2021 Winter Classic – Coaches Chat

By Dan Olds

May 4, 2021

The Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition raged for all last week and now we’re into the week of judging interviews. Time has been flying. So as we wait for results, let’s dive a bit deeper into the teams and get to know their faculty coaches.

These are the folks who have devoted their time to helping their students get a handle on HPC and do some handholding during the run up to the competition. All of them folks are rookies when it comes to cluster competition team management and some are new to HPC as well, which makes their job doubly hard.

Let’s see what they have to say about their teams and the Winter Classic…

Claflin University

HPC is a very new topic for Dr. Deidre Morrison, the coach of the Claflin University team. She’s much more comfortable with her chosen field of cybersecurity, but decided to form a team for the Winter Classic because it looked like something that would help her students who had expressed interest in HPC.

Dr. Morrison also gives me a great segue into discussing the Winter Classic resume board which gives you (yes, you) a chance to recruit these highly motivated and skilled students for internships and full-time jobs.

Claflin is being mentored by HPE and Intel, plus has a great big honking cluster to work with – dual nodes with six GPUs, which definitely puts them in the top echelon when it comes to gear.

Florida A&M + University of the Virgin Islands

We interview FAMU coach Jinwei Liu and discuss the formation of the team and how they’re doing. This is before the historic merger of the FAMU and UVI teams, which has resulted in a small, but incredibly powerful and motivated team. I’m expecting great things from them.


This newly combined team is being enthusiastically mentored by the folks at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is great to see.

Morehouse College

Dr. Alfred Watkins is the coach for the Morehouse College cluster competition team. He’s fired up about the competition and is working towards building out the Morehouse HPC infrastructure to enable more students to learn about the field. Dr. Watkins also thanks his sponsors Microsoft and Intel for their gracious support – which I strongly second.


Morehouse is being supported by Microsoft and Intel, who have done a lot to make this competition possible, so be sure to patronize them.

Tennessee State University

In the video, we meet Dr. Ji-Chung Chen, the head coach of the Tennessee State Team. We talk about the lack of HPC resources at the university, the demands on instructor time, and how some of these situations might be alleviated by a partnership with a national laboratory.


The team is being mentored by Dell, the HPC Advisory Council, AMD, and, as I call them, the HPC Warriors of BioTeam.

University of Houston

Dr. Lennart Johnsson and Dr. Panruo Wu take us through the formation and training of the University of Houston cluster team. One of the things they like about the competition is that it’s an outside challenge and not something that is coming out of a lecture or classroom session. Dr. Johnsson has attended every single SC conference since it’s inception early in the 1850’s (I might be wrong about that date).


This team is very top heavy with both coaches having deep experience with HPC and their slate of Ph.D candidate students who also have some sort of experience in HPC. This makes them probably one of the teams to beat in the competition and an early favorite. It doesn’t hurt that they are being mentored by Google either, right?

UC Santa Cruz

Dr. Scott Beamer sits down to talk with us about his UC Santa Cruz cluster competition team. He’s enthusiastic and definitely pumped up about the competition. He and his co-coaches, which includes Dr. Heiner Lintz and Dr. Howard Sorensen, found some highly motivated students upon which to build their team.


UC Santa Cruz does have some HPC-oriented classes and the students on their team have had a bit of experience in optimizing applications – although not much when it comes the applications in this cluster competition. The team is being mentored by Google, which should certainly help out their cause.

UTEP – Itzamna

Named for the Mayan god of wisdom, Team Itzamna is coached by Dr. Rodrigo Romero. One of the things that gets Dr. Romero fired up about this competition is the, well, competitive nature of it. He firmly believes that students need to understand that the real world is all about competition. They’ll have to compete for jobs, for proving their worth, and pretty much everything else in life. Sentiments I heartily agree with…but watch him talk about it in the video below.


Other than being fired by the competitive fervor of Dr. Romero, Team Itzamna has another advantage – they’re being mentored by Google.

Now that we’ve met the coaches, next up we’re going to meet the mentors behind the teams, look at some of their hardware, and then get on to the results of the competition. While you’re waiting for our next story, this would be a good time to check out the Winter Classic resume board and browse the student resumes and interests. You might find your next great employee there.

Mark your calendars for the Gala Online Awards Ceremony – you’re all invited. It will be this Friday (3/7) at 4:00 – 5:00 pm Pacific time on Zoom.

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