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The Growing Commitment to Sustainability

As our name implies, sustainability is an important mission for SHI. It is indisputable that the need for high quality scientists is continuing to grow. Yet, sadly, the United States is turning out less and less individuals to meet this growing need. This unfortunate loss of talented human capital is known as the leaking STEM pipeline. We realize that to meet the future need for qualified scientists, we cannot continue to lose individuals in STEM. Our programs use evidence-based methods to support individuals who are underrepresented in STEM, including women, racial minorities, and people with disabilities, to overcome this disparity. This is, quite frankly, sustainability in its simplest form. However, it may not surprise you that our vision of sustainability digs deeper than this, and our programs are intended to address several other dimensions of sustainability as well.

Another dimension of sustainability that we address is our work to transform communities into places where diversity and inclusion are the norm.  That means not only working with people who are marginalized, but also working with the broader community to create environments where all people are not just welcome, but are productive and thriving. We also aim to address sustainability within our program participants. SHI sustains relationships with program alums, and provides continuous support throughout their educations, into their careers, and beyond. During her time leading SHI programs, Dr. Leung has built strong relationships with many outstanding participants, and continues to support them wherever possible. However, there are a few extraordinary individuals who have built an everlasting connection with Dr. Leung, and who continue to see considerable growth as a result of their participation and continued involvement in SHI Programs. This article tells the story of four program alums who have grown to become beacons of diversity while they continue to benefit from SHI programming by developing their research, professional, and leadership skills.

Christine Harvey has seen tremendous growth since her first experience with SHI.

Christine Harvey, the Lead High Performance and Analytic Computing Engineer at the MITRE Corporation, has seen immense personal and professional growth because of her participation and continued involvement with BE. As a 2012 BE Participant, Harvey was inspired with a great motivation to attain success. “The BE program has given me the support, guidance, and community to help accomplish my goals.  The connections made . . . and the knowledge gained through the program and conference participation has allowed me to boldly move forward in my career and with my personal goals” she shared. Her experiences with SHI have impacted many elements of her life. Since her BE participation, Harvey has assumed new leadership positions, and found advancement in her career:

I have become very involved and active in the HPC and STEM communities.  After my first year as a BE program participant, I joined the committee and ran programs for participants at SC13, SIAM CSE 15 and SIAM CSE 17.  I have also joined the Student Programs committee of the Supercomputing Conference and am now serving as chair of student outreach and social media for the conference.  Additionally, in my career I have been able to develop and grow as a researcher at a large non-profit federally funded research and development center.  In 4 years, I have transitioned from an entry-level modeling and simulation staff member to the Lead High Performance and Analytic Computing Engineer at the company.

Harvey has served on the BE Organizing Committee since 2013. Her motivation for joining the committee was to spread the positive impact of the program to others. “The BE program did so much for me early on in my career and I wanted the opportunity to help and support others the way that Mary Ann and the BE program helped to support me” she shared.

Dr. Sally Ellingson, an Assistant Professor in the Biomedical Informatics Department at University of Kentucky, also found several benefits from the opportunities the BE Program provided to her. Dr. Ellingson joined the BE Program as a graduate student, and quickly took advantage of the networking opportunities available to her. “I now have a large network of people that I have met through BE events and associated conferences” she shared. Dr. Ellingson later saw an opportunity to grow her professional and leadership skills by joining the BE Organizing Committee, where she organized the 2017 BE mini-symposium and mini-posterium events. The combination of personal connections and professional skills Dr. Ellingson acquired as a participant and committee member helped her succeed in other aspects of her life, especially her research. “I have had many great opportunities through connections made in the BE community, such as participating in the Sustainable Research Pathways workshop” she said, “This event led to working as a visiting faculty at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory over the summer for two years now”. Through SRP, Dr. Ellingson met Dr. Bert de Jong, a highly distinguished computational chemist at Berkeley Lab.  Ellingson and de Jong have co-authored a research proposal, and Ellingson has recently presented a peer-reviewed paper on their collaboration at the International Conference on Computational Sciences in Switzerland. Her participation in BE and SRP has opened many doors, and will continue to impact her career growth for years to come.

Dr. Sally Ellingson has made many connections as a result of her participation in SHI Programs.

Our program participants not only find professional and leadership growth, but also experience psycho-social growth. Dr. Larisse Voufo, a Software Engineer at Google, Inc., was an eighth-year PhD student when she first got involved with BE. Voufo shared that participating in BE increased her sense of belonging in the STEM community, helping motivate her to finish her PhD. “Surprisingly enough, participating in the program unlocked a psychological blockage that I had been struggling through. I was able to see myself reflected in the program’s participants in a meaningful way; which helped build up the confidence necessary to believe in myself as belonging in my chosen field of study, and thus completing my degree” said Dr. Voufo. Since participating in BE at the 2013 SC conference and later joining the BE Organizing Committee for SIAM CSE15 and CSE17, Dr. Voufo does what she can to carry on the spirit of BE. Among several technical and leadership roles she holds at Google, Dr. Voufo serves on the leadership committee of Black Googler Network (BGN)”a group that was created to promote diversity and inclusion at Google. “Whenever possible, I continue the serve as a mentor and help the work towards greater and more comprehensive diversity & inclusion in STEM fields” she shared.

Like Dr. Voufo, Melissa Abdelbaky, a PhD student at Rutgers University, found strength to overcome psychological barriers during her time with BE. She shared that overcoming her obstacles alleviated the pressure she felt when making decisions about her professional and career trajectory: “I was at a very critical point in my life where I was trying to decide whether to leave graduate school after having recently received my Master’s degree or to stay and pursue a PhD. The decision was not easy, especially since the path to my Master’s degree was marred by negative interactions with an advisor” she shared. “I really feel like I experienced a transformation while [participating in BE]. For the first time, I felt like it was ‘safe’ to be myself and that I would be accepted for who I was” she continued. “When I think about how influential BE SIAM CSE15 was to me as not just a researcher but as a person, I am grateful to have been given such an opportunity”. Abdelbaky’s newly found confidence pushed her to step outside of her comfort zone, which ultimately helped her to develop professional and leadership skills. She served on the 2017 BE Organizing Committee as a co-chair for the Mentor Protégé Program, which was hugely successful. She also organized and led the Paving the Road Ahead Workshop, which inspired many BE participants to envision their path to eventual career success. “When I first started with the program, I never envisioned that I could help run a piece of a student program. However, since then, Mary Ann has encouraged me to stay involved with the student committee and take an active role in helping others” shared Abdelbaky.

Melissa Abdelbaky facilitated the Paving the Road Ahead workshop at SIAM CSE17.

It is evident that the sustainable relationships SHI builds with program participants substantially impact their research, professional, and leadership development. These stories illustrate that they continue to grow and benefit from their experiences well beyond their initial participation.  Another very important dimension of sustainability is also reflected in these stories: many participants and volunteers are inspired to embrace our mission of transforming the community into a place where diversity and inclusion are the norm by leading their own efforts.  Because of the impact the program had on them, each of these individuals has developed a commitment to upholding the spirit of BE in their own work. As these professionals continue on in their scientific endeavors, they pass this dedication on to the next generation of scientists, helping our mission spread exponentially. This is growing the STEM workforce through inclusion, and inspiring more young minds to experience the excitement of discovery, helping us grow closer to having a diverse, inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable STEM community.