#WhyWeLearn: Supercomputing institute ‘surreal’ for Comp Sci major

Neil Probst, AUM Strategic Communications and Marketing | June 13, 2017

Editor’s note: The #WhyWeLearn series focuses on the lives that students build at AUM.

At Auburn University at Montgomery, students experience careers and the work they involve while learning skills for success from AUM professors. Sophomore Computer Science major Adrian Rodriguez is returning from a two-week trip to a massive supercomputing institute he described as “surreal” and is now set for a summer-long internship with his professor.

Rodriguez studied at the Petascale Institute at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he took part in the XSEDE EMPOWER (Expert Mentoring Producing Opportunities for Work, Education, and Research) Program, arranged by his mentor and professor Dr. Luis Cueva-Parra, associate professor and associate head of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at AUM.

Rodriguez felt awed. The NCSA’s Blue Waters petascale supercomputer, in a 20,000-square-foot room, is one of the world’s strongest supercomputers and is actually the fastest on any university campus in the country.

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Adrian Rodriguez
(Photos by Frank Williams)

“The first time I started using the Blue Waters supercomputer at NCSA was surreal,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s schedule, which included long workdays, was grueling but more than worth it because of the experience he gained and networking he enjoyed.

Rodriguez worked each day on the supercomputer, reinforcing learning of parallel programming and implementation of scientific libraries as well as other skills like data visualization, bash scripting and debugging for high performance computing.

While there, Rodriguez roomed with a student from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, a peer who needed supercomputing to run simulations of the brain's synapses and neural networks, and he also met an astrophysicist; petroleum, aeronautical and civil engineers; chemists and biochemists; and other computer scientists who needed the institute’s supercomputer to run their simulations.

When he returns to campus, his development will continue through a mentorship with Prof. Cueva-Parra, who will guide Rodriguez as they work on a project titled “Introduction to Computational and Mathematical Tools.”

“The skills that Adrian will acquire participating in this research project include analytical and problem-solving skills, algorithmic thinking, communication and teamwork,” Cueva-Parra said. “He will be able to master mathematical and state-of-the-art supercomputing tools for solving practical and scientific problems, and, after graduation, he will be able to continue his education in any graduate school as well as work in the high performance computing area in the industry and research organizations.”

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Dr. Luis Cueva-Parra

Knowledgeable professors light the way

For all that Rodriguez is learning, none of it would be possible without AUM professors like Cueva-Parra, who represents AUM as the Campus Champion for the XSEDE program and was featured in an XSEDE profile in which he describes how the XSEDE partnership increases student access to computing resources and networking opportunities.

At AUM, students are often rewarded for displaying a strong work ethic, and Rodriguez’s trip, the first Petascale Institute internship for an AUM student, happened in large part because Cueva-Parra saw his student’s potential and matching dedication.

“Adrian is a very good student. He is intelligent and really committed,” Cueva-Parra said.

Passion for computing

Rodriguez’s experience at the supercomputing institute is really no surprise for the Wetumpka, Ala., resident who has a picture of himself running MSDOS 5 on a DELL when he was only three years old. He was practically hooked on technology from birth.

In fact, the AUM student later joined the Wetumpka High School’s robotics team — the WHS STEAM Machine — as a graphics designer his freshman year, and he excelled in computing at WHS, where by his senior year he was managing the robotics team’s programming and technology departments and had served as captain of the school’s Cyber Patriot team.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Being able to attend the supercomputing institute and be mentored by Cueva-Parra are opportunities that Rodriguez doesn’t take lightly.

He greatly appreciates the experiences and people who made them possible.

“I love doing research and development,” Rodriguez said. “And I’m thankful to work with my mentor, Dr. Cueva-Parra. I am always eager to learn from others,” Rodriguez said.

His next step? Rodriguez hopes to put his AUM education and training to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.