STEM-Trek Year In Review

By Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek)

Many thanks to those who donated to STEM-Trek in 2018; we appreciate your support very much.

Annual Report of Activities

It wasn’t an easy year for STEM-Trek. U.S. tax law changes affected the philanthropy behavior of many corporations who feared that it wouldn’t be as financially-favorable to donate to charity as it has been in the past. Even though the changes wouldn’t have mattered to some, we saw widespread stalling; some came through toward the end of the year, but very few. Instead of donating cash, they are now more likely to donate in-kind services, and/or host internship programs. Most want to see a tangible return-on-investment. Since the tone at the top impacts US corporate culture, fewer are concerned with diversity and inclusion. It was also a slow year for federal grants; they were taking up to 10 months to disburse once approved. Since STEM-Trek doesn’t have any reserves, it’s impossible for us to plan a workshop without cash in hand to satisfy facilities and catering contracts months in advance. This was the first year since 2015 that we weren’t able to use federal grant funds for our SC workshop. Following are highlights from Q417 and 2018.


Since I didn’t provide a recap last year, I’ll begin this report with a summary of URISC@SC17 activities. This was STEM-Trek’s third US pan-African workshop that was supported by National Science Foundation funds. In 2017, Google, Corelight, SC17 and other funding sources helped bridge financial gaps. URISC participants and presenters from 11 countries, including seven African nations, 12 U.S. states, Canada, India and Nepal, also attended SC17, the annual international conference for high performance computing (HPC), networking, storage and analysis that drew nearly 13,000 attendees to Denver, Colorado. Von Welch (Indiana University), who directs the Center for Trustworthy Scientific Cyberinfrastructure, provided expert oversight for the URISC program. Welch invited nine specialists who presented open-source tools and cybersecurity best practices.

Broader impacts:

  • Workshop feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
  • I wrote a followup article for HPCwire titled, “URISC@SC17 and the Longest Last Mile,” that has since inspired several more pan-African countries to apply for eduGAIN membership, some laid the groundwork to form National Research and Educational Networks (NRENs), and others inquired about participation in the African HPC Ecosystems Project.
  • STEM-Trek was honored to receive the HPCwire Editors’ Choice HPC Workforce Diversity Leadership Award for the second year.
  • Workshop participant Meshack Ndala (South African Centre for HPC) replicated our format and held a URISC@CHPC18 meeting in Cape Town on December 3. Twenty attended from eight pan-African countries, Europe and the U.S. Ndala invited speakers from the South African Centre for Cyber Security, among others.
  • URISC@SC17 delegate Nitin Sukhija wrote to say:

“Because I was able to participate in URISC@SC17, I leveraged the open-source tools and knowledge I became acquainted with through the workshop to formulate an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity specializing in secure software development and security governance at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. The program was approved last August by Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE),” said  Nitin Sukhija, PhD, Director for Cybersecurity and the Advanced Computing Center (C2AC). 

Here are media mentions about Sukhija’s activity:


CHPC National Conference 2017

The 11th South African Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) Annual National Conference convened Dec. 3-7, 2017 at the Velmore Estate Hotel south of Pretoria. CHPC, the South African Research and Education Network (SANReN) and the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) showcased a broad range of resources and human capital development programs that supported the conference theme, “HPC Convergence with Novel Application Models for Better Service to Research and Industry.”

More than 450, including 132 students (72 competitors and 60 posters), registered for the five-day event which included two full days of workshops and tutorials, student challenges, a student poster session, plenary addresses, birds-of-a-feather sessions, and the annual co-located meetings of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Cyberinfrastructure Collaboration Forum and the CHPC Industry Forum.

This was the sixth year that I covered the CHPC conference and associated activities.

PEARC18 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania July 22-26, 2018:

Alana Romanella (Virginia Tech; STEM-Trek) and I submitted a workshop proposal to PEARC in March and it was accepted. However, there wasn’t enough time to apply for NSF funding (that’s when PIs were telling me it was taking up to 10 months to disburse NSF funds once they were approved; we didn’t have time to wait). By then, it was clear that the tax law changes had affected corporate giving, too. Therefore, we decided to postpone the activity until 2019.

European HPC Summit Week and PRACEdays18 in Ljubljana, Slovenia May 29-June 4, 2018:

I corresponded for the conference on behalf of HPCwire:

European HPC Summit Week and PRACEdays 2018: Slaying Dragons and SHAPEing Futures One SME at a Time

HPCNow! Knowledge Meeting in Barcelona, Spain June 21-22, 2018.

I was invited to speak on the topic of HPC workforce development. My presentation was titled, “Chasing Unicorns in the Global Gig Economy.”

International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany June 24-28, 2018.

I participated on the communications and student travel grant committees. STEM-Trek assisted with travel grant gaps for two students who traveled the furthest to attend ISC (spending cash and out-of-pocket expenses). STEM-Trek helped Marcus Bond (SE Missouri State/XSEDE CC) attend ISC by advocating on his behalf for a registration fee waiver.

ISC Media mentions: 

Maria Girone Keynote Recap in Top500.

Top500 two-part series on the ISC Student Cluster Competition. I explored why US teams didn’t participate this year, and how others seem to keep winning time and again.

Part one:

Part two:

NCSA Industry Conference in Urbana, Illinois-US, October 10-11, 2018. 

Read my two-part feature in HPCWire and EnterpriseTech.

DRONES4GOOD@IDW in Gaborone, Botswana Nov. 1-3, 2018.

I served on the planning committee over a period of about ten months. Despite working feverishly to find sponsors–and I seriously gave it all that I had and added more than 200 drone industry stakeholders to my network, but all fundraising efforts failed. When I was ready to pull the plug, local stakeholders shaped a program for students that was even better than any of us had imagined! The project continues as a grassroots effort.

International Data Week in Gaborone, Botswana, Nov. 3-8, 2018.

Throughout the year, I helped with communications and recommended keynotes. I submitted four abstracts (three were accepted, and the fourth was folded into another program). Two abstracts were written on behalf of others (Bryan Johnston/CHPC and Elizabeth Arnaud/Bioversity International & CGIAR, specifically). I followed an agricultural data track and presented on the topic of “Blockchain in Agriculture” in the “Emerging Tech in Agriculture” session to an audience of about 100.

This was the first time IDW was held in Africa. Originally, the organizers anticipated that 500-600 would attend, but registrations surpassed 825! This was great for the Gaborone economy since many European, Asian and US guests stayed to visit the Okavango Delta and wildlife sanctuaries in the area.

Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH):

Upon the invitation of Tirelo Ramasedi (BIH Outreach and URISC17 delegate), I presented at two BIH “Coffee Sessions” in November. Each time, the room was packed with a capacity of about 65. One session was about entrepreneurship, and I sat on a panel discussion about the role technology can play in gender-based violence. After both sessions, students and early-career professionals lined up for a chance to speak with the presenters. I loved their ideas and creativity. Their new facility–currently under construction–will be amazing, and I look forward to hearing about the wonderful things they’ll accomplish with whatever resources they’re able to support in the new data center.

UbuntuHouse@SC18 in Dallas Texas-US Nov. 11-16, 2018.

Thanks to donations from Cray, Micron Foundation and SC18, 15 US and Pan-African delegates attended SC18 in Dallas, Texas-US. Three students were able to see the exhibits thanks to HPCNow! since they donated three exhibitor passes. Seven stayed in an AirBnB we called “UbuntuHouse.” Event Planner Georgia Stear filled in for me since I was in Africa. Everyone enjoyed Georgia’s home-cooked meals, and they stayed in the same building in a series of two-flats. Check out their blogs.

The South African CHPC won the HPCwire Workforce Diversity Leadership Award (credited to STEM-Trek by CHPC Trainer Bryan Johnston due, in part, to our coverage of their progress over the years).

Centre for HPC National Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 3-8, 2018.

There are several stories that will be published soon, but they’re taking time to vet. Many South Africans take off after the CHPC Conference for a much-needed holiday break. I haven’t seen the final report, but I heard that attendance broke the 480 mark for the first time. Stay tuned!

On deck for 2019: 

We’re planning PEARC and SC co-located workshops again this year, and I’ll be corresponding for ISC, NCSA Industry and CHPC (possibly others). If the funding situation looks better, we can do more! There’s an all-female student cluster competition team from Botswana, “Batswana Gems,” that needs support. We would like to send more US XSEDE Campus Champions to PEARC and SC this year; there will be many gaps to bridge!

We hope everyone will donate whatever they can to help STEM-Trek help others develop their professional skills in 2019!

Happy holidays, everyone!

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