Co-director of summer program for young girls travels extensively to promote STEM education programs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Feb 17, 2009) — 

Twenty years of toiling on high performance computing initiatives and in software engineering hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for a career working in math and science for Leslie Southern at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC).

YWSI logo

“For a number of women, including me, math, science, and technology are exciting and fun,” said Southern. “I enjoy sharing my interest in these areas with individuals of all ages, especially younger generations. For them, they get a sense of present and future opportunities and begin networking with peers and mentors.”

Southern recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to discuss OSC’s diversity programs in computing at a Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) community meeting in Charlotte Feb. 8-10, where she also was able to pick up on other participants’ best practices. As director of education and workforce development at OSC, Southern promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs statewide and nationally and co-chairs the center’s Young Women’s Summer Institute (YWSI).

Southern’s attendance at the BPC Community Meeting reinforces the NSF program’s academic, computing, and industry “alliances” aimed at significantly increasing the number of citizens receiving postsecondary degrees in the computing disciplines, with an emphasis on students from communities with longstanding underrepresentation in computing.

Also, a week before the Charlotte presentation, Southern spoke at the eTech Ohio Conference about the process by which YWSI was created to promote confidence in middle-school girls who exhibit an interest in science and math fields. She outlined the methodology for developing the STEM summer camp and the positive results, as exhibited in a longitudinal study of participants and their parents.

In its ninth year, YWSI ( is being held July 26-Aug. 1 at OSC’s facilities on the west campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus. The application deadline for the program is April 15.
YWSI was created to spark more interest among girls in math and science and to increase women’s participation in the science and technology fields, and in particular, information technology. YWSI also trains K-12 teachers in each summer program as project mentors, enhancing their professional expertise to undertake similar projects in their own classrooms.

Both Southern and OSC’s Shannon Schraegle, another YWSI co-director, lead the students and teachers in this weeklong program with specific project-learning milestones. Students take a field trip to a national scenic river, where they will measure the water quality through various chemical and environmental tests. Students examine first-hand the human impacts on biological systems and the importance of habitat to the systems’ survival.

The young women then learn to use OSC computers to analyze their data and compare their results to federal EPA data to determine the health of the watersheds. Finally, students are trained in the fundamentals of computer presentations and hear from prominent women about their exciting careers in math and science. Most importantly, these young students discover that science can be fun and hold exciting career possibilities.

OSC’s Ralph Regula School of Computational Science, of which YWSI is a part, operates across multiple stages of the academic pipeline to improve recruitment and retention of diverse student groups throughout the academic pipeline from middle school through the early faculty ranks.

To support the Ralph Regula’s School’s objectives, Southern develops and implements short- and long-term plans for computational science education and training. She oversees the progress and organization of materials for computational science and Blue Collar Computing initiatives, towards the goal of improving workforce development.

Southern fosters OSC relationships with state, national and international faculty and peers. She has led training activities for the Partnerships of Advanced Computational Services, and one of the biggest successes of that collaboration was an on-line course for MPI – a widely used standard for writing programs for parallel computing – that reached more than 20,000 students. She has also collaborated with academic and government personnel on Department of Defense Modernization Office activities.


The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) is a catalytic partner of Ohio universities and industries, providing a reliable high performance computing and high performance networking infrastructure for a diverse statewide/regional community including education, academic research, industry, and state government. OSC promotes and stimulates computational research and education in order to act as a key enabler for the state's aspirations in advanced technology, information systems, and advanced industries. For more, visit