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January 1993

Undergraduates Conduct Hands-on, Leading-edge Research at CalTech

Maralee La Barge, an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, admits that she got into computer science completely by accident. An aspiring English major, she had taken calculus in high school and didn't want to retake it in college for her quantative skills requirement. "I took Intro to Computer Science instead, and loved it!" she says. "At first I considered computer science as a minor, but was strongly encouraged to major. Now I'm spending the summer at CalTech in California, conducting research in my new field. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity."

La Barge is one of four students participating in this year's Summer Research Program in Parallel Computing for Women and Minority Undergraduates. The other participants are Elise Matefy (Wellesley College), George Torres (MIT), and Jessica Walton (Stanford University). The annual CRPC-sponsored program offers participants the opportunity to spend two to three months working on projects with CalTech scientists. Students typically select an area of interest, learn how to develop programs for parallel computers, and then use the computers to solve a problem in that area.

Leaders and Participants in CalTech's 1997 Summer Research Program in Parallel Computing for Women and Minorities: (Front, L-R) Dan Zimmerman, Mani Chandy, Elise Matefy, Maralee La Barge, Jessica Walton, (Back, L-R) Joe Kiniry, Mack Rhinelander, and George Torres. Mani Chandy directed the summer program, which Matefy, La Barge, Waltron, and Torres attended. CalTech graduate students Zimmerman, Kiniry, and Rhinelander shared their knowledge of the CalTech Infospheres Project with the undergraduates.
"So far, it's proved to be quite a challenge since I am learning a new language and a new way of programming," says La Barge. "I have seven different reference books on my desk most of the time and I do lots of moaning and groaning. But I do get mini-rewards every time another part of my project works when I run it. I like the problem-solving of programming and know that eventually it's going to come together and I'm going to gloat over all the effort."

George Torres, a computer science major at MIT, is spending his summer investigating the possible widespread use of multiprocessor machines in commercial applications. "We're multithreading computationally intensive military simulations," he explains. "Hopefully, our research will result in finishing simulations more quickly and getting important answers faster. This could be extended to the commercial domain via existing hardware and applications designed with multithreading in mind." According to Torres, the strong support of professors and staff and the calm, fun, working environment have made his research experience especially rewarding.

Applications for CalTech's Summer Research Programs in Parallel Computing for Women and Minorities are distributed to universities nationwide each fall. For more information, see http://www.crpc.rice.edu/CRPC/education/ or contact JoAnn Boyd at joann@ama.caltech.edu .

More CalTech Summer Program Photos

Click here for the CalTech Summer Program picture gallery

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