Most of us remember a time before we had powerful computers that live in our pockets and go everywhere with us. If we wanted to do some computing, we had to physically go to a space that contained the appropriate computing systems to complete the tasks we desired. Teaching in the second decade of the 21st century brings many new opportunities (and even student demands) for making computing more accessible so students can better complete assignments and conduct research. With a Unidata Community Equipment Award grant (awarded in 2021), the Valpariaso University department of Geography & Meteorology was able to purchase a new server that has allowed us to transform the accessibility of our computing resources for students and which has greatly benefited their work and overall academic experience within our meteorology program.
Since spring of 2020, the Valparaiso University meteorology program has been transitioning to using Python as the departmental computing language; specifically by using and teaching Pythonic tools such as MetPy, Siphon, Xarray, Cartopy, Numpy, etc. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Unidata Program Center helped us establish educational JupyterHub instances on the NSF funded Jetstream platform, via the Unidata Science Gateway JupyterHub program. This program, which lets users access a Jupyter Lab environment with only a web browser and internet connection, made us think about the possibilities for how we could make it more convenient for students to access the needed computing resources to do their homework and research projects. In submitting an Equipment Award grant application, we hoped to be able to set up a local server running JupyterHub so that we could connect it to our local data and system repositories. This has now become a reality.
Since midway through the fall 2022 semester, our new server “Joanne” (named after Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology) has been live and available to our students. Students working on senior research projects immediately benefited from having a seamless working environment whether they were in our lab classroom and working remotely. During the spring 2023 semester, our freshman weather technology students are making ample use of the resource and making weather maps from their dorm rooms over the weekend. Additionally, our physical meteorology course is using the JupyterHub server in the classroom to actively demonstrate cloud physics and radiation principles outside our computer center.
Because we now have a resource that is more accessible from remote locations (e.g., dorm rooms, university library, coffee shops, etc.) there are fewer students in our computer lab, especially on the weekends. Our JupyterHub server has also increased students’ ability to just log on and make maps without having to make their way to a very specific campus resource. Additionally, students who have to be away from campus for any reason have a much easier time in keeping up with tasks that they normally would not have been able to do prior to this resource being available.
“The Joanne server has been one of the most useful tools during my undergraduate studies,” says Valparaiso senior Meteorology major Jackie Sepulveda. “It has made the Jupyter Lab environment so much more easily accessible to where I can work on projects and assignments in areas that aren't restricted to the shared department computer lab. I almost entirely use Joanne rather than the other computing software that Valpo has used prior to the server. Overall, Joanne truly allows for accessibility and ease in a time where both are a necessity.”
Unidata Community Equipment Award grants make funds available to colleges and universities to purchase equipment or cloud-based computing services that will enhance their participation in the Unidata program. For additional information on program, visit the Equipment Awards page.