SIAM News Blog

Broader Engagement Program Returns to CSE17 with a Focus on Community Engagement

By Debbie McCoy and Mary Ann Leung

The Sustainable Horizons Institute’s Broader Engagement (BE) program aims to provide a rich scientific agenda, mentoring, and career and professional development opportunities to students, faculty, and professionals aspiring to widen their experience in research-based professional activities. Computational science and engineering (CSE) is at the forefront of investigation and engineering design in areas ranging from aerospace and automotive industries to biological, chemical, and semiconductor technologies. CSE’s prevalence in these fields and reliance on advanced modeling and simulation make it the ideal backdrop for projects such as BE.

The program therefore returned to the 2017 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE17) in Atlanta, Ga., this February, having made its debut at the 2015 CSE conference. This venture brings a diverse group of students, faculty, and professionals to the conference, thus involving them in conference activities and increasing the CSE community’s knowledge and support of diversity and inclusion.

“The unique aspect offered by the BE program is that it allows individual researchers or academics to contribute to the goals of diversity at the grassroots level,” said Hans De Sterck, professor of computational and applied mathematics at Monash University and chair of the SIAM Activity Group on Computational Science and Engineering. “I volunteered because I felt it is important to try to directly and personally contribute to making SIAM events like CSE17 more accessible to early career and underrepresented groups. Increasing diversity benefits both individuals and the profession.”

At CSE17, the BE program focused on engaging the computational science and engineering professional communities with students and early career scientists. “I always wanted to help and engage with people, but BE finally provides an actual mechanism to do this, and that’s great!” De Sterck said. “I was also curious about how BE activities are set up and how they work, just to know what kinds of things can be done and perhaps used at other events; I believe this kind of initiative can be valuable in many settings.”

During CSE17 registration, over 270 members of the CSE community indicated an interest in learning about BE volunteer opportunities. More than 50 CSE community members helped out as mentors, leaders for guided affinity groups, and volunteers for the Student Opportunities Lab (informal roundtable discussions about career/professional development topics). In addition, Google employees served as ambassadors for BE participants and accompanied them on a site visit to Google’s Atlanta-based Fiber Academy.

“I volunteered to lead a guided affinity group because I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to attend beginners’ forums and tutorials,” said Stephen Wood, postdoctoral researcher in computational engineering at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Innovative Computing Laboratory and the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Joint Institute for Computational Sciences. Wood led a guided affinity group on uncertainty quantification (UQ) for computational fluid dynamics in sustainable energy applications. “I saw the opportunity as a moment to pay forward the sage guidance I’ve received from more experienced practitioners,” he said. “It was a pleasure to interact with inquisitive students from a variety of disciplines. The best part of the experience was listening to students discuss how they could apply UQ to their work; the openness of their questions and helpful responses to each other continue to inspire me.”

While 33 BE participants were sponsored by the Sustainable Horizons Institute, 23 others paid their own way to be part of the program. Sponsored participants—11 undergraduates, 16 graduate students, and six early career professionals—were representative of 30 institutions, 10 of which are historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

“I would not be where I am today without the amazing mentors who have encouraged, advised, and inspired me along the way,” said Julianne Chung, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Division at Virginia Tech. “Broader engagement programs provide opportunities for me to give back to the community.” 

The BE program at CSE17 matched students and early career participants with mentors to create and foster networks between students, early career scientists, established researchers, and leaders in scientific communities. “BE’s mentorship program, where mentors are paired with BE protégés based on background, interests, and needs, is an excellent way to develop and encourage a strong and diverse workforce of computational scientists,” Chung said. “Navigating the ranks of academia or figuring out how to juggle family priorities with graduate studies can leave many feeling isolated. The mentorship program provides ample opportunities for discussions that may continue after the conference, where often times it is not just the mentees but also the mentors who walk away thinking, ‘Wow, I’m not the only one who feels this way!’”

Participants presented posters and gave oral presentations on their research during the conference. The BE program won an award for best minisymposterium. 

“I have gotten more out of this week than I have from all of the other conferences I have attended combined,” a student participant wrote of the BE program. “It helps fill the gaps in my career preparation that one cannot get from usual graduate program activities. I especially appreciated the opportunity to be paired with a mentor, who helped me polish my résumé. It was fantastic!”

“The BE program as a microcosm of diversity in a larger, more homogeneous group was fantastic in that it provided a community for those of us who would have otherwise not been able to participate in the conference,” another student shared. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to combat impostor syndrome in those of us who tend to question whether we belong in academia/research careers.”

Debbie McCoy is the director of programs at Sustainable Horizons Institute. Mary Ann Leung is president of the Sustainable Horizons Institute.

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