For Thomas Johnson III, Computing4Change (C4C) notched a win in his personal playbook in 2018.
While intellect (even, savoir-faire) may be the most likely reason that Thomas Johnson III was selected to participate in SIGHPC’s 2018 Computing4Change competition, his positive attitude and great sense of humor may have been equally influential. In his SC18 application (C4C is held during the SC conference), Thomas, a computer science and mathematics undergraduate at Elizabeth City State University, a historically black college in North Carolina, said he had Java and Python knowledge. He is convinced this helped him get selected.
“They wanted diverse individuals from different backgrounds, such as English majors, political science or STEM,” he said. “The funny part was that they based their selection on a double-blind examination, so they didn’t know our names. We applicants didn’t know we were selected until the end, until we got the letter of acceptance, and that was amazing.”
A Diverse Teams Makes a Positive Impact
During the C4C challenge, the teams were posed a challenge: they had three days to ponder the topic, “Identify a challenge under the topic of violence and how technology could be applied.”
“We were a group of four—Shanelle, Itzel, Maya and myself,” Thomas explained. “We all have different majors: engineering discipline, economics, eco-friendly urban planning and computer science. So, we each worked on different angles. Shanelle worked on the educational aspect of violence, Itzel concentrated on the impact of social media, Maya focused on cultural influences, and I analyzed FBI data.”
At first, Thomas found the experience to be a bit chaotic as they were trying to use the data without knowing exactly how to go about it. In the end, he chose a dataset that he obtained from Kaggle constructed from data obtained by the FBI that had a detailed listing of violence related crimes. It was both easily accessible and easy to comprehend compared to other alternatives.
“This was one of the most memorable and positive group work experience in my entire college career,” Thomas noted. “Not only that, it was an experience where there were no drawbacks and very few issues that we could not overcome.”
Thomas loved all the ideas being tossed around throughout the competition, as well as learning from people with such varied backgrounds.
“That [diversity] helps with the perspective that how you work in your field impacts others,” he said. “The cultural, institutional influences, social environment and hard facts in this challenge all needed to meet and become coherent. The team decided to create a hierarchy from macro level (hard data) to micro levels (interpersonal/cultural).”
Thomas found the challenge to be both stressful and fun: “As things were accelerating, we were pushed to the brink. It was the fact that we could rely on one another that made it enjoyable.”
While his team did not win the challenge and Thomas could not attend the C4C award banquet as he had a flight to catch, it did not detract from his personal priority. He wanted to learn and that equaled a first place on his “personal podium.”
Seeing Known Faces and Meeting New at SC
The preceding summer, he interned at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).
“My mentor was Dr. Ritu Arora, and she was excellent,” he said. “I was told that If I could make it through an internship with her, I could work anywhere. She is firm. She will tell you what you need to get done and offer guidance on how to get it done if needed. She was an amazing mentor to have, and I am happy to stay in touch with her. I also ran into Je’aime Powell, who also works at TACC. I heard about him at my school because he graduated from there and left a significant legacy. He is considered one of my school’s many success stories.”
Thomas also met Dr. Rion Dooley: “He is a technological blacksmith at TACC, and he has been developing things over there that are amazing. Every time I see him, he has a piece of wisdom for me, and our conversations never go where I think they will go. When we talk, I am reminded that I need to stay ahead of the game. I had no idea I would see him there [SC18], and we walked around the show floor for a while. I also recall Je’aime telling me about the unofficial challenge at SC: to collect enough T-shirts so that you never need to do laundry for at least a week.”
In turn, Dooley was enthusiastic at seeing Thomas at SC18. According to Thomas, Dooley noted that participating in the SC conference “shows that I have ambition. I could understand his statement given that everything at the conference arrived with something to contribute whether the contribution be research, knowledge connections or business ventures.”
With SC18 and the C4C competition behind him, Thomas was happy to see so many known faces and meet many new ones. Thomas acknowledged there are so many opportunities that it is hard not to get lost in the din of activities. Still, Thomas foresees more SC events in his future.
“SC holds a position in my mind now,” he concluded. “I would like to go back—with another contribution of my own.”
Opportunities Await for Students at SC
Inspired by Thomas’s story? Learn more about this year’s Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing (SIGHPC) Computing4Change event (collocated with SC19). This and many other opportunities are available to students through the Students@SC program.
Christine Baissac-Hayden, SC19 Students@SC Communications Liaison (Easy English 4 All)
Christine Baissac-Hayden created Easy English 4 All, which provides multilingual communication tools for clients from diverse backgrounds in the renewable energy, medical, defense, marine science, and film industries. Easy English 4 All provides English as a Second Language (ESL), French, Spanish and Japanese tutoring from certified native-speaking teachers and organizes international student exchanges with personalized objectives and goals.