Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) Program Selects SC21 SCinet Cohort
Five new participants have been chosen to join the Women in IT Networking program at SC (WINS) program for SC21 – the annual International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis (SC) which will take place this year from November 14-19 in St. Louis, Missouri.
WINS was developed in 2015 to help address the gender gap that exists in information technology, particularly in the fields of network engineering and high performance computing (HPC). Each year WINS welcomes a cohort of early-to-mid career women to join the team that builds SCinet, a multi-terabit network built specially for high-bandwidth demonstrations SC attendees and exhibitors who perform high-bandwidth demonstrations. The program seeks women of all ages, races, backgrounds, IT-related professions, and geographical areas.
“Lack of diversity in IT particularly with women and minorities is significant and an ongoing challenge and concern. WINS is a small effort to encourage women in their early and mid-careers to stay in IT and find a professional network to engage and gain technical and non-technical support. Underrepresented minority groups are defined as African-American/Black, Latino/ Hispanic, and Native American/Native Hawaiians. The problem is particularly acute for women of color, which represent less than 2 percent of high-level technical positions,” said Marla Meehl (Manager Networking and Front Range GigaPoP (FRGP), University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)) and WINS-PI.
This year, 19 women applied for WINS. Leaders in the research and education (R&E) network and HPC communities reviewed and selected the following awardees:
- Mary Bull, College of William & Mary, SCinet Wireless Team
- Karen Lopez, National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), SCinet DevOps Team
- Deshon Miguel, Tohono O’odham Community College, SCinet WAN Team
- Stacie Nixon, North Carolina Central University, SCinet Wireless Team
- Kimberly Schjang, University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV), SCinet Edge Team
SC21 participant Kimberly Schjang, Associate Network Engineer from UNLV shared her thoughts on being selected. “I am honored to represent UNLV and WINS by participating in the SC Conference this year. I feel that this opportunity will not only help me grow as a network engineer, but it will also give me the opportunity to represent Black women, the LGBT community, and women in STEM.”
As a core component of the program, the WINS awardees are deeply immersed in a multi-month-long, intense engineering experience before the event begins and during the SC conference while SCinet is operated live. They join one of over fifteen SCinet teams, are paired with a mentor, and are involved in all phases of the SCinet process.
Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director for the Santa Fe Indian School and SC19 WINS participant can attest to the experience. “In the span of three weeks, amazing highly-skilled and intelligent professionals who are generous with their knowledge come together to build an incredible 4.2 Terabit wide area network spanning the continental United States to Asia and beyond. You won’t know until you do it, how profound the experience really is.”
When WINS began in 2015, 14% of SCinet professional volunteers were women. By 2017, the number had climbed to 21%, and in 2020, 40 of the 115 SCinet volunteers – 19 from the WINS program – and 40% of the SCinet leadership were women.
“WINS has had a tremendous impact on the diversity of SCinet,” said Lauren Rotman, ESnet Science Engagement Group Lead, and a co-lead of the WINS program. “Not only has the male-to-female volunteer ratio doubled since the program started – the program has added another dimension of diversity by bringing in participants from community colleges, tribal colleges, and other smaller institutions that are traditionally underrepresented.”
To that end, Sekaquaptewa added, “Because I had just completed building two fiber optic backbones connecting six tribes in New Mexico for my home institution, I could now see how to grow them to connect to a national backbone more meaningfully than just access to commodity Internet. I saw and better yet met the people behind the networks with whom I now collaborate to build connections that empower Tribal nations in the digital space.”
The WINS program has also had a significant impact on the entire SCinet volunteer team which speaks to the broad benefits of a diverse workforce.
Lance Hutchinson, Manager, Space Control Applications, Sandia National Laboratories and SC21 SCinet Chair said, “WINS is not just creating a more inclusive environment for SCinet but it is also improving the quality of learning opportunities for all of our volunteers as part of their participation. All of our team leads, management and others involved in supporting the WINS awardees are building brand new hands-on mentoring, teaching and leadership skills. The program has exponential value as it improves the SCinet community on multiple levels.”
Jennifer Kim, IT Manager at the Montgomery County Community College, an SC19 WINS awardee shared her thoughts. “I am looking forward to the much anticipated event that is SC21. Originally awarded for SC19, I deferred attendance as I was about to be a first-time Mom around the same time. I think this is important to note as this offering demonstrates WINS’ support that is unique to women.”
Kim added, “My gratitude only grew as the following year, SC20, was virtual, and WINS made sure to offer us awardees the opportunity to participate in SC21. I am excited to experience the energy and networking, in every sense of the word, of all facets of the SCinet event. I can hardly wait to work with fellow awardees, teammates and learn of their journeys to SC and what keeps them coming back. And of course, eager to build and service the fastest network I will have the pleasure of working on, which happens to be one of the fastest networks in the world.”
Carlos Rojas Torres, Network Engineer at UCAR and team lead for the SCinet Inclusivity team added, “The SCinet team are thrilled to welcome the SC21 WINS participants to become part of this growing ecosystem as well as the SC19 and SC20 deferred participants – making this the largest WINS cohort ever! WINS is a special and significant part of the SC21 Inclusivity Program which aims to provide opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds.”
In addition to the SCinet experience, WINS provides ongoing support and career development opportunities for the awardees before, during, and after the conference. This even includes monthly calls for the community of WINS alumni participants which now tops 40 women.
Wendy Huntoon, co-PI for the WINS NSF grant said, “The WINS program provides significant opportunities for technical skill development, broad professional development, and career advancement for its participants. WINS participants broaden and deepen their technical skills, gain exposure to technologies or equipment outside their standard work environment, expand their professional network, and improve their collaboration and communication skills. All skills the women are able to apply at their home institution or in the broader networking community.”
WINS is a joint effort between the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR),the Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), and the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER). The multi-year program is funded primarily by grants from the National Science Foundation and direct funding from ESnet with support from the Department of Energy. Due to COVID travel restrictions, ESnet will provide programmatic support for SC21. Members of the WINS coordinating team include PI Marla Meehl, Belinda Green, Susan Guastella, Carlos Rojas Torres (SCinet Inclusivity Liaison), of UCAR; co-PI Wendy Huntoon of KINBER; Jason Zurawski, Lauren Rotman, Kate Robinson of ESnet; and Kimball Sekaquaptewa with Santa Fe Indian School (SCinet Co-Chairs of WINS).