On Monday, July 29, STEM-Trek will host an advanced skills workshop where participants learn about applications for artificial intelligence (AI) that support biomedical advances, economic empowerment, agricultural innovation and quality of life improvements for citizens in underserved regions.  

The activity will take place during PEARC19 in Chicago, Illinois July 28-August 1, 2019. The workshop will provide travel support for an international delegation of students and facilitator-trainers.

A STEM-Trek call for participation will be held (TBA; watch our website for updates).

As of May 1, we received support from Google (thanks, Google!) for the training team. We’re still fundraising for the balance that will, we hope, support 15 graduate engineering scholars from computer, biomedical, software, or electrical engineering programs. Ten* US and five international scholars will be selected via a call for participation launched by STEM-Trek.

Workshop Format

Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek) and Alana Romanella (Virginia Tech) will co-chair a full-day of presentations, hands-on training exercises and a cybersecurity panel discussion at both conferences; they will co-submit proposals during the conference calls for participation. The general conference community will be welcome to attend these workshops, but STEM-Trek workshop delegates will be required to attend and will have first priority for seating.

AI, deep learning, distributed ledger technologies (DLT) and cybersecurity specialists from public and private organizations will present at the workshops.

Two objectives for the workshops are:

  1. To teach advanced skills that will help engineers solve five real-world AI challenges associated with security, scalability, interoperability and sustainability of DLT technologies for which a combination of machine learning; and software, hardware and/or network development are likely to be effective.
  2. To inspire the creation of open-source solutions that can be applied to socially-responsible digital products that will foster a better quality of life, improved cybersecurity and economic empowerment for those who live in under-served regions.

Workshop Activities

In addition to hands-on training in the use of open-source tools, delegates will benefit from presentations led by those who train in the use of deep and machine learning, artificial intelligence, and DLT—otherwise known as secure, replicated log technologies—from academia, government, nonprofits and industry. There will be two a.m. and two p.m. sessions, for a total of four workshop sessions. One session will be dedicated to applications for AI (good, bad and ugly cases that need more development). Participants will also benefit from after-hours socialization where they will build their professional networks. They will have an opportunity to engage with STEM-Trek’s virtual community of practice before, during and after the event. Delegates may also attend PEARC activities that don’t conflict with the AI4GOOD agenda. While AI4GOOD student delegates will be encouraged to participate in PEARC student program activities, that program has a separate application and approval process.

How prospects will apply for travel support

Calls for participation will be facilitated by STEM-Trek. Those who receive travel support are required to attend the AI4GOOD workshop. STEM prospects who will be encouraged to share the announcement with their networks (which includes minority-serving listservs and social media sites (Women in HPC, Veterans Affairs, Wounded Warriors, Minority Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, etc.). Application developers and early-career cyberinfrastructure (CI) leaders from demographics that have traditionally been underrepresented in CI leadership are especially encouraged to apply. Successful applicants will be aged 21 years old, or older.

Reviewers will not discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants who are under-employed or entrepreneurial; PEARC and SC offer networking opportunities that could lead to professional growth.

Applications will be reviewed by a multinational (expert) panel. Those who are selected–as many as funds allow–will be awarded full or partial support for: airfare, conference registration, ground transit, parking, lodging (shared accommodation) and some meals. Student roommates will be assigned by the facilitators, but early-career professionals will not be required to room-share. All participants and funded facilitators/trainers are required to sign code-of-conduct agreements.

U.S. applicants

  1. Applications are welcome from engineers who
    wish to retrain for AI; veterans, women and ethnic minorities (in STEM) who fit
    that description are especially encouraged to apply.
  2. US candidates who can pay-it-forward at
    institutions in the Rust-Belt, Midwest-US, EPSCoR territories or at land grant universities will be

International Applicants

  1. Applications are welcome from engineers who wish to retrain for AI; veterans, women and ethnic minorities (in STEM) who fit that description are especially encouraged to apply.
  2. Prospects from countries whose gross national income per-capita ranks 45 or higher on the World Bank GNIPC list are encouraged to apply. In sub-Saharan Africa, applications from engineers in Southern African Development Community/Square Kilometer Array “Readiness” states will be favored (SADC/SKA; see HPC Ecosystems map).
  3. Note: Foreign nationals’ international travel will be covered by external sources via STEM-Trek (not paid for with US government funding).

All applicants must provide:

  1. Resume or curriculum vitae
  2. Recommendation letter from a current or
    former supervisor or faculty member
  3. Two 250-300-word essays titled, “How will
    this experience benefit me?” & “How I will pay-it-forward.”
  4. A photograph/head shot (for publicity purposes
    with the applicant’s permission).
  5. Passport photo page image file.
  6. OPTIONAL: Student delegates are encouraged to
    answer a lifestyle survey to help us with room-mate pairing (to predetermine
    compatibility; if they don’t complete it, they must trust our choice. Appeals
    will only be heard in the case of contagious illness, or other emergency
    (last-minute requests to room with someone they know is not a viable reason to
    appeal; delegates are encouraged to meet new people/that’s part of the

Intellectual Merit:

Our primary goal is to train engineers to understand AI and apply it to a broader range of applications.

Much development in this space has been proprietary; the IP is held by wealthy industries that tend not to share, so there is little opportunity for other markets to leverage their innovation. We hope to identify strategies, tools and open-source data that CAN be shared without exposing or exploiting the IP that is rightfully owned by AI4GOOD sponsoring agencies and organizations.

DLT technologies are of interest since cryptocurrency applications, and others, are being perfected by AI. Technology that supports first and second-generation cryptocurrencies is expensive to operate in terms of power and computational resources that are needed as their popularity and demand increase. Third-generation cryptocurrency development hopes to address known challenges of sustainability (power/efficiency), interoperability (international policies & compliance) and scalability. A major hack in June 2018 led to the loss of $1.1 billion in cryptocurrency, and the “51 Percent Attack” in January, 2019 resulted in double-spending of cryptocurrency and the loss of about $500k worth of Ethereum Classic. Some think these issues could be resolved through a combination of diplomacy, infrastructure innovation (hardware and networks), intelligent data management, and AI. Since much DLT development has been driven by financial applications, few college and university computer science programs have been concerned with it. However, that culture is shifting as DLT benefits become known across sectors.

Applications will be encouraged from those who live and work in underserved regions—EPSCoR in the US, and Southern African Development Community (SADC) in sub-Saharan Africa—the longest last miles that stand to benefit the most from AI solutions. We expect them to bring first-hand experience and a passion for service provisioning in the remote areas they represent. Agricultural, finance, health and many other applications for AI stand to serve these regions in the future as they struggle with the impact caused by climate disruption. Since most of the delegates will also have teaching obligations, greater competency with AI will allow them to prepare their region’s workforce for the future.

Dissemination Plan

Media coverage of all activities is recorded on the STEM-Trek site. Here is STEM-Trek media coverage from PEARC17: https://www.stem-trek.org/news-event/pearc17-media/

Nonprofit maintains an event-based FaceBook community that changes its identity
for each current program (SC, PEARC, etc.). This provides a place for delegates
to share informal anecdotes, photography and other content before, during and
after the activity (where they can see content from past activities, too).
Social media helps broadly-distributed groups begin to coalesce as a cohort
before they actually meet, and for the future.

Delegates will be contacted via email, and all will have the opportunity to opt-in to social media platforms (FaceBook, WhatsApp). A feature story describing the activity and final outcomes will be released by STEM-Trek Nonprofit, and a post-event feature or features will be written in the following weeks or months. STEM-Trek and its stakeholders (collaborators, speakers and sponsors) will co-market news about the workshop. STEM-Trek has relationships with HPC industry online journals, including HPCwire, Top500, and others. Links to content published on the STEM-Trek site, and other resources will be shared with stakeholders. The HPC Ecosystems Project (Africa) has a Google Group, SIGHPC-RCE (ACM Virtual Special Interest Group for HPC in Resource Constrained Environment), the “Small HPC Centers Managers’ Group, CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Socioeconomic Community of Practice, Research Data Alliance Precision Agriculture and Cybersecurity groups, and the XSEDE Campus Champions. Leake is either an administrative member of these community lists or participates on them.

Data Management Plan (ongoing stewardship)

STEM-Trek beneficiaries are required to submit pay-it-forward (PIF) proposals. In this case, the PIF obligation will be fulfilled through participation on one of the five development teams that will convene in the virtual spaces before, during and after the two conferences. Delegates are encouraged to upload any scholarly papers that come from this experience via FigShare and Google Scholar so others can access them for free and learn from their experience. Some scholars may offer to blog for the event, and their stories are published on the STEM-Trek site; such testimonies provide unique perspectives of the conference experience. They are retained indefinitely and offer a longitudinal record of our training efforts, and what was important to the community at each point in time. Not many other programs can do this; especially if they are grant-funded and lost support after three or five years. STEM-Trek has been in operation since 2012 and is expected to be around for a long time (we hope!).

Data Types and Storage

STEM-Trek collects applicant data that is necessary for applying to the program, providing travel support, and arranging travel. In doing so, we may collect a wide variety of identifier data such as, but not limited to, address, race, university enrollment, age, dietary preferences, and major/area of study, and GPA. Surveys are produced using Qualtrics, a secure and GDPR-compliant online survey instrument managed by the University of Iowa (UI). All data will be backed up using the Qualtrics application for backup. These are then stored on a secure server at UI.

Data Organization, Documentation and Metadata

All data collected, including presentation slides, papers, posters, communications, and submitted travel forms or any other ephemera, are added to a private-access controlled Google Drive folder, maintained by STEM-Trek, that will be deleted 18-months after the event concludes. A temporary email resource is created for the program, using Gmail, that is also deleted 18-months after the event.

Data Access and Intellectual Property

You will not be identified in any publication or in any data files shared with researchers outside of the mentioned principle investigators, reviewers and advisers without your consent. Consent will be sought via email, except for the code-of-conduct form (requiring a separate signature). Your application submission and associated data are confidential. In rare circumstances, federal or state laws may require us to show information to university or government officials, or sponsors. You agree to share your data with the principle investigators who will utilize this data to make decisions regarding your eligibility for the program and travel support. If photographs are taken, we will seek your consent prior to posting them via social media or on the web. We appreciate your participation and willingness to share your information for our consideration.  

Data Sharing and Reuse

All access to data will be limited to STEM-Trek and collaborating institutional representatives. Such access will be provided using web-based applications that are secure and confidential. Materials generated under the project will be disseminated in accordance with collaborating institutions and NSF policies.

Data Preservation and Archiving

All data files collected and created will be managed, processed, and stored in a secure environment (e.g., computer systems with passwords, firewall system in place, power surge protection, virus/malicious intruder protection) and by controlling access to digital files with encryption and/or password protection. The data are stored for 18 months.

Enhancement and Improvement of STEM Research and Educational Activities

Since CI managers at resource-constrained centers wear many hats, they will benefit from access to open-source or low-cost training and tools. These workshops will introduce them to useful resources and methodologies that can be immediately employed when they return home. Since many prospective delegates are educators, the workshops’ ripple effect will be widespread.

Broader Impact

The broader impact of this effort is clear and far-reaching; especially for students and delegates from under-served regions and demographics.

When the Ranger system was donated to the Center for HPC in South Africa in 2012, it had already helped many thousands of U.S. researchers advance discovery and innovation during its production lifetime, before being supplanted by the more powerful NSF-supported Stampede system. Since then, that donation, and subsequent donations from the University of Cambridge, UK, Center for HPC in South Africa, and TACC have allowed students and researchers at 18 African universities in a dozen countries to not only benefit from access to computational resources, but through the additional training and knowledge transfer provided by the NSF-supported STEM-Trek workshops in 2015, 16, and 17.

In 2016-2018, the HPC Ecosystems project (as it is now called) grew beyond the SADC 16-nation region to include Ghana and Ethiopia. As a result of STEM-Trek publicity published after the SC17 program, several more African nations applied for eduGAIN membership, and inquired about forming national research and education networks (NRENs) which will make it possible for them to engage with more globally-collaborative research (and provide unique African data). At each location, a growing number of students, faculty and staff are learning the skills necessary to deploy and operate cluster computers and manage big data from a variety of disciplines.

STEM-Trek workshops typically maintain a 50/50 ratio of US and international delegates, but this year we will have 2/3 US participants in the PEARC activity. With our SC16 and SC17 workshops, most US delegates were XSEDE Campus Champions. The same will be true for the SC19 workshop (half will be from the US), and we expect many XSEDE Campus Champions will apply. US delegates who attended previous workshops have gone on to collaborate with African colleagues they met at STEM-Trek workshops, and new projects have been formed in Physics, Bio, and Cybersecurity (to name a few). Because they continue to interact via social media, they are establishing trust and confidence that will likely lead to additional international collaborations.

The merit of this exercise rests in the exchange of information and best practice. Open source AI software and operations procedures developed by programs developed under NSF funding will be exchanged with US and international delegates. They will learn useful skills necessary to support local hardware, and engage with federated, cloud-based resources and services sponsored by XSEDE. Participants will also learn from each other, and their relationships will support additional research collaborations among their respective communities in the future.

All workshop materials will be shared with delegates and hosting organizations, so they may continue to teach other researchers and systems administrators in the future. At the close of each workshop, a wrap-up session will encourage suggestions for future proposals. Notes from each meeting will be distributed and may be suitable for a BoF or paper submission for future Supercomputing Conferences (or ACM Special Interest Group for HPC in Resource Constrained Regions). This activity will strengthen the support toolkit used by delegates who are responsible for securing research computing systems, and help scientists understand how AI and secure ledgers could be used to underpin discoveries that change the world.

Broader Impact Success story from a prior NSF-supported STEM-Trek program:

“Because I was able to participate in URISC@SC17, I leveraged the
open-source tools I became acquainted with at the workshop to form an
undergraduate program in cybersecurity at Slippery Rock University of
Pennsylvania. The program was approved last August, and I am now the Director
for Cybersecurity and the Advanced Computing Center,” said Nitin Sukhija, PhD.

Here are news items about this activity:


2) http://www.sru.edu/news/101718a

3) http://www.sru.edu/news/113018c

Building an AI-savvy Engineering Workforce

One goal for this workshop series is to provide professional development that will enable technical and educational personnel to become AI leaders in their respective states, territories or nations; these are skills that lead to employment. AI and DLT are being embraced by the Consumer Goods Forum—with representation from commercial giants such as Nestle, Walmart, Proctor and Gamble, and McDonalds; CGF represents 400 stakeholders in 70 countries and employs directly 10 million, and indirectly 90 million along the value chain.1 IBM’s DLT development team reportedly employs 1,500, according to an April 16, 2018 CNBC article by Ruth Umoh.2 IBM is investing heavily in scheduling and resource-management solutions for the many applications that utilize AI.

Underrepresented Populations: This workshop will train emerging CI leaders from populations that have traditionally been underrepresented in CI leadership, including (a) women, (b) underrepresented minorities, (c) those who can pay-it-forward in rural regions, and (d) those who work at institutions in US-EPSCoR jurisdictions. An advocacy session will offer strategies for developing and fostering diverse teams and a culture of inclusion.

Media coverage from past and future projects:

2016 (with support from NSF, Google, Cray, Dell, Intel, and others):


2017 (with support from NSF, Google, Micron Foundation, and others):


The “Longest Last Mile” article was published by HPCwire on January 11, 2018. In February, Leake received a letter from Nick Roy (Internet2/InCommon) thanking her for writing this feature which inspired several African sites to apply for eduGAIN access, and Uganda was (at that time) vetted and had become the 55th eduGAIN member organization. Additional African nation-states sought guidance from existing NRENs and STEM-Trek regarding how they might form NRENS (National Research & Education Networks) after managers read this article.

Through URISC participant survey feedback, we learned that one US university is developing a cybersecurity undergraduate. Open-source resources shared by Von Welch (Indiana University) have been incorporated in that program.

2018 activities with help from Cray, Micron Foundation, SC18 and others

2018 STEM-Trek publicity that prepared stakeholders for the prospect of AI, DLT, and cybersecurity-themed workshops in 2019:


US agency funds would be managed by the partnering academic institution (in this case, NSF grants would be managed by UI; funds subject to allowable institutional indirect). Any funds remaining will be carried over for SC19 and 2020 STEM-Trek activities.

Theme, purpose and scope

Economic empowerment and digital inclusion foster social stability and world peace. But poverty alleviation relies on financial inclusion, and there are still many obstacles to overcome in the world’s poorest regions, especially for women. Earth’s population, currently at 7.6 billion, is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. Half of that growth will take place in nine countries, including India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United States of America, Uganda, and Indonesia. Many African countries are expected to double in size; women and children will comprise the majority.3,4

In developing countries that aren’t fully mechanized, a greater number earn a living from agriculture.With added exposure, farm children are more likely to pursue academic tracks and careers in related industries, but according to the United Nations, the average age of farmers worldwide is 60.5 In the U.S., only about two percent farm (vs. 83 percent in 1800, and 21 percent in 1930). This shift demands a greater emphasis on urban agriculture if we hope to produce enough food, feed, fiber and fuel to meet demands in the future.6

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, climate change disproportionately affects food insecure regions, and extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas and this is especially true throughout sub-Saharan Africa.Deserts are growing, while urbanization and poor soil management have claimed many arable acres. Poor, agrarian communities lack a social safety net, and are forced to migrate when growing conditions deteriorate.

But even under the best circumstances, poor infrastructure—power, network and roads—diminishes profit margins since transit and inputs are more expensive with each mile. With less financial cushion, farming operations are especially vulnerable to economic shocks. Subsistence farmers benefit from low-interest loans to carry them until crops are sold, but there are few bricks-and-mortar banks in the most remote regions, and credit-based financial portfolios are usually designed to accommodate urban interests.

With broader adoption and coverage of mobile technologies, financial inclusion and precision agriculture are at the fingertips of today’s digitally-savvy farmers. According to World Bank, new and emerging markets spanning all industries can be supported by digital finance solutions that are “smarter” when developed with machine learning methodologies that consider last mile variables. Each presents unique computational challenges that are solved by drawing from a variety of proprietary and open data, which consider risk analyses, market forecasting, economics, actuarial science, supply-chain fulfillment, logistics, cost-recovery analyses, geospatial context, and more. The most useful solutions are developed by multidisciplinary teams. Socially-responsible engineering will lead to cheaper, smarter and more secure agri-business solutions for subsistence farmers.

Last-mile network conditions, combined with Africa’s power grid problems, make mobile technologies the most practical choice for financial, business, recreation and social Internet engagement. But even mobile technologies used in sub-Saharan Africa may seem antiquated by western standards. Hardware is comparatively more expensive and difficult to come by. It’s therefore important for those who develop digital solutions with these consumers in mind to fully understand their needs, challenges and goals. AI4GOOD will inspire the development of digital solutions that are light at the end-point and responsive to a range of devices; not just the latest iPhone. App designers who attend STEM-Trek workshops are encouraged to incorporate ways to teach financial stewardship, privacy and cybersecurity best practices.

Economic empowerment depends on systemic inclusion, which demands a well-informed and digitally-equipped citizenry. Next-generation Internet will require gigabit apps that simply won’t work with older devices; which is already the case for many applications. However, great strides will be made if more engineers design for a broader range of device models now so that those who would benefit the most from access aren’t left further behind in the future.7

*The total number of students andntrainers/facilitators supported will depend upon the total funds raised for this project.


  1. US workforce development road map; visions of the Feb. 14, 2018
    Congressional Hearing, “Beyond Bitcoin: Emerging Applications for DLT
    Technology,” a Joint hearing from two congressional subcommittees:  https://docs.house.gov/Committee/Calendar/ByEvent.aspx?EventID=106862
  2. Umoh, Ruth, “IBM Blockchain Team is Led by Women; Here’s why
    that’s a big deal in Silicon Valley.” Published by CNBC (April 16, 2018). https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/16/ibms-blockchain-team-is-led-by-women.html
  3. Report by the United Nations Dept. of Economic and Social
    Affairs; World Population Prospects (2017, June 21). Accessed Feb. 13,
    2018: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html
  4. 2014 Report by the Food and Agricultural Organization (United
    Nations), page 2: http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/integration/pdf/foodandagricultureorganization.pdf
  5. “Towards a Sustainable Future,” Facts and Figures on Life
    Expectancy. Published by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
    Accessed Feb. 13, 2018: http://www.sadc.int/about-sadc/overview/sadc-facts-figures/#LifeExpectancy
    World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory
    (GHO), Life expectancy for women and men. URL accessed February 13, 2018: http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/en/
  6. Esters, L. T., and Bowen L. T. (Iowa State University). “Factors
    influencing career choices of urban agricultural education students.” Published
    by the Journal of Agricultural Education, Volume 46, No. 2, 2005. Accessed
    March 3, 2018: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  7. Report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United
    Nations, Rome, 2017: “The Future of Food and Agriculture; Trends and
    Challenges. ”
    Accessed Feb. 28, 2018: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6583e.pdf
  8. Bigelow, Bruce V. “Smart City Initiative Spurs Gigabit Apps for
    Next Gen Internet,” published by Xconomy.com (2018, Feb. 23). Accessed March 1,
    2018: https://www.xconomy.com/san-diego/2018/02/23/smart-cities-initiative-spurs-gigabit-apps-for-next-gen-internet/?single_page=true

Caption for group photo: URISC@SC17 delegates from 11 countries (12 US states/8 EPSCoR) attended a STEM-Trek cybersecurity workshop during the annual supercomputing conference, Nov. 11-16, 2017 in Denver, Colorado-U.S. URISC was supported by US National Science Foundation grants managed by Indiana University and Oklahoma State University, with STEM-Trek donations from Google, Corelight, Hermes Worldwide Transportation, and the SC17 conference (General Chair Bernd Mohr (Jülich Supercomputing Centre) with support from Inclusivity Chair Toni Collis (Collis Holmes Innovations, formerly at U-Edinburgh)).

PEARC17 Student Cohort