Summer internship provides students with inside look at HPC at ORNL
The Pathways to Computing Internship Program is accepting applications for 2023. For information on the program or to apply, visit https://education.ornl.gov/pathways/.
Summer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is usually a bustling, busy time as hundreds of students arrive to begin an internship program, working alongside engineers, scientists, and researchers to gain first-hand experience on cutting-edge projects. However, for the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced all internships to go virtual. This summer, students returned to campus to participate in the Pathways to Computing Internship Program (PCIP) for the first time since 2019.
PCIP is a 10-week summer program that invites undergraduate students to learn about computer science, computational science, and mathematics. Overseen by ORNL’s Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate, the program offers unique learning opportunities in topics ranging from AI and machine learning to cybersecurity and astrophysics. Unlike other research-based internships, mentors work with the students to develop specific computing skills and knowledge based on individual interests.
“We ask the students to rate their interest on different topics,” explains Verónica Melesse Vergara, the PCIP program director and group leader in the National Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS). “Then they learn about, for example, computational chemistry and how to use the HPC systems to run those simulations. Hopefully by the end of the experience, they know more about our supercomputers and how to use them for research.”
Another unique aspect of PCIP is its focus on opportunities for students from underrepresented groups and those who may not have seriously considered computing as a career. For some of these students, the internship leads to significant recognition in the world of computational science. In 2019, a student’s poster was accepted at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis; this year, PCIP student Kevin Wang also served on a student team that won a best student paper award at the 2022 Smoky Mountain Conference Data Challenge for their work titled, “SMC 2022 Data Challenge: Summit Spelunkers Solution for Challenge 2.”
“The principle behind PCIP is to have an internship program that brings underrepresented groups to computing and give them a tailored, specific learning experience based on their interests,” explains Melesse Vergara. “We want to bring in new people, introduce them to computing, and have them stay in the field.”
In addition to dedicated time with their mentors, students have opportunities for professional development and networking through workshops, coffee hours, and presentations from ORNL staff. Kate Carter, ORNL talent acquisition partner, led the session for “How to Polish Your Resume.” NCCS HPC Cyber Security Engineers Tori Robinson and Hector Suarez cochaired a 2-day workshop that covered ORNL’s history, the different research disciplines at the lab, and the diverse experiences of staff. The students also toured Frontier, the world’s first exascale machine and fastest supercomputer, which debuted in May of this year.
Acceptance into PCIP is competitive because the cohort has been limited to 10 students each summer. However, the program is expanding in 2023, which is something that Melesse Vergara is excited about because she receives more requests from students and mentors than she can fulfill.
The 2022 PCIP experience was enriching and rewarding for both students and mentors alike.
Kevin Wang, who is studying Computer Science and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, was able to explore more areas of his field and participate in the 2022 Smoky Mountain Data Challenge.
“The internship allowed me to recognize the areas of computer science that most interest me and also taught me a lot of concepts and strategies, such as scalability and parallelism techniques, ahead of when I’m learning them in classes,” he said.
“My favorite part of the internship was having the chance to work on the 2022 Smoky Mountain Data Challenge with a group of other interns and start from nothing and end up with a finished analysis and a paper—it was fun and rewarding. Despite it being challenging and even frustrating at times, I bonded with my fellow interns and ended up with a product I could be proud of,” added Wang
Wang’s mentor, Computational Scientist Reuben Budiardja, enjoyed helping his student have aha moments working on real-world research, which isn’t always straightforward. “Exploring new research questions together can be a new experience for the student, and it’s often important to emphasize that when doing research in the real world—we don’t know in advance what results we’re going to get or even the questions we should ask,” said Budiardja.
For mentor Suzanne Prentice, a software engineer in NCCS, the focus was also on supporting exploration for her student, Gbemisola (Sola) Oladosu.
“My main goal was to ensure Sola felt supported and was learning. Internships are all about exploration: discovering what you like to do and what you don’t. My favorite part was seeing Sola grow more confident and curious as the summer progressed.”
Oladosu, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, said the hands-on experience of the internship helped solidify her interests and career path. “This internship was a great opportunity to apply the programming skills I have learned in school, gain practical experience working on a software development team, contribute to a real project, and explore computer science further,” she said.
Electrical engineering student Samuel Bieberich and chemistry major Sander Cohen-Janes both recommend the program for students who are interested.
“It is a great opportunity to work with world-class scientists on projects in a very inclusive environment,” said Bieberich.
“You get to experience different work environments with amazing mentors and other interns with completely different educational backgrounds,” said Cohen-Janes.
Interested students can learn more about the program, eligibility requirements, and topics of study at https://education.ornl.gov/pathways/.