Scientific Computing at Penn

As technical, environmental, economic and social challenges become more complex, engineers must prepare to meet the increasing demands of their profession. A graduate education that fuses scientific inquiry with practical application of knowledge isn't enough. Instead, leading professional practice programs, like the degrees offered within the Penn Engineering master's program, combine collaborative engagement with instruction from industry-experienced faculty in order to help professionals advance their problem-solving and leadership capabilities.

"I want to pursue a career in bioinformatics and apply data analysis and predictive modeling in a clinical setting," says Francine (Frankie) Leech. "Learning from accomplished, passionate professors along with professionals from diverse backgrounds is essential to achieving my goals."

Leech is one of eight in a cohort enrolled in the School's newest master's degree offering in Scientific Computing. This degree provides a rigorous computational foundation designed to help engineers, scientists, mathematicians or computer scientists learn advanced numerical methods, algorithm development for highperformance computational platforms, and the analysis of large datasets.

"Frankie is a great fit for the Scientific Computing degree, which gives students the flexibility to specialize in different computational science application areas," remarks Talid Sinno, professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) and director of the master's in Scientific Computing. "We're the right choice for those who value being part of a program that is forward-leaning to the point of being somewhat experimental."

Leech is starting her master's coursework while simultaneously finishing her last year in undergraduate biology classes at Bryn Mawr College, making her part of an increasing number of current undergraduate students opting to take advantage of Penn Engineering's submatriculation program option. "I'm a peer mentor at Bryn Mawr and tell everyone about the great opportunity in the submatriculation program at Penn Engineering," she says. She finds that Scientific Computing melds her two biggest interests: math and biology. "I want to apply the quantitative methods from the program to unravel unanswered questions in biological systems," notes Leech.


Key to achieving those goals is her involvement with the Penn Institute for Computational Science (PICS), also a part of her graduate degree program. PICS serves as a home for a diverse group of researchers who leverage high-performance computing to study complex systems.

"Scientific Computing master's students participate in PICS via technical, hands-on workshops, weekly symposia featuring speakers from across the nation and an annual conference where they hear from researchers who are leaders in diverse topics related to scientific computing," explains PICS director David J. Srolovitz, the inaugural Joseph Bordogna Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, who holds joint appointments in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. "At PICS, people from different disciplines collaborate to develop unique approaches to problem solving, which is an integral part of graduate training."

Leech's master's degree will position her and her cohort members as leading candidates for some of the most in-demand jobs requiring advanced computing, modeling and simulation. Graduates could use their skills in a wide range of careers, such as predicting a new drug's side effects, designing advanced security technology, identifying what controls the manufacturing yields in the microelectronics industry, or testing safety features in new equipment designs. "Our goal is to train scientific analysts who are well versed in science and engineering and who can tackle modern problems that require sophisticated computational tools," says Sinno.


The Scientific Computing degree is one of 15 master's degrees currently offered by Penn Engineering. Each is grounded in up-to-the-minute research findings and the needs of industry and society.

"In this way, we stay responsive to the career and personal interests of our students, as well as the needs of today's high-tech world and economy," says Jan Van der Spiegel, associate dean of professional programs and director for undergraduate advising. Students are attracted to Penn Engineering's master's program for its rigor, interdisciplinary approach, project-oriented courses and opportunities for involvement in advanced research. "We resonate with those just starting careers, those who want to advance their careers and those professionals who are interested in crossing careers," notes Van der Spiegel, also professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering.

Carefully developed curricular offerings have increased interest in Penn Engineering's master's degrees since the program's inception. Hundreds of applications are received annually for limited cohorts in each of the program's degrees. "We try to keep the cohorts small, which has made our program, overall, more and more competitive," he adds.

A sense of community is also a distinct difference that appeals to students like Leech. "I especially appreciate the small, personalized experience," she states. "We all have different backgrounds and are at different points in our career development, and sharing resources and encouraging each other is the norm."

In order to attract the most forward-thinking candidates and respond to prospective student interest in an innovative advanced degree program, the master's program offers two additional benefits: the aforementioned submatriculation program, which attracted Leech to Penn Engineering, and a dual-degree program option. "Our dual-degree programs offer admitted students training in both engineering and computer science along with their MBA from The Wharton School or JD from Penn Law," says Van der Spiegel.

The proof of success of any educational program is what happens after its students graduate, and the engineering master's program has plenty of impressive proof points. "Our graduates are highly sought after by employers, government organizations and academia," he continues.

"We have an alumni presence now in world-renowned companies like Google, Oracle and Facebook; on Wall Street at institutions like Bloomberg and Morgan Stanley; in medicine, transportation and energy; at Penn or other top universities pursuing doctorates; and as successful entrepreneurs. We're preparing professionals who have the ability to take the lead in developing workable solutions to the complex problems of today and tomorrow."

View the original article in Penn Engineering magazine "Scientific Computing at Penn" by Amy Biemiller.

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