Building a Diverse HPC Workforce

Argonne staff members discuss career opportunities at the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference.

Having a workforce that is reflective of our diverse population is critically important to maximizing creativity and productivity in HPC and the computing sciences.

By building diverse teams with different cultural and intellectual backgrounds, organizations can look at problems from a variety of viewpoints and arrive at creative solutions to complex challenges in scientific computing.

But getting there is not a simple undertaking. As is the case with generally all STEM fields, today’s HPC workforce suffers from an underrepresentation of important demographics including women and racial and ethnic minorities.

To help address this issue, the ALCF is contributing to several efforts designed to build a pipeline that will bring more diversity into HPC and computer science. This includes partnering with colleagues across the HPC community to develop strategies for attracting underrepresented groups; hosting student camps aimed at inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM; and driving initiatives that promote diversity at the ALCF and beyond. As a whole, these activities aim to foster a diverse, next-generation workforce and talent pipeline that will fuel future innovations in computing.

Broadening Participation

Argonne is highly involved in the Exascale Computing Project’s Broadening Participation Initiative. This collaborative, multi-lab effort is working to establish a sustainable plan to recruit and retain a diverse HPC workforce by creating a supportive and inclusive culture within the computing sciences at DOE national laboratories. The initiative involves three complementary thrusts that bolster such efforts in the HPC community.

ALCF staff are leading the Intro to HPC thrust, which focuses on developing training materials to educate newcomers to HPC. To address gaps in the training available at most undergraduate institutions, the Intro to HPC group is working across DOE lab communities to define key HPC topics and how to convey them in educational materials. The team is engaging with universities to deliver the materials directly to students. Ultimately, they hope to build experience for (and interest in) HPC careers and advanced programs like the annual Argonne Training Program on Extreme-Scale Computing.

The ALCF team is also contributing to the two other Broadening Participation thrusts: the HPC Workforce Development and Retention Action Group and Sustainable Research Pathways for HPC. The former aims to strengthen the workforce pipeline by sharing best practices and developing recommendations and strategies for improvement through webinars and other outreach materials. The latter is an internship and mentoring program, which kicked off in June with a cohort of 61 students and faculty. The students worked with ECP teams at nine different institutions, including the ALCF, on a variety of projects across application development, software technologies, and computing facilities.

Serving as mentors and volunteers at outreach events like Argonne's Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, ALCF staff members are able to engage with the next generation of engineers and scientists.

Student Outreach

The ALCF is also working to strengthen the workforce pipeline by leading and contributing to various educational and outreach programs for students, including summer camps and internship opportunities. These efforts help to introduce students to Argonne scientists and the mission-driven, high-impact research conducted at the lab and beyond, giving them a glimpse of what a career in STEM looks like.

The ALCF helps put on several computing camps for middle school and high school students each year, including the CodeGirls@Argonne Camp. Aimed at teaching the fundamentals of coding, the camp gives sixth and seventh-grade students an opportunity to try out creative and computational thinking through various hands-on activities with Argonne mentors. ALCF staff members also regularly contribute to Argonne’s annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) events. These events allow Argonne scientists to connect with young women and introduce them to potential career paths in STEM.

As part of Argonne’s ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological & Scientific Olympics) High School Research Program, ALCF staff members mentor students participating in the DuPage County ACT-SO event. Designed to encourage participants to pursue careers in STEM, the program pairs students with mentors for research projects that use the lab’s facilities and resources. At end of the program, students present their work to a panel of judges for an opportunity to advance to the national competition.

At the college level, the ALCF is reaching the next generation of AI practitioners through its “Intro to AI-driven Science on Supercomputers” training series. Aimed at undergraduate and graduate students, the series teaches attendees fundamentals of using AI and supercomputers for scientific research. Comprised of eight virtual classes, the 2022 program welcomed over 200 attendees from 90 universities for hands-on instruction using methods such as AI training and neural networks on ALCF supercomputers.

Increasing Diversity at the ALCF and Beyond

As part of the ALCF’s efforts to increase diversity in its workforce, the facility maintains a presence at many computing conferences and events to communicate ALCF activities and opportunities, and recruit new team members. The ALCF continues to have a presence at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), an event that brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront, and highlights the contributions of women to the tech world. The ALCF also regularly attends the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, an annual event that seeks to bring together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and professionals in computing from all backgrounds and ethnicities to celebrate and connect the diversity in computing.

In addition to recruiting new staff members, the ALCF also aims to increase diversity in its user community through an ongoing partnership with the Interdisciplinary Consortium for Research and Educational Access in Science and Engineering (InCREASE), a group dedicated to promoting research and education in minority-serving institutions. As part of the INCREASE partnership, ALCF participates in user facilities awareness workshops aimed at building new research collaborations with scientists from historically underrepresented groups.

To provide a resource and network for women interested in HPC, the ALCF is collaborating with the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) ALCF staff to launch a Chicago chapter of the international Women in HPC organization. The Argonne-UIC Chicago Women in HPC chapter is being established to increase the participation of women in the HPC field, support and provide resources for women in HPC careers, and mentor students considering professional career paths in computing.

Another way ALCF staff members are helping to create a more diverse and inclusive environment is through their involvement in various Argonne employee research groups (ERGs). With representation on groups such as Argonne’s African American Employee Resource Group (AAA-ERG), Spectrum (LGBTQIA+ group), and Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST), ALCF staff members are helping to build awareness, further personal and professional development, strengthen networking opportunities, and provide resources for laboratory employees.

Together, these initiatives are helping the ALCF to establish an inclusive work environment and a pipeline of future workers that will continue to increase diversity in HPC and the computing sciences.