Internship Program for HBCU Students in Developing Federated Identity Management Applications

2021–22 Program Details HBCU Mali/Uganda Intern Profiles

Research Data and Communication Technologies (RDCT) invites students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to apply to participate in its 2021-2022 Internship Program.

Interns will develop software to support federated identity management (FIM), a system crucial to fostering and supporting sustainable, global scientific research. This paid opportunity spans up to two semesters beginning in Fall 2021 and offers students the chance to present their work at an industry conference.

Learn more about the 2021-2022 Internship Program for HBCUs.

Internship applications are due August 15, 2021.

Why focus on federated identity management?

FIM is fast becoming an essential part of international scientific research because it allows education networks, research organizations, and universities to quickly and securely authenticate their users, particularly on cloud platforms.

Case in point: the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIAID, a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has the dual mandate of conducting research while simultaneously responding to pathogen outbreaks around the world. It maintains international research centers on multiple continents and engages in a vast number of international collaborations and sponsored research projects. Pre-positioning laboratories and funded researchers in multiple countries is critical to NIAID’s ability to fulfill its mission; however, their geographic dispersion intensifies the need for scientists to work together using online and cloud-based platforms.

One of the ways that NIAID is working to achieve easier collaboration and secure access to research tools is by improving the quality of the electronic credentials available to researchers. These credentials are difficult to obtain and use for researchers working at institutions in low- and middle-income countries, like many of those on the African continent. Yet because these researchers often are on the front lines of pathogen outbreaks, NIAID relies on them to develop the needed protocols, so creating secure access to resources is an urgent and ongoing need.

Building secure networks to enable global research

The Office of Cyber Infrastructure and Computational Biology (OCICB), a department within NIAID, works to expand the ability of investigators and their teams to work with the NIH and the global research community.

In 2019 and 2020, the OCICB co-sponsored workshops on federated identity management for research in East Africa. These workshops used UbuntuNet, a regional research and education network created by the European Commission’s AfricaConnect program to build trust federations in East and Southern Africa that researchers can use for institutional identity on the internet. (WACREN, another network created by the European Commission’s AfricaConnect Program, serves West and Central Africa.)

The two- and five-day workshops introduced participants to the concept of maintaining a local person registry that integrates parts of a university to ensure that the institution can provide a single identity to external and collaborating organizations like the NIAID. Agencies, foundations, publishers, and service providers need to know that university staff and faculty identities are accurate and authoritative.

Since many of these institutions of higher education operate with limited resources, the tools covered in the workshops were all open source, including SimpleSAMLphp, COmanage, OpenLDAP, FreeRADIUS, and Shibboleth. These tools provide the building blocks for an institution to deliver a researcher’s identity to the NIAID Discovery and Collaboration Platform. They also deliver many other services like Globus, ORCID, LIGO, and eduroam needed by scientists around the world.

Local partners like UbuntuNET and RENU provided the virtual infrastructure needed to give workshop participants real experience in configuring the virtual machines and containers running the software. The hands-on experience led several of the institutions to subsequently expand their services for federated identity, particularly by supporting eduroam. This service, launched and maintained by the European regional research and education network Geant, provides highly secure wireless connectivity to students and faculty around the world. African researchers and their trainees can now visit any of more than 7,000 institutions of higher learning and research centers and instantly have access to secure WiFi to begin collaborating and learning using the credentials from their home university.

The NIAID effort has contributed to federations in South Africa, Uganda, Zambia -- three countries with extensive research sponsored by the NIAID -- and will soon include Malawi. This identity infrastructure will greatly help academic researchers work with the NIH, collaborate with researchers in other countries, and access online publishers.

RDCT interns will contribute to future research

RDCT has supported the U.S. federal government, the private sector, and academic researchers in identifying the best and most secure solutions for their information and data processing needs since 2004, including partnering with NIAID and collaborators throughout the African continent.

Students who intern with RDCT contribute to these projects and present their work at a future conference, helping to build the body of knowledge used throughout the world. In short: they have a lasting impact on the future of scientific discovery. Learn more and apply.

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