Cook one of 11 students chosen worldwide

MSU Texas student receives prestigious computing fellowship

Leslie Cook, a computer science graduate student at Midwestern State University, has been awarded an Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing Computational & Data Science Fellowship. Only 11 students were chosen for the prestigious honor from applicants worldwide.

“I’m still in a bit of shock that I, of all the people that applied from any part of the world, was chosen as one of the SIGHPC recipients,” Cook said.

Cook was nominated by her research adviser, Associate Professor of Computer Science Eduardo Colmenares, and also recommended by Assistant Professor of Physics Preet Sharma. Colmenares said Cook’s curriculum, her accomplishments at MSU Texas, including her excellent grades, and participation in Colmenares’ High Performance Computing & Deep Learning Research Group and other research groups, helped her to secure the competitive fellowship. “In 2022 only 11 students from a pool of worldwide applicants were awarded the fellowship, some from larger Tier 1 institutions,” he said.

The fellowship includes a cash stipend of $15,000 renewable up to two additional years, a certificate commemorating the achievement, and travel support to the Supercomputing 2022 Conference held in November in Dallas for recognition during the conference awards ceremony. The conference is one of the most important HPC conferences worldwide, Colmenares said.

Cook said she couldn’t even begin to understand what the fellowship meant for her education, future career, and for herself personally. “As a single mother, the financial support of the fellowship is immeasurable. So I have a little more breathing room and ability to support my family with a little less student debt and stress while I finish my studies,” she said.

Cook is pursuing a master’s in Computer Science – after earning a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry – and being awarded the fellowship has given her confidence in the decision to alter her course. “The transition into a different field of study is not necessarily the easiest path one could take, but I certainly believe it was the right choice and this fellowship diminished any doubts I may have had before.”

Cook hopes the fellowship will open doors to more opportunities for a career. “I’m hoping to land an internship at one of the national laboratories that work with the Department of Energy and/or the Department of Defense this summer,” she said.

Colmenares said the news wasn’t only important for Cook but also for the university. “This is great news,” he said. “This accomplishment not only puts our department and university on the map, but also its name right next to some Tier 1 institutions.” Others who received the fellowship include students from larger institutions, including Brown University; University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus; University of Toronto; Tufts University; Northwestern University; University of California, Berkeley; Boston University; and universities in Australia and Germany.

As a non-traditional student who returned to college 12 years after graduating from high school and as a single mother, Cook hopes her accomplishments will inspire other women, mothers, and young people to never stop learning and growing, and pursuing their goals. “My hope is that I am able to inspire other women and mothers to pursue their dreams and be persistent; take up space and diversify STEM fields that are heavily male dominated so that we can be the change we want to see in the world,” she said.

Earlier this year, Cook was chosen for an internship with the National Institutes of Health, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in biomedical research. Cook interned with the Biomedical Informatics section of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Intramural Research Program, to help analyze over 20 years of patient medical data.

More information can be found about the ACM SIGHPC Computational and Data Science Fellowships on their website.

Leslie Cook in group photo

Leslie Cook (third from left) with other recipients of the ACM SIGHPC Computational & Data Science Fellowship. In feature photo above, Leslie Cook, computer science graduate student at Midwestern State University, was awarded an Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing Computational & Data Science Fellowship. Only 11 students were chosen for the prestigious honor from applicants worldwide.