The SC23 meeting this month in Denver is highlighting diversity in high-performance computing (HPC). The #IamHPC focus celebrates progress but also underscores continued challenges in computing and in science and engineering fields more broadly. Women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community remain underrepresented. With a growing need for experts, efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are a vital component of expanding the research computing workforce.
The Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (DOE CSGF) has been an important piece of the DOE’s workforce-development strategy for more than 30 years. The fellowship’s composition and its outreach efforts have evolved to encourage a broader range of backgrounds and perspectives with visible success. In the 2023-24 incoming cohort, for example, more than a third of the fellows are women and more than half originate from underrepresented groups.
DOE CSGF fellows and alumni are making meaningful contributions not only to the field of computing but also in growing diverse scientific communities by incorporating inclusive practices in their research activities and mentoring work.
For example, Brenda Rubenstein (2008-2012), associate professor of chemistry at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, works to improve underserved students’ access to science education. She runs two science-education initiatives: the Rhode Island Advocate Program, supported by the Society for Science & the Public; and Rhode Island Project Seed, sponsored by the American Chemical Society. These programs provide paid internships to underserved high school students and help them produce science fair projects.
At Los Alamos National Laboratory, Kelly Moran (2016-2020) serves on a panel in the Computer, Computational and Statistical Sciences division that fosters social, professional and funding opportunities for early-career and new LANL workers. She uses the role to promote a warm and open culture throughout the division.
‘I want students to know that if they can see themselves in me that it’s not an illusion.’
Moran was the only woman in her Ph.D. cohort. “I identify as under the LGBT umbrella” too, and science “doesn’t always feel like a friendly place” for either group or for people of color, she says. “Trying to make small steps so that that isn’t true feels like an important task.”
Michigan State University postdoctoral researcher Chelsea Harris (2013-2017) serves as a mental health advocate and mentor for undergraduate researchers working in the university’s astronomy department. She sees mental health as an important foundation for supporting DEI.
People in academia show higher rates of mental health issues, such as depression, Harris says. “If you’re experiencing microaggressions, if your mental health isn’t on lock, it’s so easy to think, ‘It’s my fault.’” She has served as both a mentor and an institutional co-lead for MSU’s partnership with the National Astronomy Consortium summer program that brings student researchers from underserved groups to the university. In that role, she thinks of herself as a coach and an information hub, someone who can listen to students and help them find opportunities, clarify misunderstandings with their immediate supervisors and develop strategies to work through issues.
Working with first-generation college students is incredibly rewarding, says Aurora Pribram-Jones (2011-2015), assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Merced. Pribram-Jones represents “a lot of different communities. I want students to know that if they can see themselves in me that it’s not an illusion.”
Pribram-Jones leads or co-leads several projects focused on training an expert and diverse scientific workforce, all of which are closely tied to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s HEDS Center. Since 2019, UC Merced has participated in the Consortium for High Energy Density Science, an initiative to broaden participation in DOE National Nuclear Security Administration research. The program is led by Florida A&M University and includes Morehouse College. Pribram-Jones is the UC Merced principal investigator for the DOE RENEW (Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce) program grant with LaserNetUS and was awarded a DOE FAIR (Funding for Accelerated, Inclusive Research) grant for graduate student training with LLNL’s Frank Graziani and UC Merced’s Hrant Hratchian earlier this year.
Pribram-Jones makes a point of asking students about their mental health and wellness and how they’ve engaged with their communities. “Those things are important to me, and I also think they’re important to your science and your learning. They really are cognitive, creative and analytical tools.”
Mary Ann Leung (2001-2005) saw DEI challenges firsthand as a University of Washington Ph.D. student in computational chemistry. As a woman of color and a nontraditional student, she says, “I have lots of boxes to check in terms of not being the norm.” During graduate school, she worked with other students to build clubs and support groups. After the UW, she chose to focus her professional work on DEI and workforce development, ultimately founding the Sustainable Horizons Institute in 2014. That organization has built a portfolio of workforce and DEI programs, many of them in partnership with the DOE and the national laboratories.
Sustainable Horizons Institute runs an introduction to HPC bootcamp that provides culturally relevant training materials and allows students to learn skills while focusing on energy justice projects that do good in their communities. Leung and colleagues also organize specialized programs to help underserved people network in professional societies and at their conferences. “These pieces fit together nicely to help address the issues,” she says.
Not only does the DOE CSGF program focus on promoting a diverse and equitable community, but those who complete the program take these initiatives to the next level in their professional lives, impacting the entire scientific enterprise. Focusing on welcoming everyone into a safe and inclusive space in science expands the workforce pipeline and improves research quality.