Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) apprenticeship program selects highly qualified early- to mid-career women working in IT (Informational Technology) careers to join the SCinet volunteer workforce for the SC Conference. Wendy Huntoon, WINS Co-lead, explained that the program’s main goal was “to address the prevalent gender gap in the Information Technology field, primarily network engineering, by partnering with SC and SCinet skill development and professional development.”
“The original idea for the program came through a discussion between me, Jason Zurawski and Marla Meehl at the February 2014 Winter Conference for The Quilt,” Huntoon said. “The underlying issue was Jason’s observation that the number of women participating in SCinet had declined significantly. While I had not participated directly for years, Jason knew that I had been one of the original instigators for SCinet (in 1991) and original female volunteers.”
While women make up 59% of the total workforce, they are averaging only 30% of the workforce across major tech companies. With the WINS program, SCinet has been working hard to change that curve. In 2007, 15 of the 105 volunteers were women, the largest group until 2015. In 2020, 44 of 113 volunteers and 40% of the SCinet leadership are woman. The WINS program’s end goal is to contribute to developing the next generation of IT women leaders in the United States.
“Over time, the long-term goals for the program have expanded,” Huntoon emphasized. “In addition to increased female participation in SCinet, we are also focused on providing broader skill and professional development opportunities outside of SC; leadership training and opportunities with SC, SCinet, and in general; as well as opportunities to interact with and present to broaden the research and education community.”
The program is designed toward women of all ages, races, backgrounds, IT-related professions, and geographical areas. This year, SCinet is proud to include 10 past WINS participants, nine of whom have leadership roles
The Selection Process
This year, WINS selected from a pool of especially qualified candidates, representing a variety of universities and national labs. Three participants were carefully chosen by the review committee, led by Huntoon.
“Selecting the top candidates was not easy due to the high quality of the applications,” Meehl, co-PI of the WINS program, said. “We want to thank the review committee for their diligent work in picking the participants.”
The committee included:
- Eli Dart, ESnet
- Wendy Huntoon, Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER)
- Dave Jent, Global Research Operations Center/Quilt
- John Kolb, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Amy Philipson, Pacific Northwest Gigapop (PNWGP)
- Amber Rasche, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Linda Winkler, Argonne National Laboratory
“The WINs application peer-review process has been fortunate to receive an impressive collection of strong applications each year,” said Linda Winkler, SC20 Space Chair and member of the candidature review committee. “The review process has evolved to weigh candidates’ technical skills, experience, and motivation, as well as the potential benefit from attending SC both personally and professionally. We focus on selecting individuals who will benefit from the experience and will use it to mentor others.”
Meanwhile, the SCinet teams reviewed the candidates and have enthusiastically welcomed all four awardees.
“We believe this group represents talented and diverse future leaders in our community,” Meehl added.
SC20 WINS Awardees
Kristen Beneduce, from Sandia National Laboratories, will work with the Network Security Team, mentored by Soledad Antelada Toledano, of NERSC-Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, herself a WINS awardee in 2017 and a 2020 Co-chair on SCinet’s Network Security and WINS team. Toledano noted that this year “eight out of 15 members on the Network Security team are female,” and most are WINS awardees or alumni.
“This welcoming environment brings a unique opportunity to WINS awardees to participate and have a deep-dive, hands-on experience and accelerated training as they work side by side with leading network, software, and systems engineers who create a state-of-the-art security architecture,” Toledano explained. “This experience will also provide Kristen and the other WINS awardees with the opportunity to build a great network of expert peers and bring a new set of skills and lessons learned to their back-home institutions.”
“I first heard about this program from a fellow colleague that works for the NIE Telecommunications team. I just loved the concept of women being brought together from all parts of the US to build a network from scratch and see the benefits of its functionality as a whole till the end. I was super excited to have been one of the few chosen this year to attend and was crossing my fingers that it was going to fly.”
DeHerrera will be mentored by Julie Locke, co team lead and past WINS awardee, with Annette Kitajima.
Shashwitha Puttaswamy, from George Washington University, was selected to the Routing Team. She will be guided by co-team lead Jessica Shaffer, of Georgia Tech, with Debbie Fligor, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Both Shaffer and Fligor are past WINS awardees.
Jennifer Kim, an IT Manager at Montgomery County Community College, will be part of the Edge Team.
“My initial learning of the program was through my leadership shortly after starting my current role and happened to be the year of WINS’ inception,” Kim said. “I look forward to the energy that surrounds SCinet and tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience of the collective Edge team. I also look forward to getting to know fellow awardees and their journeys to SCinet.”
Kim will be mentored by Angie Asmus, IT Security Analyst/Interim Cybersecurity Team Lead at Colorado State University. Asmus was a WINS awardee in 2016 and has been with the Edge Team since, serving as its lead for the last two years.
“We are looking forward to introducing Jennifer Kim to SCinet and the Edge Team,” Asmus added. “As a WINS alumnus, I realize the importance of mentoring women looking to further their career in IT and networking. By participating in SCinet and the Edge Team, Jennifer will be able to learn what SCinet is, how it all comes together, and fully participate in our team as we plan and build the edge network. She will also have the opportunity to learn from some great minds and grow her professional network.”
Past Awardees Become Leaders
The WINS experience does not end after the SC conference. It is an ideal opportunity to grow and develop a long-lasting mentoring and peer networks. Amber Rasche is a technical writer supporting N-Wave, NOAA’s enterprise network. In 2016, she had her first SCinet volunteer experience as one of seven women selected to participate in the WINS program. SC20 marks her fourth year volunteering with the SCinet communications team.
“Participating in WINS has been a catalyst for some exciting changes in my professional career, including several opportunities to take on leadership responsibilities as a SCinet volunteer, and a new professional role providing communications support for a national, high-speed network,” Rasche shared. “I credit WINS with helping me establish connections within the communities that support high-performance networking across educational institutions, government agencies, and HPC facilities. From a career mentor who encouraged me to apply to WINS to a fellow SCinet volunteer who referred me to a new job opportunity, I am grateful to know this community and to be part of it. Serving on the WINS Application Review Committee feels like coming full circle as I am now able to support the success of future WINS participants and give back to the program that has supported my professional career.”
Huntoon added: “Early on, we realized that activities outside of SCinet were needed in order to build on the experiences the WINS volunteers had during SC and SCinet. To that extent, we have, since the program’s inception, supported WINS presentations at regional and national conferences, such as the annual conferences for the regional R&E Networks (KINBER, NYSERNet, CENIC, etc.), national conferences (Internet2 Global Summit and Technology Exchange, PEARC, etc.). Initially, participation and presentations focused on discussing the WINS program and diversity activities but have recently expanded to highlight the technical skills of the WINS participants.
Making WINS Possible
This annual program is grant-funded.
“The primary funding has come from the National Science Foundation, first as a supplemental grant then through a second grant to fund a three-year project,” Huntoon explained. “We are currently on the second no-cost extension for the primary grant (NSF 2016 grant #ACI-1640987), which has included supplemental funding for WINS to do a review and then report on long-term sustainability.”
WINS awardees receive in-kind and travel support from the Department of Energy through ESnet. The in-kind support has been essential in contributed staff support from people such as Lauren Rotman, Zurawski, Kate Mace, and others to help WINS interact effectively with SC and SCinet, as well as with mentoring, communications, and so many other facets for the program. Juniper has sponsored the in-person WINS luncheon during SC for a number of years. The luncheon allows all the WINS participants, SCinet mentors, sponsors, and other supporters to meet in person, get an update on the program, and let participants develop more personal ties.
Other organizations, such as PNWGP, have provided WINS-branded giveaways at SC each year. Since 2019, WINS has accepted contributions to fund volunteer travel and other associated expenses from both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including International Networks at Indiana University, SC Steering Committee, and more recently Ciena.
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.