Diversity Shines at XSEDE16 Conference

By Travis Tate, XSEDE Communications Coordinator

July 25, 2016

The first five years of the NSF-funded XSEDE project culminated in an exciting and enlightening week’s worth of technical talks and presentations about high-performance computing (HPC) services and resources. The conference where these were showcased also gave underrepresented groups an opportunity to be exposed to HPC and a plethora of experts in nearly every field of research.

The XSEDE16 Conference was held in Miami, July 17-21, at the Intercontinental Miami hotel. The fifth annual conference showcased the discoveries, innovations, challenges and achievements of those who use and support XSEDE resources and services, as well as other digital resources and services throughout the world, like supercomputers and support from leading researchers and cyberinfrastructure experts. This year’s conference saw approximately 570 attendees, including nearly 100 students from around the country, with nearly half of them coming from minority-serving institutions.

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A few tables of students interacting during a speed networking event at XSEDE16. Nearly 100 students from around the country attended XSEDE16, with nearly half of them coming from minority-serving institutions.

XSEDE16 chairperson Kelly Gaither emphasized the experiences of students and underrepresented minorities, including women and people of color. The conference theme, “Diversity, Big Data, & Science at Scale: Enabling the next generation of science and technology,” emphasized inclusivity and diversity in fields of science and across underrepresented minorities.

“We take diversity very seriously; it’s in the basic fabric of the conference itself,” said Gaither. “We should keep it at the forefront of our minds here. I’ve been able to work on many teams as a collaborator, and on a couple of those occasions it was magic. When magic happens you can solve really crucial problems. If we’re going to solve big problems with weather, medicine, solving cancer, we’re going to need teams of dynamic, diverse people.

“The students, in particular, make me feel very comfortable about the future of this country,” she added.
Official events started Sunday night with a Student and Mentor dinner, allowing the chance for XSEDE students to interact with mentors from a variety of fields from across the country.

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A group of XSEDE Campus Champions at the XSEDE16 Campus Champions networking event.

Another key event that has become a mainstay of the annual XSEDE conference is the Campus Champions Networking Event, which took place on Monday evening. More than 100 XSEDE Campus Champions traveled to Miami to take in the various talks at the conference, and also meet with one another to share stories about their efforts to spread the word about XSEDE.

XSEDE Campus Champions facilitate computing and data intensive research and education at their own institutions, helping their local researchers and educators find and use resources that best meet their needs. With the addition of the Domain, Regional and Student Champions programs, additional networks have been established to share best practices, hear success stories and collaborate inside various domains, throughout eight separate U.S. regions and within all students. Champions also hosted a lightning talk session and panel.

“There is no instruction book for how to do this job — the community is essential,” said Dana Brunson, Campus Champion from Oklahoma State University.

Many plenaries

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Plenary speaker Dr. Pamela McCauley giving her talk “Innovation Nation” at XSEDE16. McCauley believes innovation is the key to our collective future but it cannot be done without collaboration that truly embraces diversity.

Tuesday kicked off with the opening plenary, “Innovation Nation: The Critical Impact of Innovation,” from Dr. Pamela McCauley. McCauley, an internationally recognized ergonomics and biomechanics expert and tenured professor leading the Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of Central Florida, had one message for today’s scientists and engineers: innovation is the key to our collective future but it cannot be done without collaboration that truly embraces diversity.
“We have the opportunity to touch virtually every aspect of society as engineers, scientists, innovators,” McCauley said in her keynote address, which highlighted the theme of this year’s conference: ‘Diversity, Big Data, and Science at Scale.’

In discussing the impact of innovation at the national level, as well as from the organizational and individual perspectives, McCauley explained why its success is highly dependent on collaborations that include a high awareness of promoting diversity. “We need to make sure we are bringing in everyone, bringing in women, bringing in people from diverse backgrounds,” she said, adding that, “those who understand it will move forward, and those who don’t will get left behind.”

Dr. Meredith Drosback, the Assistant Director for Education and Physical Sciences and the Science Division Staff Director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), spoke about the impact of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), which has far-reaching impacts in many fields of science, at various Federal agencies and across industry and academia.

“One of the most critical issues is training for faculty, training for grad students, undergrads and you can step all the way down [to K-12 students],” Drosback said. “We need computer science for all — bring it to K-12 students so all students have the opportunity to learn computer science. We have to train students who are going into college. That way, they are then more prepared and it moves on up. We can’t wait for kindergarteners to get faculty positions.”

Dr. Helen Turner, the Dean of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics from Chaminade University of Honolulu in Hawai’i, spoke about the intersection of history and lessons of the root culture of Hawai’i with current big data-style scientific research.

“Hawai’i and the people of the Pacific are at the front end of climate change, water issues, erosion of indigeneity, food (in)security, energy (in)dependence. We say, ‘Pacific today is every else’s tomorrow;’ we deal with these issues now and have been dealing with them. These are Pacific problems, but they’re also big data problems.”

XSEDE17 being planned for next July

Dave Hart, director of the computation and information systems laboratory (CISL) from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has been named the chairperson for next July’s XSEDE17 conference. Hart helps lead the efforts of the XSEDE allocation system, called XRAS, and has been involved with the program since its inception. XSEDE17 will take place in New Orleans in July, 2017. Conference dates and location will be announced in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to XSEDE.org and XSEDE’s social media (Facebook.com/XSEDEscience, and on Twitter @XSEDEscience) for updated information.

All photos by Steve Duensing, XSEDE/NCSA

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