There is a pressing need in New Mexico for effective training in the fields of computational and data science at all levels of education, from undergraduate to professional. This need is driven not only by the increasing demand for skilled professionals in these fields nationwide, but also by the unique requirements of the national laboratories located in the state, including Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Laboratories.
Despite this growing demand for experts in computational science, data science, and high-performance computing (HPC), there is a shortage of well-trained applicants for these positions in New Mexico.
The University of New Mexico requested funds from Congress to address this critical need in the state and was successful in having $1.5 million allocated as part of the Congressionally Directed Community Project Funds in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2023 (Appropriations Act). The University then had to apply to the Department of Education, which awarded the funds as a grant spanning two years. The principal investigator for the project is Patrick Bridges, Computer Science professor and director of the UNM Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC).
The project focuses on the development of effective training programs and management strategies that will ensure that students and professionals are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to succeed in computational and data science.
To achieve this objective, the project has specific goals, including creating new courses, revamping existing programs, acquiring computing hardware, engaging, and supporting K-12 faculty, staff, and students, and linking students with New Mexico employers. The project aims to increase student enrollment, collaboration between UNM faculty and staff and community members, interaction between students and potential employers, and student usage of computational and data science systems. The project’s course and program development span both undergraduate and graduate-level computational and data science, as well as technical education topics.
At the undergraduate level, the project will reintroduce the CS4All course, which teaches computer science concepts through computational modeling and simulation, at all UNM campuses as a foundation for additional programs and courses in this area. Leading this effort are Computer Science Assistant Professor Amanda Bienz and Mathematics & Statistics Associate Professor Jacob Schroder.
“I’m excited about this grant because it will give Professor Bienz and me the resources we need in order to create a challenging, introductory class on computational science,” Schroder said.
This effort will be complemented with hackathons on topics of interest to the communities to encourage students to gain experience with computational and data science. The hackathons will be hosted virtually from the main UNM campus, with UNM branch campuses also hosting local sites for students to collaborate with each other and their peers across the state.
“This is a growing field with lots of opportunities in New Mexico, especially at the national labs. So, it is a great opportunity to help train the next generation of computational scientists here in New Mexico,” Schroder said.
The graduate-level activities of the project will focus on revitalizing and enhancing the Computational Science & Engineering (CSE) Graduate Certificate at UNM. The project will work with affiliated departments to broaden the set of courses available in the CSE program, including courses in big data and statistical analysis. The CSE program will also be integrated with workforce connection activities. CARC senior business manager Tracy Wenzl will oversee efforts to revitalize the CSE graduate certificate and will also lead project assessment efforts.
Both the undergraduate and graduate programs will be complemented by a technical course on designing, deploying, and operating modern high-performance computing systems. Employers like the national labs require these skills, but they are not commonly taught as part of the computer science curriculum. The new course will be developed in partnership with the New Mexico national laboratories and will directly support workforce development in the state. Computer Science and CARC Research Assistant Professor Matthew Fricke will lead efforts to develop and teach the new HPC workforce development course.
“Computational science is such an important part of careers across STEM and beyond. This grant will provide an opportunity to introduce computational science to students across the university,” Bienz said. By investing in the training of students and professionals in these critical fields, New Mexico will be better positioned to meet the demands of the national laboratories and other industries that require skilled computational and data science professionals.
“This award is going to help UNM transform what we do to grow the next-generation workforce in data science and related fields like cybersecurity,” Bridges said.
The outcomes of the project are expected to lead to a well-trained workforce in New Mexico's computational science, data science, and high-performance computing industries.
“It’s also important to note that this award also wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the state’s congressional delegation, and we really appreciate their leadership and vision in helping UNM meet the growing demands from New Mexico industry and labs for expertise in this area,” Bridges added. The project will be a vital step in the development of a robust and sustainable workforce in these fields, ensuring that New Mexico remains at the forefront of innovation and technology in the years to come.