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Feature - TeraGrid's Campus Champions: connecting campuses to national HPC

Feature - Campus Champions: Users get help from a familiar face

A few words from Kay Hunt, pictured above . . .

In the fall of 2007, Scott Lathrop asked me to work on a new effort to support campus representatives (Champions) across the nation who would become the local source of knowledge about high performance computing opportunities for researchers and educators.

After working on the design and development of the project I really became enthused about making contacts all over the United States and developing a network of folks who could learn and grow with each other for the common goals of the group.

Now, as lead of the Campus Champion program, I recruit Champions and provide them with timely information, user support, training, resource allocations, and outreach support. There are many who help with these activities - I coordinate the people and the process and do the bulk of the recruitment. I am like the head coach of a basketball team.

Off the job, I am a "sportsaholic" - a participant, spectator, and supporter. I also enjoy gardening, playing the piano, water skiing, and boating - but most of all spending time with my three grown children and my seven grandchildren.

Image courtesy of Shandra Williams, PSC.

TeraGrid's Campus Champions program makes it easier for campus-based researchers and educators to access free, readily available computational resources from 11 NSF-funded national supercomputing centers and TeraGrid Resource Provider sites across the country.

Campus Champions is designed to expand and diversify TeraGrid's user base by recruiting "computing evangelists" on individual campuses to provide local users with information and assistance on using TeraGrid resources and services. The number of institutions has ramped up steadily from one in March of 2008 to 38 today - including Hawaii and Alaska.

"Our initial plan was to engage about a dozen campuses during the first year," said Scott Lathrop, TeraGrid's area director for education, outreach, and training. "The ultimate goal is to get at least one Champion in every state, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and more as interest and demand warrant." Led by Kay Hunt of the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing at Purdue University, the effort is intended to reach not only traditional research institutions, but also minority-serving institutions and "Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research" (EPSCoR) schools.

The University of Kentucky had been working for several years to involve more people in high-performance computing when Champions came along, according to Barbara Kucera, deputy director of the university's Center for Computational Sciences, who became instrumental in involving the school with the program. She said: "Now we can tell someone 'if you want to port your code, we have somebody to hold your hand - and there are plenty of cycles available.' "

Roger Moye, a Campus Champion at Rice University.

Image courtesy of Carlyn Chatfield, Rice University.

An additional advantage is that assistance is likely to come from a familiar face. "The customer is far more comfortable talking to me because in most cases they know me on a first-name basis," said Roger Moye, Linux cluster administrator in the Research Computing Support Group and a Campus Champion at Rice University in Texas.

Nurit Haspel, a post-doctoral researcher in computational structural biology at Rice, said the TeraGrid and Campus Champions have enabled her to accelerate her research into protein conformation and functionality "by a great deal."

"The help of the TeraGrid Champions has been invaluable, both in writing and submitting the application for allocation and, later, in resolving specific issues with software installation and a close follow-up on my progress," she said.

"The Campus Champions are forming a virtual organization in order to share their experiences, challenges, and successes in engaging their local communities and helping TeraGrid to improve its services for the research and education community," Lathrop said.

The Champions will get together at the TeraGrid annual conference, June 22-25 in Arlington, Virginia, to learn more about TeraGrid and share information about strategies and opportunities.

-Greg Kline, Purdue University

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