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Move the Needle: Insights with Dan Olds

The 2024 Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition and the Drive for Diversity in HPC

Cristin Merritt, CMO of Alces Flight, spoke with Dan Olds, Chief Research Officer of Intersect360 Research, about how his novel idea for a Student Cluster Competition targeted at historically black and Hispanic colleges in the US came into being and continues to thrive.  Part of the Move the Needle Project for 2024.

Additional reporting by Dominik Wojtak

When Dan Olds launched the Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition he had two goals: 1. Attract young new talent from diverse communities into HPC and 2. Provide them real, hands-on experience with systems and applications. His aim?  Motivate and inspire these highly talented self-starters while qualifying them for internships and full-time positions within supercomputing.

Creating Equality in Opportunity

To achieve his goal, one of the pivotal changes Dan made in designing his cluster challenge  was to purposefully level the playing field for all participants. Unlike traditional competitions where students were sponsored by individual vendors, he aimed for an equitable competition. Every student received the same training and hardware, allowing them to determine their own learning path based on merit and commitment. This way the Winter Classic could empower students to invest as much as they desired, tailoring their experience to their individual aspirations.

The Intersect360 Research Winter Classic Student Cluster Competition provides participants with more than just technical challenges. It serves as a platform for them to gain valuable experience. This real-world exposure equips participants with practical problem-solving skills and even valuable “war stories” of their hands-on experiences under pressure. One of the biggest benefits Dan has seen so far? Watching groups learning to work seamlessly within a team, preparing them for the demands of HPC or any industry they choose to enter.

The effects of this competition are profound, with a remarkable 60-70% of participating students choosing to pursue careers in HPC. This not only transforms the lives of the students but also makes a significant impact on the industry by infusing it with a fresh, diverse talent pool.

Moving the Needle –  Advice from Dan Olds:

In his pursuit of diversity and inclusivity, Dan Olds leveraged his knowledge of student cluster competitions to build his own version – one with a specific focus to seek out institutions, colleges and universities with limited resources. His advice for those wanting to make a difference, especially in influencing the acquisition of skills and broadening opportunities in education, is to seek out those people and places and give what you can — from as little as meeting with or mentoring individual students to as big as lending time and equipment to grow a whole new crop of talented individuals. 

Coming soon: Winter Classic Interview with Addison Snell!

We are excited to announce that we will be getting even more insights on the Winter Classic from Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect360 Research.  We look forward to diving into this student cluster challenge and its initiatives further – so stay tuned for a follow-up!

Don’t forget to follow along with the 2024 Winter Classic, which launched on January 22, 2024.

Move the Needle Project

Furthering the cause of diversity and inclusivity in HPC, the ‘Move the Needle’ project  by Women in HPC and Alces Flight is all about tracking actions people and teams are taking to drive positive change. Beginning in January 2024, individuals in the HPC field can commit to one to three actions to ‘move the needle’ toward greater inclusion. Details on how to pledge and guidance can be found on the Women in HPC blog page.

Intersect360 Research Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition

Now in its fourth year, the Winter Classic has been built and designed to challenge up to twelve teams in a virtual, head-to-head competition that runs over a period of ten weeks.  With access to up to five supercomputers, a roster of talented mentors, a host of challenges  — culminating in a final interview — each group will gain valuable exposure and insight into the world of supercomputing.  Check out this year’s event by connecting with our host page.

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