Slipping into the Jetstream

Summer internship program brings students to IU for high performance computing experience, conference participation

DIGGING IN TO BIG DATA. Interns gained experience with cloud computing through the REU.

For a lot of people, the word “internship” might conjure up some nostalgia—working long hours, doing menial tasks for little to no pay. The students in the Jetstream Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the IU Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) are likely to remember their time in Bloomington with a little more fondness.

The program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), gives students the opportunity to work with Jetstream, the first NSF-supported cloud resource for science and engineering research, as well as access to world-class researchers, professionals, and facilities. As part of the program, students received a stipend, had costs covered for conference travel, and had use of a hybrid road/city bike to get around campus.

“REUs are competitive summer research programs. We are very pleased to have recruited talented students from across the nation,” said Winona Snapp-Childs, Jetstream REU leader and manager of collaboration and engagement support for Research Technologies.

The RT summer interns pose for a group photo with the staff working with them.

Summer schoolers. The Jetstream REU class of 2018, plus Jetstream team members and project mentors. 

This year's participants enjoyed a trip to the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing Conference series (PEARC18) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they attended events and talks, and presented research posters in the Student Program.

The 2018 intern class included:

  • Jazzly Anderson, a sophomore data science major at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Emmanuel Guido, a junior computer science major at California State University, Monterey Bay
  • Thomas Huber, a computer science major at the University of Delaware
  • Lorissa Humble, a sophomore sociology major at New Mexico State
  • Thomas Slayton, a senior business major at the University of Cincinnati
  • Harrison Wittenbrook, a senior computer science major at Kennesaw State University

“Watching the Jetstream REU students present their work at the PEARC18 conference highlighted some of the best of IU, combining research and education activities into one,” said David Hancock, program director for IU's Advanced Cyberinfrastructure division in UITS Research Technologies and one of the leaders of the Jetstream project. “This diverse group of students from all over the country was able to embed themselves with experienced staff working on real research projects and take those experiences back home to accelerate their educational goals.”

Snapp-Childs made special mention of the project mentors who served as co-authors on the research posters, including Sheri Sanders, Tom Doak, Tony Walker, Tassie Gniady, David Kloster, Robert Henschel, and Junji Li. She also recognized Jetstream team members Sanjana Sudarshan and George Turner for their mentorship

Big data and personal projects

While a shared interest in high performance computing (HPC) attracted the students to the internship, they were able to work on projects that spoke to their individual interests.

“I'm interested in using big data to understand social patterns and public perception,” Lorissa Humble said. “With this program, I could gain experience in using HPC in social science research settings.”

This summer, Humble studied the sentiment analysis of over 2.6 million tweets about North Korea. Her team ran information from the tweets through two algorithms measuring positivity and negativity of the messages. They then used that information to determine if public perception of North Korea has become more positive during Donald Trump's presidency.

Two interns work together at a desk.

Work and play. Interns weren't tied to their computers—with bikes provided by the REU, they were able to explore Bloomington. 

As a senior, Thomas Slayton came to the program with an eye on his future plans. “The experience of publishing and presenting a research project will help with process and project development,” he said. “I also plan to apply for a Fulbright scholarship, so I now have research experience.”

For Emmanuel Guido, curiosity about cloud computing brought him to the internship—he left with a new appreciation of that aspect of computer science. “Before this REU, I wasn't aware of how many people outside of computer science implemented cloud computing into their own work,” he said.

Slayton and Guido worked on a project that used simulated biological field station research collected with a Raspberry Pi microcontroller. They developed a model workflow for the data on Jetstream, and then visualized it in the form of a line graph on a Drupal webpage.

All the students interviewed agreed that the people involved made the internship memorable. “The project mentors and coordinators were helpful, knowledgeable, and kind, and all of my REU peers were wonderful people,” Humble said. Slayton agreed, saying, “Not only my coworkers, but all of the staff at IU were very helpful and welcoming.”

Two of the interns work in a focus booth with a mentor.

Teamwork. Interns worked on projects in teams with other students, as well as with IU mentors and coordinators. 

Having a complimentary bike to get around town was important to Guido. “I went to the movies, the mall, gym, grocery, restaurants, and even to a comedy show,” he said. “Other than the experience I gained, biking around Bloomington was my favorite part of the REU.”

The program participants were unanimous in their recommendation of the program as well as its impact on their future careers. “This experience broadened my outlook for my education and career,” Humble said. “The exposure to high performance computing in research has given me more options for what I would like to do, and introduced me to new technical skills in coding.”

“I am so proud of the students and all that they achieved,” Snapp-Childs said. “They are bound for great things!”