Big-Time Computing for Minority-Serving Institutions

Article excerpt

While many colleges and universities, including minority-serving institutions, have worked diligently to avoid being permanently designated as "have nots" in the digital divide, the pace of information technology innovation continues to keep virtually all American higher education institutions in a scramble to stay current on the latest advances.

Nonetheless, historically Black schools, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges are getting a boost from a computing sector known more for pushing the frontiers of science than for conducting outreach to underrepresented minorities and minority-serving schools.

For nearly four years, a coalition of the nation's supercomputer centers, and more than 50 academic, government and corporate research partners have collaborated to back the Education Outreach and Training Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (EOT-PACI). EOT-PACI is spreading the benefits of supercomputing technology and high-performance computing practices into historically Black schools, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges. Specifically, EOT-PACI is the joint effort of two National Science Foundation-funded partnerships, the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure in San Diego and the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA) in Urbana, Ill.

"The idea of EOT-PACI was to involve more institutions and people to help build infrastructure at the minority-serving institutions. This (partnership) makes it easier for a range of institutions to participate in high-performance computing activities," says Dr. Roscoe Giles, a co chair of EOT-PACI and a Boston University computer engineering professor.

This intervention is taking the form of assistance anywhere from sponsoring faculty members from minority-serving schools to attend supercomputing conferences to developing on-campus computing practices, such as stringing together many small computers to create the capacity of an expensive supercomputer. The practice is known as cluster computing.

Dr. John Hurley, an electrical engineering professor at Clark Atlanta University, says small- to medium-sized colleges and universities cannot afford to ignore developments in the supercomputing and high-performance computing arena, which has long been the province of government-sponsored supercomputer centers and major research universities.

"You have to keep current with the top developments and top people in the field for the benefit of your students. This enables you to help them become more competitive," Hurley says.

Hurley explains that cost factors largely have excluded small- to medium-sized institutions from participating directly in supercomputing and high-performance computing activities in the past. …