Women in IT Networking at SC Awarded the 2017 Innovations in Networking Award for Experimental Applications

MARCH 13, 2017 – In recognition of work to expand the diversity of the SCinet volunteer staff and to provide professional development opportunities to highly qualified women in the field of networking, the Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) program has been selected by CENIC as a recipient of the 2017 Innovations in Networking Award for Experimental Applications. Project members being recognized include Wendy Huntoon (KINBER), Marla Meehl (UCAR), and Kate Petersen Mace, Lauren Rotman, and Jason Zurawski (ESnet).

This powerful collaboration fosters gender diversity in the field of technology, a critical need. By funding women IT professionals to participate in SCinet and to attend the Supercomputing Conference, the program allows the next generation of technology leaders to gain critical skills.

“Until you roll your sleeves up and dig into building and operating SCinet, which is an amazingly robust, high-bandwidth network that exists for just two weeks, it’s hard to imagine just how tough it is — and how rewarding it is,” said Inder Monga, Director of ESnet, the Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network. “Many of our ESnet engineers have been members of the SCinet team over the years, bringing back valuable skills in network operations, project management, teamwork, and on-the-spot problem-solving. Our support of WINS is one way of contributing back to the conference and the community’s growth and success.”

In 2016, eight women were selected to be part of the WINS program; three were funded to return to SC16 after participating in the 2015 WINS cohort. Sana Bellamine, a CENIC Core Engineer, was a 2015 WINS award winner and was invited to participate again in SC16. As a part of her work on SCinet, she used high-end, state-of-the-art equipment to test 100 Gbps circuits, setting up the environment to test these circuits, and documenting the procedure for doing so. In addition to developing technical expertise, Sana formed lasting relationships with other members of the 2015 WINS cohort. They regularly exchange knowledge, code, and advice using a slack channel (a form of instant messaging), which helps inform their ongoing work within their respective organizations.

As Sana reflects on this experience and its continuing benefits, she notes, “I am thankful to CENIC and to the WINS program for the opportunity to be part of the SCinet team. As one of the SCinet wide-area network team members in 2016, I worked in close collaboration with another awardee on the development of procedures for testing 100GE circuits at line rate. These procedures were used to validate 7x100GE circuits into the SuperComputing show floor. CENIC associates were able to achieve the desired throughput for their planned demos over these 100GE links. The SCinet network is a mature, multi-vendor environment with a rich set of the tools. Having direct exposure to the SCinet network enables me to explore new approaches in my daily work at CENIC.”

Kate Petersen Mace, one of the project leaders from ESnet and the SC14 SCinet Chair, notes that “The WINS program has been an overwhelming success for SCinet as a whole. As a long-time SCinet member, I understand through experience the amazing challenges and opportunities that volunteering for SCinet present. The dedication and diverse set of skills the WINS awardees have brought has been invaluable, and has strengthened the SCinet team. The WINS Management team is thrilled to see CENIC help lead the way in celebrating the value of a diverse workforce through its continued support of unique training and professional development opportunities—such as SCinet—for its employees.”

Participants grow immeasurably through their involvement with this high-capacity network that supports revolutionary HPC applications and experiments. By joining volunteers from academia, government, and industry working together to design and deliver SCinet, they acquire skills and experiences they can use in their daily work at their home institutions.

WINS is funded jointly through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and direct funding from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) ESnet. WINS awardees are selected from a competitive application process which includes review by an external committee of leaders in the research and education networking community.

Funds from NSF and DOE provide WINS awardees travel support to participate in SCinet staging and set-up, which take place in the weeks leading up to the conference. The awardees continue their work during the entire week of the Supercomputing conference, when SCinet goes live for attendees to use for any networking need—from wireless Internet access to multi-gigabit demonstrations. At the conclusion of the conference, awardees then help tear down the entire infrastructure in approximately 48 hours.

After their hands-on experience at the SC conference, participants receive support to attend community conferences like the Quilt semi-annual member meeting, and regional network meetings such as the CENIC annual meeting, the Internet2 Global Summit, and the National Lab Information Technology (NLIT) meeting, among others. At these events, the WINS awardees participate in panel discussions to share their experiences and continue building their professional networks. This participation has resulted in increased awareness of and dialogue about the diversity gap that continues to persist in the IT community.

“WINS is a creative approach to the problem of increasing the number of talented network engineers, by developing the capabilities and vision of underrepresented female engineers through deep engagement in SCinet,” notes Kevin Thompson, program manager in the NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, which provides WINS funding. “The project attacks a visible challenge in the production R&E networking community: gender diversity in the leadership and workforce. This effort will, at a minimum, significantly impact the careers of 15 women, and it has tremendous potential to do much more in the years ahead, especially if its sustainability approach succeeds.”

Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year by CENIC to highlight the exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform the ways in which instruction and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas.