Parallel Tracks: Advancing a Career While Helping Move the SC Conference Forward

sally ellingson
Sally Ellingson (right) with then fellow University of Kentucky student Derek Jones. (Photo by Carolyn Chung)

Sally Ellingson Finds Professional and Personal Growth

Since she attended her first SC conference as a participant in the Broader Engagement program at SC10 in New Orleans, Sally Ellingson has launched her professional career while also taking on leadership roles with student-focused programs at the conference. Such programs are aimed at helping students both while in school and as they launch their own careers.

Now an assistant research professor of computational biology in the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ellingson has served as both deputy chair and chair of the conference’s Student Volunteers program and actively mentors promising computer science students. At SC18 in Dallas, she chaired the Mentor–Protégé Program that links students who are new to the conference with more seasoned attendees to meet both during the conference and to stay in touch afterward.


“I tell students to look at the various student programs and then apply for any that seem to be a good fit, whether it’s Student Volunteers or Doctoral Showcase,” Ellingson said. “Just apply!”


An SC Connection Leads to Opportunity

Ellingson was working on her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville when she first heard about the conference and decided to apply for the Broader Engagement (BE) program. She participated in the program for four years, serving on the planning committee in her last year. The BE chair that year was Mary Ann Leung, who through her Sustainable Pathways non-profit later worked with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to create a program aimed at increasing diversity in the computing sciences area.

In 2016 and again in 2017, Ellingson spent the summer working at Berkeley Lab through the program Leung helps coordinate. In 2017, she brought along Derek Jones, a student at the University of Kentucky. Together they worked on a model that uses machine learning to assess how drugs bind with proteins.


Promoting the Value in SC Participation

She also encouraged Jones to apply to be a student volunteer at SC17 and he was accepted. And once a student is accepted, she encourages him or her to make the most of the experience by meeting experts from around the world and learning about the latest methods and technologies. “The Mentor–Protégé Program is a good way to have someone who can explain the various parts of the conference and how to best use your time,” she said.


“I think one of the biggest benefits of attending is the networking opportunities the conference provides.” – Sally Ellingson


Sally Creates Student Volunteer Leads Program

At SC17, Ellingson created a new program, Student Volunteer Leads, which selected a small group of student volunteers to lead other groups of volunteers who were new to the conference. The leads gained experience in managing students, gained recognition for their efforts and were introduced to the larger conference planning committee. “Hopefully, they will be intrigued and possibly sign up for other roles in the future,” she said.

“It worked out super great and things went very smoothly with the leads,” Ellingson said. “It was such a huge success that we are grooming even more leads at SC18. It’s important for us to put the time and energy into the student programs because they represent the future of the conference and the future of the field.”


Jon Bashor is a respected leader within the HPC community. He is recently retired from Berkeley Lab after an esteemed 27 years of service to national labs.

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