The Supercomputing Challenge as a Marathon

Just as our knowledge of physiology and advanced physical training techniques have transformed the marathon from an elite event to one where thousands can participate, modern programming languages and educational insights have matured the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge from an elite programming contest for a select few to a computational science experience open to all. Easy-to-learn languages like StarLogo TNG and Net Logo make it possible for middle and high school students with little or no previous programming experience to build meaningful computer models.

At the same time, just as more experienced marathon runners have more techniques to rely on at race time, more advanced students may use languages like Java, Python, Mathematica and MatLab in their projects. Some of the best runners will complete the marathon in Netlogo shoes :-). Supercomputing Challenge participants can even use parallel computing techniques to build simulations while taking advantage of the powerful, multi-processor computers made available to them at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Teachers and mentors guide students through a series of benchmark activities to facilitate success. So, just as the completion rate in a modern marathon is over 90%, participants in this year's New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge are likely to enjoy the rewards and satisfaction of presenting their final projects in the spring.

The Supercomputing Challenge is an academic marathon. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced competitors. You run the course with supporters along the way. There are dates and milestones in the course to mark your progress. Your supporters are a teacher sponsor, the Consult team, the Challenge website, Monday Morning Messages, a project consultant or mentor, and your teammates.

Your goal at the end is to have a computational science project or a computer program for the April Expo. It takes a large amount of effort, hard work and focus. You need core strength, a solid base and the right running shoes for a marathon. For the Challenge you need to finish a computational project or a computer program, complete research, find a mentor and write reports while meeting deadlines throughout the year.

There is no magic for success. Rather, there is a sequence of milestones that make up the Challenge Year. The completion of each leads to the next success. Each one is more significant than the milestone before it. Success depends on your ability to stay focused on the current goal. Tangible goals or milestones start with an October Proposal followed by an Interim Report in December, then February project evaluations and in April, Final Reports and Expo.

How do you avoid those "nasty injuries" during the Challenge school year? The answers are learning time management, team building, and the use of mentors or project consultants. You can maintain the pace by taking advantage of the built-in Challenge supports. It is hard work to get to the finish line. Have confidence! You can do it. Challenge participants are running side-by-side; pushing one another and encouraging one another to complete the current stretch. You will make new friends, build your confidence and prepare yourself for more challenging scientific opportunities.

Stay on course and you will be proud of finishing the race!