CASC Hosts SC23 Session on Inclusivity Progress and Challenges

By AJ Lauer, reposted from HPCwire

November 21, 2023

New to SC23 was a series of talks on Inclusivity topics. Sponsored by the Inclusivity Committee and open to all conference attendees, these 90-minute birds-of-a-feather-style (BOF) presentations covered a range of topics, from broadening participation in the Student Cluster Competition to the use of Hollywood-style films to increase the audience for scientific data visualizations. 

One session titled “Fostering inclusivity in research computing and data: Case studies, best practices, and scaling strategies” brought conference attendees together to discuss practical ways to integrate inclusivity into research computing and data (RCD), potential barriers and strategies for overcoming them. Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC) Executive Director Kathryn Kelley led the panel: Tabitha Samuel, National Institute for Computational Sciences, UK; Michael Navicky, Mississippi State University; and Dr. Tanzima Islam, Texas State University.

Each panelist presented a case study about a successful or ongoing project that addressed a different aspect of growing inclusivity in RCD. After each case study, attendees were asked to participate in a think-pair-share activity, which encouraged both small and large group participation.

Kathryn Kelley, Executive Director of the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC)

Words Matter

Tabitha Samuel presented the first case study, highlighting the massive undertaking of the XSEDE program to overhaul the terminology used in all their documentation in an attempt to eliminate the use of words with racist, sexist, or other problematic associations. The team developed the XSEDE Terminology List (now stored on the Internet Archive) and replaced problematic terms on over 30,000 documentation pages, presentations, and web pages.

She highlighted that while it was challenging to get some folks to change their language use, they were successful in their outreach efforts around the list. It was essential that the list was frequently discussed and easy to access on the website – a link was included in the XSEDE website footer for visibility.

The outreach aspect was highlighted by several individuals in the discussion, as well as the need for policy and documentation. Two individuals mentioned the importance of working with vendors to make changes, for example, making sure that top-level Git repos reflected the use of “main” rather than “master.” 

Tom Gulbransen thanked the XSEDE team for the list and said that they have been trying to move beyond the written word in their updating of language in the ACCESS program. He said the ACCESS team has been trying to eliminate the use of the word “they” in favor of more specific language such as “the Tribal Community” or “Minority Serving Institutions” to move away from an us vs. them mentality. 

Collaborating with Minority Serving Institutions

No conversation about diversity and inclusion would be complete without spending time focused on relationships with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Mike Navicky presented his case study, a new partnership between Mississippi State University and Jackson State University to educate students about high-performance computing. He highlighted the importance of HPC workforce development, saying, “I bet you would never guess that Mississippi is the 8th most powerful computational state in the US. We have a lot of HPC, and we have a workforce problem.”

The partnership with Jackson State came about because it is the only other university in Mississippi with a computing engineering department. Navicky said he approached his colleagues at Jackson State as equal partners. MSU had things to offer; they asked what JSU might offer and then met to align their goals. The partnership is a work in progress, and they are co-hosting a conference on workforce development in March.

Discussion centered around how to approach MSIs for partnership. Miranda Mundt from Sandia National Lab challenged the base assumptions around approaching someone, saying, “In the case of a fellowship or an REU, are you trying to find the best partnership or someone who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise?” Similarly, two attendees who work at land grant institutions said that part of their charge is to benefit the greater good. They felt that by including MSIs in their work and sharing their R1 resources, they would be working to fulfill their mission.

Paige Kinsley from Argonne National Lab cautioned about trying to just “pour goodness” into MSIs. She said you need to approach each institution with a tailored offer and that “The offer may be different depending on the institution, depending on the resources that exist. Avoid the deficit mindset. Look at what they can contribute. You must be intentional and think about it, but that will produce stronger partnerships.”

 “It’s a living thing. I hope it grows. This partnership is an opportunity for all students in the state of Mississippi” – Mike Navicky.

Funding partnerships

The session wrapped up with a discussion of how to connect potential collaborators across institutions, as well as potential funders. Dr. Islam talked about her experience with the Sustainable Horizons Institute. She described their Sustainable Research Pathways Matching Workshops, which bring together scientists, students, and faculty who wish to partner to apply for funding, develop summer programs, etc. The successful program has been running since 2015, and Islam noted the need for further development of similar programs.

She said, “We need to bring forward opportunities where people can meet as partners to offer their strengths, their hammers, and nails so that pairing can take place. We need funding, programs, etc., so that activity can happen and be sustained.”

There were discussions of programs centered around student and faculty involvement. Several participants mentioned NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) and on-site programs for faculty. Community colleges also had a moment in the spotlight, with a brief discussion about the need for tradespeople in data centers in addition to computer scientists.

Kelley ended the session by thanking participants for the discussion, stating that the feedback would be returned to CASC to “develop sustainable approaches that are appropriately scaled.” 

Dr. AJ Lauer helps science and technology leaders thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She is an expert on HPC diversity and workforce development. Her company Thriving Ibis Leadership Solutions provides a tailored-to-you mix of workshops, coaching, and consulting to provide individual and team leadership development, and help build inclusive workplaces. AJ holds an EdD in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University, MS in Higher Education Administration from Florida International University, and BA in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.