Computing4Change Offers View of Student’s Own Character

computing 4 changeWhile participating in a NASA DIRECT-STEM (Data Intensive Research and Education Center in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program offered at California State University, Los Angeles, Yesenia Trujillo, a math major at Cal State LA, was exposed to Python and learned some computing basics. At the end of the program, Trujillo, like the other participants, received several links to entice students to practice their newly acquired skills. Among them was information for the Computing4Change (C4C) challenge at the annual SC Conference, which was the only program that did not require any prerequisites to apply. So, with an “extra push” from Linda Akli, Director of Information Technology Initiatives at SURA and Deputy Area Director for Community Engagement and Enrichment for XSEDE1, Trujillo took a chance and soared into the supercomputing world.

“Me sorprendí al saber que había sido aceptada, porque fue la primera vez que había solicitado” (I was surprised to be accepted as a first-time applicant,) Trujillo said.

However, the news was warmly welcomed and came just when Trujillo needed a boost in positivity, as well as a new challenge. She noted being quite nervous and self-conscious about being an active and productive member on her future team. To ease her mind, Trujillo reached out to her C4C contact who then directed her to a past participant that advised her: “Don’t prepare anything. Just enjoy the ride.”

The camaraderie started as soon as Trujillo arrived at the airport prior to the competition in Denver, when she was greeted by Dawn Hunter, a member of the C4C committee. Trujillo met her roommate at the hotel, and they gathered a bunch of provided treats to host a pizza party in their room.

The next day, the students met their teammates, where Trujillo joined another three members to create “Team 4.” The research subject, “Maternal and Infant Morbidity and Mortality in the U.S.,” also was revealed.

Trujillo found her teammates were fun to work with, and, when it came to data collection, they all had unique perspectives.

“Todos teníamos subtemas que queríamos investigar y analizar individualmente,” (We all had sub-topics that we wanted to research and analyze individually,) she explained. “Yo quería investigar la relación entre la población y la muerte de un feto. Debido a que todos los equipos se quedaron en el mismo hotel, nos reuníamos con los otros equipos durante la noche para juntar nuestra información. Todos los equipos trabajamos juntos y la camaradería fue inmensa. Todos los miembros de los equipos fueron increíblemente partidarios. Nosotros intercambiamos mensajes e ideas más allá de la media noche.” (I wanted to research the correlation between population and fetus death. Since all the teams stayed at the same hotel, we would gather our information with other teams throughout the night. The teams all worked together, the camaraderie was immense, and everyone was incredibly supportive. We would exchange messages and ideas way past midnight.)

Still, despite the active engagement between teams, Trujillo admitted to being a bit “orgullosa” (prideful) when it came to seeking help.

“Yo le seguía diciendo a mis compañeros de equipo, que quería seguir batallando un poco más, aún cuando necesitaba ayuda.” (I kept telling my teammates that I wanted to struggle just a little bit more, even when I needed help) she confided. “Al final, juntamos toda nuestra información e invertimos mucha energía tratando de encontrar una respuesta o solución. El comité nos seguía diciendo que era improbable, pero aun así no nos rendimos. La motivación estudiantil fue increíble, estábamos actuando como superhéroes. ¿Te puedes imaginar a unos superhéroes usando gafas y un par de guantes debido al frío? Pues, es así nos mirábamos durante este reto.” (In the end, all of our research was pooled together. We spent a lot of energy trying to find an answer, or a solution, even though the committee kept telling us it would be improbable. The student motivation was incredible, we were acting like superheroes. Can you imagine seeing superheroes wearing glasses and gloves because of the cold? Well, that was what we looked like during the challenge.)

“Durante este desafió, aprendí mucho acerca de HPC, pero también acerca de mí,” (During this challenge, I learned a lot about HPC but also about myself,) Trujillo continued. “Descubrí que mis debilidades eran las fortalezas de mis compañeros de equipo. Trabajamos muy bien juntos. También descubrí que necesito mejorar mis habilidades de presentación. Noté que no puedo ser muy eficaz bajo presión y debo practicar mis presentaciones mucho antes de la fecha prevista. En relación con la computación, necesito entenderla. La computación es como la política, parece un gran nudo que necesita tiempo para desenredarse. Una de las lecciones más importantes que me llevo de este reto, es que aprendí que recopilar información y encontrar maneras de mejorar las cosas es más productivo que sostener una conversación abierta acerca del tema. Las conversaciones hacen que reaccione emocionalmente y no me ayudan a resolver nada.” (I found that my weaknesses were my co-team members’ strengths. We worked very well together. I also found that I need to work on my presentation skills. I don’t do very well under pressure and noticed that I need to practice a lot before the due date. When it comes to computing, I need to understand it. It is like politics. It looks like a big knotted mess that needs time to be unraveled. I find that collecting information and finding ways to improve things are much more productive than having an open-ended conversation that will make me all emotional and not help fix anything.)

During the Challenge, Trujillo felt comforted by Akli, who was very supportive and gave her the feeling of having “una familia lejos de casa.” (a family away from home.) Trujillo met Akli earlier at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in 2019 and as part of the NASA DIRECT-STEM program.

“Ella [Akli] es una mentora para mí,” (She [Akli] is a mentor for me,) she said. “Ella me inspiró mucho, porque superó adversidades para avanzar y se aseguró de que nosotros supiéramos que los superaríamos también. Me sentí especial, cuando Akli me reconoció en el desafío.” (She is so inspirational. She faced hardships moving forward and made sure we knew that we would overcome them—and she recognized me when she saw me at the challenge.)

Trujillo, who aspires to work in the medical field, quickly understood that she was too emotional to work directly with patients. Because of the C4C experience, she now aims to help in the field from behind the scenes. She hopes to continue her studies to strengthen her computer skills. If she can, Trujillo would like to pursue a doctorate.

“Quiero retribuir a mi comunidad,” (I want to give back to my community,) she added. “Quiero sentarme en la mesa que proporcionará los recursos, para ayudar a prosperar a otros y formar al próximo Einstein. Prefiero hacer esto, en lugar de crear otro parque temático como Walt Disney. Me esfuerzo por formar una comunidad.” (I want to sit at the table that will provide the resources, to help it thrive, and bring up the next Einstein. Instead of creating another theme park like Walt Disney, I strive to make a community.)

1XSEDE is one of the sponsors of C4C at SC along with SIGHPC and TACC. Akli also is a co-developer of the C4C program with Kelly Gaither and Rosie Gomez, serves on the SC steering committee, and is an informal advisor to the students during the C4C workshop.

Christine Baissac-Hayden
SC20 Students@SC Communications Liaison (Easy English 4 All)

Christine Baissac-Hayden created Easy English 4 All, which provides multilingual communication tools for clients from diverse backgrounds in the renewable energy, medical, defense, marine science, and film industries. Easy English 4 All provides English as a Second Language (ESL), French, Spanish and Japanese tutoring from certified native-speaking teachers and organizes international student exchanges with personalized objectives and goals.

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