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Pathways to HPC: A UIC Professor’s Journey Into High-Performance Computing

Chicago Women in HPC Group Photo

A recent gathering hosted by the Chicago Women in High-Performance Computing (CWHPC) Organization featured a candid conversation with UIC Professor Zhilang Lan about how she joined the world of mathematics and supercomputing, noting the  importance of diversity in the world of technology and how CWHPC supports this.

The evening commenced with Ana Marija Sokovic, an ACER Computational Scientist at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), leading an in-depth exploration of the core principles of High-Performance Computing (HPC) as well as underscoring CWHPC’s dedication to promoting diversity within the HPC community.

As Chair of Chicago Women in High-Performance Computing, I’m dedicated to tackling the fundamental challenges faced by women and minorities in the workplace. Through our initiatives, we empower individuals to navigate challenges, advocate for themselves, and thrive in high-pressure environments, promoting diversity and well-being.

Ana Marija Sokovic  |  Computation Scientist
Women in HPC Group meeting

Sokovic’s introduction served not only as an educational primer but also as a call to action, inspiring attendees to advocate for and participate in the movement toward greater diversity in HPC across educational institutions.

Sokovic also mentioned UIC computational resources available through the Chicago Computes program that democratizes access to supercomputing by providing free access to faculty and students at UIC, and ACER workshops that guide users and the UIC community on how to use these resources to improve their educational purposes and research.

Amira Kefi, a fellow Computational Scientist at UIC, moderated the address, who enriched the conversation with her own perspectives and facilitated an engaging dialogue between Professor Lan and the audience.

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Professor Lin presenting at meeting

The main event featured a keynote address by Professor Zhiling Lan, who shared her personal and professional journey in HPC. From her initial steps as an undergraduate studying mathematics to her esteemed position as a professor and researcher, Lan’s story was one of passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of knowledge. She spoke candidly about the pivotal moments that led her to specialize in HPC, the challenges she encountered as a woman, and how to balance a demanding career with family life.

Women can thrive in STEM careers with equal competence and determination.

Zhiling Lan  |  Professor, Department of Computer Science

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Professor Lin presenting at meeting

Professor Lan discussed the obstacles that women and minorities encounter in the male-dominated tech industry, including issues like underrepresentation, gender bias, limited mentorship, work-life balance struggles, imposter syndrome, barriers to career growth, and the importance of inclusive policies and practices. Throughout her life and career, Professor Lan demonstrates a resilient commitment to overcoming these obstacles and empowering her female and minority students.

Ensuring gender and minority representation in STEM and HPC isn’t just about equity—it’s about driving innovation and success. Studies consistently show that gender-balanced teams are more s innovative, productive, and successful, leading to greater experimentation, creativity, knowledge sharing, and task fulfillment. Embracing diversity isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s essential for unleashing the full potential of research in STEM and HPC

Ana Marija Sokovic  |  Computation Scientist

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Chicago Women in HPC

As we look forward to the future, we extend a warm invitation to all interested women, people from underrepresented groups, and allies to sign up for Chicago WHPC membership. By joining us, you will become part of a supportive community that values diversity and inclusion in the field of HPC.

Additionally, be on the lookout for upcoming mentor/mentee opportunities aimed at fostering growth, learning, and empowerment within our community. Together, we can make a significant impact, promoting diversity and enabling everyone to thrive in the exciting world of HPC. We look forward to welcoming new members and embarking on this journey together.