Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science

SIParCS extern and mentors
2014 SIParCS extern Justin Moore of Salish Kootenai college in Pablo, Montana working with mentor Rich Loft (left standing) and teacher assistant Ragu Raj Prasanna Kumar on performance benchmarking on a Raspberry Pi cluster system (shown in foreground).

The Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program seeks to develop students with a background in computational science, applied mathematics, computer science, or the computational geosciences. The 11-week internships provide opportunities for exceptional students to gain practical experience with a wide variety of parallel computational science problems by working with the HPC systems and applications related to NCAR’s Earth System science mission. The ultimate goal of SIParCS is to address shortages of trained scientists and engineers capable of using and maintaining these high-end systems to achieve the goals of 21st-century computational geoscience research. SIParCS supports NCAR’s and CISL’s core missions in education and directly contributes to CISL’s strategic imperative to integrate research and education. CISL is teaching the mathematical and computational science concepts and skills that students will need to make effective use of advanced cyberinfrastructure.

In FY2014, the eighth annual SIParCS program included seven graduate and five undergraduate students from 12 U.S. colleges and universities, including three from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and two from an EPSCoR-state institution. Seven of the 12 students were from underrepresented groups in STEM. Student research topics covered diverse problems in applied mathematics, numerical algorithms, information science, software engineering, HPC system administration, and computer science. Two engineering interns participated in the program and worked on a project at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC). Ten were supported by NSF Core funds including one by CISL Diversity funds, one was partially funded by external partner University of Wyoming, one by an NSF special award. The ongoing development of the SIParCS program can be credited to CISL’s comprehensive and aggressive outreach strategy.

In FY2014 SIParCS began a new externship program, funded in part by NCAR’s Diversity Committee and CISL Diversity funds that hosted two externs as part of a two-year pilot program for nontraditional undergraduate students from U.S. MSIs who are unable to work full-time at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado for the entire summer program. The pilot program is designed to teach parallel computing concepts using inexpensive Raspberry Pi (R-Pi) computers running full Linux operating systems. Paired with both professional mentors and higher-level teacher assistants at NCAR, the two students gained access to resources afforded to students enrolled in the traditional SIParCS summer program, while taking into account barriers that non-traditional students face, such as other work and family responsibilities. The externs spent three weeks immersed in the internship culture and onsite work environment at NCAR learning the technology and gaining the hands-on experience of building the R-Pi computers, then spent the duration of the summer working on their projects at their home institutions, returning for the final week of the 11-week SIParCS program to present their research results to their peers and mentors.