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Summer Internships Challenge and Inspire

Malcolm Truss and Jonté Smith

Malcolm Truss and Jonté Smith.

By Shirley Moore

While many of their friends were hitting the beaches and sleeping in during their time off school this past summer, four high school students from Chicago decided to spend a month working full-time at the Innovative Computing Laboratory (ICL) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The ICL is led by Distinguished Professor Jack Dongarra and is internationally renowned for its cutting-edge research in high performance computing.

Shirley Moore, a former full-time staff member at the ICL, conceived of the internship. While teaching at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, a college preparatory school on the south side of Chicago, Moore realized that students could gain valuable experience working with high performance computing at the UT laboratory.

The National Science Foundation Office of Cyberinfrastructure agreed to fund the internship, and Moore solicited applications from both Lindblom Academy and Northside College Preparatory High School, where one of Moore’s colleagues was teaching. Malcolm Truss and Jonté Smith were selected from Lindblom; Ciara Proctor and Klaudia Leja were selected from Northside.

Ciara Proctor and Klaudia Leja

Ciara Proctor and Klaudia Leja.

The four students arrived in Knoxville for their internships at the beginning of July and were provided office space and laptop computers. Truss and Smith worked together on one set of programming problems while Proctor and Leja worked on a different set of problems. The students made software improvements, which the program developers were able to use, and they developed a tutorial. At the end of their internships, the students gave excellent presentations of their work at the weekly ICL lunch seminar.

Reflecting on his summer research experience, Truss said, “It was definitely a positive experience—not just learning about high performance computing, but also living on a budget and doing without TV and video games for a few weeks. The experience helped me focus my efforts at school, and it reinforced my desire to be a computer programmer.”

Proctor concurred, “It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Proctor said. “I learned so much—more than I ever expected to learn. I found out what’s out there in terms of computer science. It didn’t feel at all like work; I was having fun and learning at the same time. Computer science is definitely what I want to do, and it made me more confident of my career choice.”

Dongarra is so pleased with the outcome that he wants the program to continue. “Klaudia Leja was honored with an Award for Aspirations in Computing by the National Center for Women & Information Technology,” Dongarra says. “That award speaks to the quality of students we get for these internships. The payoff for the students and the ICL is impressive. I’m hopeful that the National Science Foundation will want to support these internships for years to come.”

Visit the Innovative Computing Laboratory website