Marisa Brazil is an outreach and engagement professional within the higher education research community promoting advanced computing resources to enable education and accelerate scientific discovery.
Marisa is the Associate Director of Outreach and Community Engagement within the Research Computing department and a Research Technology Office leadership team member at Arizona State University (ASU). Marisa’s role is to create and facilitate relationships and collaborations between Research Computing and the ASU research community and more broadly at the state, regional, and national level, and connect researchers to the appropriate advanced cyberinfrastructure resources to help them accomplish their research goals.
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Marisa actively engages in many research computing and data communities on behalf of ASU. She has held several volunteer roles within the Supercomputing conference series, the Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing (PEARC) conference series, the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC), the Campus Champions, and the Women in HPC (WHPC) international organization, including appointment of member-at-large of the PEARC Conference Steering Committee.
Marisa possesses a long-held interest in advocating for and bringing awareness to the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the technology field and has spent the latter part of her career supporting this effort in the research computing and data field. She is currently serving as the current WHPC Chapter Chair for the Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium (RMACC), PEARC 21 DEI Chair, and she is a past co-Chair of the Purdue University WHPC Chapter.
Marisa received her B.A. in International Relations from the American University and her M.A. in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from Arizona State University. Before joining ASU, Marisa worked at various higher education and nonprofit institutions, including Purdue University, George Washington University, the National Education Association, the IEEE Computer Society, and the American Heart Association.
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I have always loved the word “serendipity” and when I reflect back on how I started in the HPC field, I like to say it was a serendipitous turn of events that led me here.
I moved to Arizona from Washington, DC in late 2007. I had previously worked at a variety of nonprofit organizations as well as George Washington University. I loved working in academia and knew that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. I applied for jobs at Arizona State University (ASU) and interviewed for a few, but they weren’t the right fit for one reason or another. My serendipitous moment occurred when a member of an interview committee mentioned that another department was hiring and that it might be a good way for me to get my foot in the door. I later received a call from the HPC Director asking if I was interested in applying for a vacant role in that department. I applied and was hired – that was in April 2008. Over the almost 10 years that I was at ASU, I was promoted into new roles with increasing responsibilities. I also pursued my graduate degree while working full-time, ultimately receiving my Masters in Nonprofit Management in 2011.
During my time at ASU, I was immersed in the world of HPC at a local, institutional level. I acquired a basic understanding of HPC and led the communication and outreach efforts for the department (along with finance, human resources, training, etc. because we were a small team, and I was the only non-technical member of our staff). I often joked that my job was to take HPC and break it down into terms that the average person could understand. Little did I know just how truly important that skill is.
Over time it became clear to me that I had created a small niche for myself in HPC and I wanted to see how I could apply my passion for working with people and working toward some sort of “greater good” to my growing career in HPC. My interaction with the broader community was limited to attending the Supercomputing Conference once a year, which was a frustrating and daunting experience back then. I didn’t know about Women in HPC and when I looked around the conference, almost no one looked like me. I felt out of place and uncomfortable. However, at one of those Supercomputing Conferences, I happened to run into a colleague I had met at another meeting and we started chatting. I expressed that I felt like I needed to do something to shake up my career and further develop my niche – or leave the HPC field altogether. He suggested that we sit down and talk the next day. That was my second serendipitous moment in my HPC career.
I left ASU for a few years to pursue an opportunity at Purdue University’s research computing department while also coordinating the XSEDE Campus Champions program. This was a major turning point in my HPC career. It broadened my horizons, exposed me to new communities and institutions, and I learned so much more about the research computing and data national community. I also met so many wonderful people along the way – friends, role models, male allies, and mentors. I was presented with exciting opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities within the community, which also were very impactful for my career.
When I was approached about returning to ASU’s research computing department, I knew that this was my dream role. It was brand new, it was a leadership role, and I would have the opportunity to really define what the role would be. It was essentially what I had spent my career working towards.
Ultimately, these experiences helped me realize that there IS a place for me in the research computing and data community, as an individual from a nontraditional background/discipline and as a woman. I finally feel that I belong. More than that – it made me realize that my non-technical communication, outreach, and yes, people skills, are very valuable to this community and that I have so much to offer.
Learn more about our other HPC Heavy Hitters:
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Carol X. Song
Ohio Supercomputer Center