allows us focus on the impact that science and technology can have in providing a data centric view of issues we all face, and work towards making positive social change.”

“When you talk to these students, you recognize that there are significant social issues that weigh heavy on their minds, oftentimes outweighing academic issues,” Gaither said. “However, when they do get into their respective STEM fields, they are motivated to give back to their local community, particularly if they’ve come from underserved communities. They are motivated by giving back.”

Computing4Change will bring these students together, and build on their motivation to try to make their communities better, to produce a new generation of problem solvers.

“We’ve seen from our previous programs that these students are dedicated and hard-working, and want to learn, because they want to make a change in the world,” said Akli. “We are opening doors to future opportunities that they might not have considered before.”

For its part, SIGHPC is excited to be supporting this program. John West, SIGHPC Vice-Chair, sees Computing4Change as an important step. “Reaching a diverse group of students and giving them a positive experience in computing helps to build the pipeline for the future.”

The Students
SIGHPC received hundreds of applications from citizens of 31 countries, with over 60% coming from non-US citizens. Almost half (45%) of applicants were female or non-binary gender, and 4% of applicants identified as having some form of disability.

Of the applicants from the US, over half are from groups that are underrepresented in computing. More than 160 universities were represented, including students from more than 100 majors ranging from law and urban planning to engineering and economics.

The applications were reviewed and evaluated by a panel of experts from diverse backgrounds across race, gender, discipline, and nationality. Selections were based on each applicant’s vision for using technology to affect positive change on an issue relevant to them; the overall potential for impact in their chosen fields and home institutions; and the extent to which they can serve as ambassadors to increase diversity in the workplace.

The 16 participants are citizens of five countries. Ten identify as female, two awardees identify as having a disability, and half have never attended a professional conference. Among awardees from the US, 33% are Black/African American, 25% Latino, 19% White, and the remaining are Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or of Mediterranean descent. Students are from 16 different universities, 44% of which are classified as resource constrained by the Carnegie Classification of institutions of higher learning.

SIGHPC congratulates the accepted participants: 
• Stephanie Bogg, Jackson State University
• Edgar Chavez, California State University, Los Angeles
• Noah Hradek, University of Texas at El Paso
• Thomas Johnson, Elizabeth City State University
• Kalika Lacy, Purdue University
• Tunrayo Lumpkin, South Carolina State University
• Shreya Madasu, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
• Peizhu Qian, Simmons College
• Madelyn Reyes, Lipscomb University
• Shanelle Roman, Yale University
• Hoano Rosario, Chaminade University
• Nicholas Sarkauskas, The Ohio State University
• Maya Simon, University of Iowa
• Ariel Tumley, Spelman College
• Itzel Bailon Vazquez, Community College of Denver
• Harrison Waide, Binghamton University/SUNY

Over the next four months, the students will participate in six webinars, to learn core skills and develop experience with the software tools. This advance preparation gives them the ability to ‘hit the ground running’ when they get to SC18. In addition to the time spent working on their team projects, they will have time to visit the SC Exhibit Hall and participate in conference events.

The students will receive travel support, as well as conference registration and a meal allowance for SC18 in Dallas, and will be recognized during the awards ceremony.

For more about Computing4Change, click here.

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