Beth McKown, office administrator at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, has been with the UI for 29 years.
She started in August of 1980 as a clerk/typist II at what was then the English as a second language department and then moved to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences briefly before finally landing at NCSA.
A self-described “townie,” McKown’s family farmed in the Sidney-Philo area before moving to Urbana, where she graduated from high school.
She now lives in Champaign with her husband; they have two children and a grandson.
Tell me about your job.
I help support the NCSA director’s office, which includes scheduling meetings with people whose availability is hard to come by, plan the director and executive director’s travel, get important paperwork signed and answer the phones. I also manage a continuing flow of dignitaries, business leaders and scientists from around the world who come to NCSA on a daily basis.
Basically, I help the office run smoothly so the director and executive director can get to their appointments on time and meet their deadlines.
What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
The diversity of what I do and what I get exposed to is exciting.
My typical day here is pretty crazy and challenging, but I enjoy working with all the people I come in contact with, both on-campus and off-campus. Not only do I deal with the NCSA staff members, and other campus departments, I also have a lot of contact with government officials, the National Science Foundation, other universities and with our partners. So there’s a broad range of people I come in contact with, all of whom have different and challenging questions.
Do you like technology? Have you learned a lot from working at NCSA?
Yes, absolutely. NCSA is a cool place to work, and it’s just amazing to think about everything we do. The data visualization projects that we work on are really exciting. It’s great to see all the data that can be used and put into our visualization projects. Tornado data, for example, is a lot easier to understand when it’s a picture than when it’s just raw numbers.
Everyone here is really excited about Blue Waters, which is an NCSA and UI collaboration where we partner with the National Science Foundation and IBM to house a new supercomputer that will deliver 1 quadrillion (or 1,000 trillion) calculations every second. In computer-ese, that’s also known as one petaflop, which is the number one followed by 15 zeroes. At its fastest, we’re talking about something that’s four times faster than the fastest computer in the world.
The building itself is being built right now at the corner of Oak Street and St. Mary’s Road. Just like the other NCSA supercomputers, Blue Waters will be available to scientists and engineers across the country and around the world for non-classified research.
It’s just an exciting place to work.
What do you like to do off the job?
I’m a motorcycle rider. I own a 1999 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide and ride it to work most days, weather-permitting. My husband and I go out riding with friends on the weekends when the weather gets warm.
I also like to do a little flower gardening. But I enjoy spending time with family and friends.
What’s the longest motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
We took a ride down to Tennessee. That was the longest, and probably the most fun. Usually, though, we just take trips along scenic country roads. Now that my kids are grown up, there’s no time limit, so we can take a long, leisurely ride and be gone all day.
How did you learn to ride?
My husband, but I also took the UI motorcycle class. That’s really a great class, and it really helped me. I was a rider for a long time before I was a driver. Eventually, I wanted to see what it was like as a driver. So the class really helped me get my confidence up to be a driver.