Aug 21, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
Blake Fleischer is on a mission to give back to public education. As a research scientist with the Office of Information Technology (OIT)’s Partnership for Advanced Computing Environment (PACE), he devotes time outside Tech to teach kids about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); high performance computing; and coding.
“It is definitely something I feel passionately about and I think is important,” says Fleischer. He speaks reverently about his own experience in being the recipient of giving. “For me, the motivation for talking to these students is rooted in giving back to the community. Having gone to school at Tech, I think it is important to give back because the state helps fund education at Tech. It’s a great chance to meet with kids and try to inspire them to think about STEM careers, especially given the high demand.”
Fleischer earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Tech in 2016 and began working with OIT as a graduate student in 2013.
When explaining technology such as high performance computing to middle and high school students, Fleischer ties the subject to things they already understand, such as smartphone apps.
“It’s really hard to be a math teacher when the kids are asking, ‘When are we going to use this?’ Even at schools with a STEM focus, students are questioning why math like calculus matters. They will say, ‘Well, we’re never going to use calculus.’ And I reply, ‘Have you ever seen a curved surface on a boat or airplane? That’s calculus.’”
Fleischer says that providing a snapshot of what careers in STEM look like and how the students can get more involved at their age makes it more accessible to them, giving them a better chance at turning their interests into a career.
“Coding is becoming more common in the workforce today, so it is an important skill to start learning,” he said.
Fleischer takes the same approach when talking about high performance computing. He says most people see supercomputers depicted in movies as big governmental rooms housing towers of computers. When he speaks to students, he finds the topic is more accessible when broken down.
“Let’s say you have a really big problem that you want to solve and you divide it into all these little pieces,” he said. “When you put each piece on a separate but connected computer, they all can work on the same problem together to solve the problem much more quickly. That’s the essence of a supercomputer.”
Fleischer also uses real scenarios from his work with Georgia Tech research to inspire and motivate the young students.
“I talk about some of the big problems we solve here at Tech,” he said. “For instance, we are now part of the [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] LIGO gravitational waves project, running computations on our clusters at the Tech campus. My background in chemistry allows me to interface with researchers and the administrators maintaining the systems to make sure things are functioning. Having an understanding of both the science and the computational toolset here at PACE helps researchers make the most of the incredible resources we have at Georgia Tech.”
Faculty can come to PACE with a research problem and a desire to use a particular computing tool but may not want to deal with the subtleties of maintenance and optimization. PACE provides the technical expertise to allow researchers to focus on the specifics of the science and engineering.
“We’re all about enabling research,” Fleischer said.
He takes the concept of “creating the next” directly to students in the community. For Fleischer, it is important to give kids a sense of what else is out there and how much larger the picture is than what they are used to seeing.
“That gives them a sense of where they could go to create the next,” he said.