ECP Launches Programs to Extend DOE’s HPC Workforce Culture

The ECP Broadening Participation Initiative unveils efforts to recruit underrepresented groups and foster an inclusive culture within the computing sciences

By Coury Turczyn

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has launched a concerted outreach effort to address workforce needs in high-performance computing (HPC) at the DOE’s array of labs. The ECP Broadening Participation Initiative has established three new programs that are working toward building a more diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive professional environment.

The DOE has long recognized that recruiting HPC employees from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is a challenge that must be overcome for its labs to successfully execute their missions. A 2014 workforce report by the DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee found that “Future projections indicate an increasing workforce gap and a continued underrepresentation of minorities and females in the workforce unless there is an intervention.”

An intervention is arriving now thanks to the ECP’s unique experience with cross-lab collaborations.

“It is clear to our community that we have an opportunity to address long-standing workforce challenges in HPC by taking advantage of the very special character of ECP. We’re a multilab partnership working across many labs in the DOE complex as well as the computing facilities. Because of that, we are pulling together our understanding across institutions to share experiences and resources, to brainstorm across institutions, and to work toward defining a path forward,” said Lois Curfman McInnes, a senior computational scientist in the Mathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne) and lead organizer of the initiative.

Representatives from each institution in the DOE’s Computational Research Leadership Council—Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Sandia national laboratories—began meeting in August 2021 to exchange information and develop an overarching plan to attract underrepresented groups in STEM and HPC. The group determined that new approaches to recruiting that went beyond existing social networks were required, as well as new workforce development programs that promote a positive culture throughout the lab community.

“To be able to carry out a concerted and purposeful outreach and recruiting initiative to underrepresented groups is not only an exciting endeavor but one that is long overdue,” said Doug Kothe, ECP director and associate laboratory director of the Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate at ORNL. “I am very proud to be associated with such passion and commitment to this multi-faceted approach and am confident that it will be the genesis of a more vibrant, diverse, and effective HPC workforce in the future.”

The task force has developed three complementary thrust areas to address these goals.

HPC Workforce Development and Retention

The HPC Workforce Development and Retention (HPC-WDR) action group aims to improve DOE’s HPC workforce culture in creative ways. With members from the various participating ECP laboratories and from the greater HPC community, the HPC-WDR action group meets in virtual sessions each month to plan activities and share best practices and resources.

HPC-WDR’s first two initiatives are to develop a resource website and to launch a quarterly webinar series. The first webinar, “How to be a Great Mentor,” was conducted May 24 with panelists from Lawrence Livermore and Argonne national laboratories, Texas State University, and the Air Force Sustainment Center.

“The panelists shared excellent best practices for mentoring,” said Suzanne Parete-Koon, an HPC engineer in ORNL’s User Assistance group and lead organizer of the HPC-WDR action group. “Three practices the panel discussed were making your mentees part of your academic family by sharing meals and social actives with them, intentionally reaching out to potential mentees who may have a different culture than your own, and helping to boost your mentee’s career while fighting your own burn-out by delegating highly visible tasks to your mentees as they become ready for them.”

The group’s second webinar, “Normalizing Inclusion by Embracing Difference,” was held June 15 and was cohosted with the IDEAS Productivity project. Led by Mary Ann Leung, founder and president of the nonprofit Sustainable Horizons Institute, panelists discussed what it takes to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how these can increase innovation and developer productivity.

Videos of these webinars have been posted on the ECP YouTube channel, and announcements for future sessions will be available on the ECP website. Once the HPC-WDR resource website is launched, an archive of webinar recordings will be made available, along with information on workforce and cultural development opportunities and best practices drawn from the participating computing communities.

The next HPC-WDR webinar will be “Focus on Ally Skills,” led by Valerie Aurora, founder of Frame Shift Consulting, on August 30 at 2 p.m. (EDT). It will discuss the use of ally skills such as listening, amplifying marginalized voices, and speaking up when it is uncomfortable. There will be a question-and-answer period after the talk. Register here to attend.

Intro to HPC

The Intro to HPC action group is developing training materials for educating newcomers to HPC. Many undergraduate institutions do not have HPC courses, and any available HPC courses are typically electives. The action group is working across DOE lab communities to define key HPC topics and how to convey that in educational material.

“We realize there is a gap between the pre-requisites for some of the advanced HPC programs—including the Argonne Training Program on Extreme-Scale Computing and the DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship—and the kind of courses that advanced undergraduate and early graduate students are required to take as part of their education. This particular thrust is aimed at reducing that gap,” said Sreeranjani “Jini” Ramprakash, deputy division director at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and lead organizer of Intro to HPC.

The Intro to HPC action group plans to deliver its educational material by going directly to students by engaging with universities. This engagement could include supplying self-study for individuals, partnering with institution faculty who might want to teach the material, and using the material in classes hosted at individual labs.

The task force has begun engaging universities, holding its first virtual listening session on April 19 with deans, department heads, and chairs of computer science, engineering, and science departments at various universities.

“So far, the ECP Broadening Participation task force, the Argonne education department, and Argonne senior leaders have been instrumental in getting together various aspects of this initiative. In the future, I anticipate even broader participation from others within the national lab complex,” Ramprakash said.

Sustainable Research Pathways for HPC

The Sustainable Research Pathways for HPC (SRP-HPC) initiative is an internship and mentoring program that began June 6 with a summer cohort of 61 students and faculty. They are working with ECP teams at nine different institutions on a variety of projects across application development, software technologies, and computing facilities. The 10-week program incorporates extended opportunities for mentoring and community building.

SRP-HPC is based on a program started in 2015 at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) that was developed by the Sustainable Horizons Institute, which fosters greater inclusion and diversity in science and technology fields. The original SRP program drew participants from historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and community and liberal arts colleges who then collaborated with Berkeley Lab researchers. The ECP Broadening Participation Initiative has scaled up the SRP concept across the ECP community.

Daniel Martin, Applied Numerical Algorithms group leader at Berkeley Lab, has been helping organizing SRP-HPC by drawing on his own experiences from participating in the original program for the last 7 years.

“It’s been great watching young people come into the lab environment and be able to see themselves as a part of our team, and I know that it’s helped change people’s paths. So when it came time to come up with ideas about how to improve outreach in the ECP program, it was natural to use the Berkeley SRP effort as a guide,” Martin said. “SRP-HPC lets us take advantage of the way ECP spans a number of DOE labs to enable a program that reflects this breadth, enabling a rapid expansion of the original SRP concept in a truly spectacular way.”

Learn more about SRP-HPC here, and register to receive notification when applications open in summer 2022 for the 2023 SRP-HPC cohort.