Last summer, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the Office of Information Technology of Technology (OIT) a $995,500 grant to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta and Alabama to improve computing and networking for many institutions.
These upgrades are intended to take advantage of the research capabilities of these organizations through inter-enterprise tools and database sharing, stronger cloud connectivity and faster computing facilitation among other benefits.
The principal investigator (PI) on the grant proposal was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at OIT, Cas D’Angelo, who was very excited about the project, saying, “It has been a personal mission for me to make it happen.”
Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College of Medicine (MSM), Spelman College, Tuskegee University and the Robert W. Woodruff Library were included in the initial proposal by OIT.
Morehouse College, separate from MSM, was added to the list of scholarship recipients in a subsequent supplementary award.
With the exception of Tuskegee University, all of these entities belong to a historic and contiguous consortium of Southwest Atlanta African American higher education institutions called the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC).
D’Angelo cites the many benefits that come from connecting these institutions on the same high-speed network, stressing, “It can be a connection to a tool on another campus – so, there are all kinds of scientific tools out there on the network. It could be access to a data store. Is on another network. It can be get the account [computational resources] This is on another network.”
The benefits of these resources are not only aimed at researchers – science-based learning outcomes are also a target of these improved resources.
In addition to D’Angelo serving as the principal investigator for the project, each institution has a designated co-researcher: Charles Cooper of Clark Atlanta University, Reggie Brinson of MSM, John Wilson of Spelman College and Abraham George of Tuskegee University. Greg Pride serves as the respective staff of the Woodruff Library.
Whoever leads these organizations brings their employees to the project. In addition, for the project grant proposal, each participating institution also had to contribute at least one “science engine,” a specific researcher or educator working in the scientific field and able to describe specific ways their work could be enhanced through the network upgrades proposed in the grant.
D’Angelo estimates that “at the request of 10 science drivers were registered as part of the project,” and also said “there were more that we didn’t have room for.”
Those running the project intend to reconsider any notable scientific drivers, included in the proposal or not, and to follow up with them if their work has measurably benefited from the potential of the upgraded network.
Southern Crossroads, or SoX, is the technology-related network infrastructure engine in the southeastern United States, and cites that current network-supported participants are about two dozen higher education institutions and half a dozen other organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . SoX is serving as a private lead facilitator for this newly funded project.
Describing SoX in detail, D’Angelo said that “Southern Light Rail is the company, and SoX, or Southern Crossroads, is the project,” and that, “For all intents and purposes, Southern Crossroads is the majority of what Rail does, and Southern Light Rail does. It is a subsidiary of Georgia Tech.”
In addition to his position at OIT, D’Angelo is the current president of Southern Light Rail. The project is on a two-year timeline for completion.
“There’s an annual report back to the NSF every year of the project, and then there’s a final report when we close it,” D’Angelo said.
“The fiber infrastructure award will be delivered by Georgia Tech, because it benefits many different universities,” said D’Aneglo.
For equipment that goes to the campus itself, “funding for that goes to the participating researchers for the award,” D’Angelo said, referring to the previously mentioned individuals from the four schools that were initially included in the proposal, with Woodruff Library and Gary Morehouse College
It is customized differently.
“Due to some NSF restrictions on the number of sub-awardees we can get, we just had to put equipment for that into the Georgia Tech award, but the equipment would be installed on its campus and run for their benefit,” Angelou said.
Speaking about the member institutions of the AUC Consortium, D’Angelo said, “I’ve been trying to find a way to connect them to this network for a long time, so it’s been my personal mission to make it happen. I’m excited about it.”
More information about this initiative can be found at gtri.gatech.edu/hbcu.