10 Teams Slated for 1st Winter Classic Student Cluster Competition

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Florida A&M University

Jessi Lanum, whom you may know from the Radio Free HPC podcasts that regularly appear on this site, is working with Dan Olds on the Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition. She provides this update on the event’s team rosters.

Back up NCAA, check yourself March Madness, a particular brand of collegiate competition has its hold on the HPC community and the world at large. Application slinging, benchmark screaming student cluster competitions are the workforce’s captivation, and this year, there’s a new event to bet on. The Winter Classic Invitational Cluster Competition pairs big-name companies with universities across the United States and its territories, focusing on putting together industry giants with minority-serving colleges and historically black colleges and universities to create the next generation of cluster competition household names.

(OK, we’re not so much a winter competition this year, but will be in coming years. COVID has played a big role in delaying our original February rollout.)

The students will be running real-world HPC benchmarks and applications remotely on their mentor organization’s clusters. There is an 80 TFLOP Rpeak performance cap on the systems, but their clusters can include any hardware that the mentors and students come up with.

Starting the lineup for the Winter Classic Invitation is Florida A&M University, sitting on the highest hill in Tallassee, Florida. In addition to laying     claim to the tallest geographic spot around, it also cinches the number two spot on the National Science Foundation’s ranking of HBCUs for research and development spending. FAMU knows where to put its resources, with 17 different research centers and institutes across the campus. In the cutting-edge world of HPC, having an in with R&D might provide some valuable knowledge. With a section of the FAMU campus listed as part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, FAMU might find itself making history in this competition.

From the other coast, the University of California Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California ranks as the closest University of California to Silicon Valley, a definite bonus when working in the technology sphere. Home of the Lick Observatory, UCSC is a significant center for astronomy research and wildlife research with the Long Marine Laboratory. Ranked the 58th best global university, UCSC has an expansive list of organizations and departments dedicated to sustainability work and initiatives. Even with the school mascot being a banana slug, we expect their performance to be anything but sluggish.

Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, enters the scene, boasting an engineering college with partnerships ranging from NASA to Raytheon. Tennessee State is the largest college campus by acreage and the only public university in Nashville. With the state’s largest health science program and a designation as a high research activity college, Tennessee State brings forward a strong foundation that should serve them well in the competition.

Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, right near downtown, has been home to several Fulbright, Rhodes, and Marshall scholars. Dedicated to academic excellence, Morehouse champions the impressive statistic of bestowing more bachelor’s degrees to Black men than any other U.S. institution. With an extensive list of influential alumni, including Martin Luther King, Jr, Senator Raphael Warnock, and Secretary Jeh Johnson, it would be well within Morehouse’s character to produce more members whose names you will remember.

Starting the lineup from Texas, there’s the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. With more than 40 research centers and institutes across the campus, the University of Houston’s interdisciplinary research includes superconductivity, space exploration, and artificial intelligence. The university is home to the University of Houston Energy Research Park, specializing in cutting-edge energy research. This dedication to STEM-based research, as well as being ranked as the 31st top college in the United States, may make this university from the Lone Star State a staunch competitor.

Another Texas competitor is Prairie View A&M University, hailing from Prairie View, Texas, oddly enough. Prairie View is one of only two land grant universities in the entire state and was founded in 1876 – making it the second oldest public university in the state. They offer 50 academic majors to their nearly 9,000 students. Prairie View boasts some famous graduates, including Frederick Patterson, founder of the United Negro College Fund, several politicians and business executives, plus Mr. T who is, well, Mr. T.

And not to be outfought, University of Texas, El Paso, from, you guessed it, El Paso, Texas. They’re sending TWO teams to the competition! UTEP is the second-largest university in the United States to have a Mexican-American majority student population and is the top producer of Hispanic engineers to hold Masters and Ph.D. degrees in the nation. Outside of Bhutan or Tibet, the UTEP campus is one of the few places in the world with buildings in the Dzong architectural style. The National Science Foundation lists UTEP as one of only six universities designated a Model Institution for Excellence. With these impressive attributes, it could not be surprising to see the UTEP teams become model competitors in HPC excellence in the future.

Claflin University hails from Orangeburg, South Carolina. Claflin is the oldest HBCU in South Carolina, and while this may be their first foray into the HPC world, they have a strong background to make this being a first-time appearance record-breaking. Claflin is the alma mater of William Bulkley, one of the first African-Americans in the United States to receive a Ph.D., as well as two of the first black women in the world, Alice Jackson Moorer and Annie Thortne, to obtain college degrees. We’re looking forward to seeing Claflin’s introduction to the art and science of HPC.

Last but certainly not least, representing the United States territories, is the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. This HBCU has academic buildings made from volcanic rock, which improves structural integrity during hurricane season and provides an aesthetic design. The United States Department of Agriculture hosts an experiment station at UVI that focuses on agroforestry, aquaponics, and biotechnology. The university also is home to an observatory and has a prime minister, Silveria Jacobs, Prime Minister of St. Maarten, as one of their notable alumni. Oh, and did we mention beaches? Unique in many ways, UVI could continue to play that advantage forward and leave other teams scrambling.

That’s the slate of competitors for the inaugural Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition. It’s a great field of schools who are newish to the world of HPC and are getting a baptism by fire. We wish them all well and will be watching their progress with great interest.

Next up we meet the mentors who are providing these teams with both compute access and knowledge about the in’s and out’s of modern HPC. Stay tuned…