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Kennedy High Graduates Get Hands-On Experience Working in Computing Sciences

January 10, 2014


Jose Sierra (left) and James Lee (Right). Photo by Margie Wylie, Berkeley Lab

From a connection that started between soccer parents, Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences organization has developed an ongoing outreach program with the IT Academy at Kennedy High School in Richmond. This summer, that connection led to summer jobs for three Kennedy graduates, giving them hands-on experience and a paycheck.

Jose Sierra, a 2011 graduate who is studying computer engineering at San Francisco State University and Contra Costa College, is a student assistant in the CRD computer support group, working on everything from laptops and desktops to servers. Kelly Saefong, who just graduated in June 2013 and is starting classes at Contra Costa College, has been migrating years of web news content as a member of the Computing Sciences Communications Group. Jeremy Ward, who graduated in 2011 and attends Contra Costa College, spent his third summer at the lab, this year working on programming projects as a member of the Operations Technology Group at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

The Kennedy connection began in 2010 when the CS Communications Group was looking for a school contact to invite students for a summer program to introduce students to careers in computing. Associate Lab Director Kathy Yelick’s daughter played soccer with the daughter of a Kennedy High computer science teacher and the link was made. Since then, CS staff have given career-related presentations and served as judges for student presentations at the school, Kennedy students have visited the Lab on field trips, and Communications Manager Jon Bashor is on the IT Academy Advisory Committee.

As a member of CRD’s support team, Sierra helps set up news systems, makes sure that loaner laptops are ready to use and takes assignments from James Lee.  Among his assignments, he has made fresh Linux installs on six servers and brought them back up and diagnosed and repaired a Linux box that kept shutting itself down. He’s proud of the job he did solving a problem with two MacBook Pros, in which the motherboard wasn’t reading the hard drive. “The problem was with a ribbon cable, so it was a $30 fix to keep a $1,300 laptop,” Sierra said.

The work here includes some of the basics he learned at the IT Academy, as well and new things he’s learning on the job.

“I love hardware – you get to take stuff apart and fix it,” he said. “Working here is really awesome and I’m grateful to be here. The people are really smart and really nice, and that helps a lot.”

Sierra is studying computer engineering and is interested in working on new hardware that both more powerful and more energy efficient. He admits that he needs the hands-on work and personal interactions as “I couldn’t sit all day at a computer.”

“Jose brings curiosity, enthusiasm, and a helpful attitude – he really conveys the sense that he's listening and understanding a problem before trying to fix it,” Lee said. “He learns fast, enjoys being challenged, and takes initiative, but isn't afraid to ask for help when he needs it. On top of that, his ‘deskside’ manner is excellent; he's friendly and courteous.”

Kelly Saefong

Since she began working at the lab in June, Saefong has spent a lot of time in front of her computer. With Computing Sciences’ move to a new content management system, Saefong has been moving about 10 years of archived news stories and newsletters from the old sites onto the new one.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Saefong, who finished her first semester in college, taking classes in business, English and sociology. “If an image catches my eye, I read the headlines and some of the story. I’m keeping a notebook of my favorite stories.”

In addition to moving the text, she’s also embedding images and videos, sometimes working with the vendor contractor to resolve issues. She’s also adding metadata tags and sidebars as she goes. When she comes to a sticking point, she adds it to a list and starts on another page. Then she works with CS web content coordinator Margie Wylie to solve the problems.

“Kelly has been a huge benefit to our web efforts,” said Wylie. “I can only hope she has gotten as much from her work here as we have.”

Over the past six months, she’s finding it easier to talk to other staff members and to ask for help when she needs it. “It’s helping me learn to communicate better, to ask for help and to be more of a problem-solver,” Saefong said. “Some students I know, when they get stuck they just can’t move on. I’m also learning to manage my time. I don’t find it boring at all.”

She has also helped with some administrative tasks, including the summer student program, and has gotten familiar with both the lab and campus.

“It was confusing at first – it’s like a giant maze, but I’ve learned my way around and even some shortcuts,” Saefong said. “ The view is wonderful – very relaxing.”

Saefong hopes to eventually transfer to Cal and occasionally spends her lunch hour walking about the school and environs.

One of the things that has impressed her is the lab’s commitment to the safety of employees. “I really appreciate the safety precautions and the health services that the lab has to offer,” said Saefong, who had an ergonomic evaluation of her workstation to ensure she wouldn’t aggravate a prior injury. “Even though it seems like there’s a lot of paperwork and training, it’s worth all the effort.”

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery. Researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.