Logo: University of Southern California

Campus's Supercomputing Center Hosts National Minority Engineering Workshop

January 12, 2007 — Supercomputing expert Cray Henry, director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program, congratulated 24 talented minority engineering undergraduate students from across the country Jan. 8 for their Herculean efforts to build and demonstrate some of the myriad functions of a parallel computer on the USC campus.
L-R: Ken-ichi Nomura, Priya Vashishta, Aiichiro Nakano, Weiqiang Wang, Patricia Heidi Wong and Yi-chun Chen coordinated the national Computational Science Workshop.

The occasion was the awards banquet for the week-long 2007 Computational Science Workshop for Underrepresented Groups, held at Seaver Science Library.  Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis C. Yortsos joined Henry for the awards dinner, as did the directors of USC’s Collaboratory for Advanced Computing and Simulations (CACS):  professors Rajiv K. Kalia,  Aiichiro Nakano, and Priya Vashishta.  All three have faculty appointments in both the Viterbi School and the USC College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

The students, who were primarily from historically black colleges and universities, as well as Hispanic-serving institutions, capped a week of hands-on computer design work, testing and demonstrations with dinner and a hardy handshake from one of the giants in supercomputing.  Henry gave each a certificate of completion and recognized 12 faculty mentors who spent the week coaching the students.

USC serves as the site for the annual minority outreach workshop because the university is home to an extensive high performance computing facility made up of several multi-processor computers, as well as collaboration and visualization facilities. The Collaboratory for Advanced Computing and Simulations is a joint venture of the Viterbi School and the College.  
College Dean of Faculty Wayne Raskind, left; Kevin Henry of the Center for Engineering Diversity; and Vitberi School Dean Yannis Yortsos, right, enjoy awards banquet.

Working alongside experts in the field, the students were asked to build a parallel computer from individual components.  The job involved building PCs, installing software and connecting the PCs through a switch to create a parallel computer.  Next they were asked to perform a number of parallel computing exercises. 

“The goal was to give these very talented students some exposure to parallel computing techniques, as well as Grid computing, and to teach them skills that will last a lifetime,” said CACS co-director Vashishta. 

“We want to inspire these students to pursue engineering careers, preferably at USC, because they have already shown so much promise,” he said.  “So in addition to expertise from their mentors, we also provided them with hands-on training in Grid computing.”
DOD supercomputing boss Cray Henry, left, congratulates an undergraduate student participant.

“I am a firm believer in the power of technology to the economy and the well-being of this nation,” Yortsos told the students during his closing speech.  “I also believe the 21st century will be the century of the engineer: Engineers and scientists will shape increasingly this future, not only in technology, but also the other sciences, medicine, and the arts. You can lead this transformation, which is becoming a reality in front of our very eyes.”

At the end of the workshop, students were given a computer to take back to their respective institutions.  Next year, the students hope they will be able to send their protégés to compete for 2008’s latest-and-greatest PCs, which they will use for their studies in computational science and engineering.