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UW’s Industrial Affiliates Program Garners Microsoft as Partner

November 14, 2014
man standing in front of computer server
Troy Axthelm of Cody, a UW master’s student in computer science, places a hard drive in a management server in Mount Moran, the nickname for UW’s Advanced Research Computing Center (ARCC). As part of a research project with Microsoft, Axthelm received a graduate research assistantship funded by the software company. He is writing code for management servers that connect to the Data Plant at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne.

The University of Wyoming’s Department of Computer Science recently garnered a big name -- Microsoft -- to become a partner of its Industrial Affiliates Program.

The Industrial Affiliates Program links industrial and business partners with potential employees and UW faculty members. Forming these constructive relationships between industry and the department drastically reduces recruitment costs, while also developing a channel of communication among partners. Collectively, the mutual needs of business, industry and academia are supported.  

“Industrial affiliate members are important because they let you know how students they hired are doing and they provide curriculum feedback,” says James Caldwell, associate professor and head of the Department of Computer Science. “The job market for computer science students is so good that we can’t produce enough. We could probably graduate five times the students we do now and get them all jobs.”

Troy Axthelm, a UW master’s student from Cody majoring in computer science, received a graduate research assistantship from Microsoft as part of a research collaboration between Microsoft and the department. Axthelm serves as a systems administrator for the IT-Pac, which is akin to a shipping container that houses 200 computer servers. The Data Plant, located at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, is a zero-emission, green data center that is fueled by methane biogas. It allows UW to run high-performance computing and modeling applications from the Laramie campus.

“My task is writing (code) scripts for varying loads, which controls the amount of work done on each server, and for stress tests of how much computer nodes can handle,” Axthelm says while sitting at a computer in UW’s Information Technology Center. “What can it handle based on what the fuel cell can provide?”

Axthelm says the project has allowed him to take on a systems administration role in a real-world project; learn about multiple aspects of high-performance computing (HPC); collaborate with a large number of professionals across the nation; network and develop relationships with HPC institutions and hardware vendors nationwide; challenge him to develop HPC utilities to help with the experiments; learn to communicate HPC-related issues at a less technical level; and work with UW’s Advanced Research Computing Center (ARCC) team to see multiple areas of HPC and how different systems are managed.

“I am benefiting in so many ways,” Axthelm says. “It has been incredible what I’ve been able to do with this project.”

To join the Industrial Affiliates Program, the fee structure ranges from $500 annually for entrepreneurs and small companies to $10,000 annually for companies, such as Microsoft, with more than 500 employees.

“It’s (Microsoft) a $10,000 partnership. It really boosts our program funding,” Caldwell says.

Funds provided by affiliate members go toward excellence funds, or sources of money for things the department could not otherwise afford, Caldwell says. These activities include, but are not limited to: honoraria for outside speakers; support for student organizations such as the Association for Computing Machinery and the Cyber Defense Action League; sponsoring travel to conferences; programming, contests and other meetings; scholarships; paying for equipment upgrades in one of the engineering labs; and the annual affiliate meeting.

One of those conferences was the Computing Research Association’s Grand Cohort Workshop. The workshop supports female graduate students majoring in computer science. Two graduate students received funding to attend the conference and gain more computer science skills, Caldwell says.

Last year, the Affiliates Program took in $25,000 from its business partners, Caldwell says.

Other affiliate partners include American Express, Cheyenne Technologies, Gannett Peak Technical Services, GHX, Greenhouse Data, Handel Information Technologies, Medicine Bow Technologies and the Wyoming Business Council.

“The Industrial Affiliates Program is a way for the department to create relationships with businesses,” Caldwell says. “More and more, these types of (computer) jobs are available in Wyoming. More and more companies are hiring.”

Graduates of the department are well prepared for careers in areas associated with software design, networks and the Internet, computer programming, database design, artificial intelligence, management information systems and robotics.

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