Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) celebrated the grand opening of Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. The 65,536-square-foot building, located at 1025 N. Milwaukee St., was made possible with a $34 million gift from MSOE alumnus Dwight Diercks and his wife Dian and features an NVIDIA GPU-powered supercomputer. The gift was the largest MSOE has received from an alumnus.  

With its new B.S. in Computer Science degree focused on artificial intelligence and the supercomputer, MSOE is forging new frontiers in AI education. Unique to MSOE, the supercomputer will be available to undergraduate students, offering them the ability to apply their learning in a hands-on environment to prepare for their careers. Thanks to the university’s corporate partnerships, students will access this high performance computing to solve real-world problems in their course work.  

MSOE President John Walz and Dwight Diercks, senior vice president of software engineering at NVIDIA, were joined by Joel Brennan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration; Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett; and Dan Moceri, chairman of the MSOE Board of Regents, to make remarks during the ribbon cutting.  

Diercks made remarks and unveiled the supercomputer and its name, “Rosie.” Rosie is housed in a state-of-the-art datacenter on the second floor of Diercks Hall.  

Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA, delivered a keynote address entitled, “AI: The Most Powerful Technology Force of Our Time.” He discussed the rise of AI and how NVIDIA has reshaped its business around this force, across the fields of graphics, robotics, data centers and self-driving cars.  

Located in the heart of campus on Milwaukee Street, the building was designed with students and the community in mind by providing modern classrooms, innovative laboratories, an auditorium and spaces to support companies that partner with MSOE. Diercks Hall—and the courses taught within—position MSOE at the educational forefront in artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, cyber security, robotics, cloud computing and other next-generation technologies.  

More than $4 million has been contributed by several individuals and corporations to support long-term operations and maintenance of the facility.  

The Inspiration Behind Rosie

Rosie the supercomputer is powered by more than 100 of the most advanced NVIDIA GPUs. The name of this number-crunching behemoth was inspired by the women who programmed one of the earliest computers – the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) and captured in the documentary “Top Secret Rosies – The Female Computers of WWII.”   During World War II, the military hired six women as “computers” to calculate ballistics trajectories by hand. The job was time consuming so two male engineers—John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert—designed a machine to do it faster.  

The ENIAC was created in 1946. Programming the ENIAC was an intellectually demanding job that involved extensive preparation, planning, and then configuring wires on a machine stretching across a 50-by-30-foot room. At that time, only those six women were trained to use it. The team included Jean Jennings Bartik, who lead the development of computer storage and memory, and Frances Elizabeth Holberton, who created the first software application. Together these women laid the groundwork for future programmers and software engineers and were instrumental in teaching others to program after the war.  

With artificial intelligence computing, the magic of programming is done by the computer (Rosie) after the scientists and engineers feed it data. Like the days of the ENIAC, a modern Rosie is the secret behind the acceleration of AI for decades to come.  

About Dwight Diercks  

Dr. Dwight Diercks grew up in Red Wing, Minnesota, and earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering with a minor in business from MSOE in 1990. He also holds an Honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the university. The Diercks’ donation is the largest single gift given by an alumnus in the university’s 116-year history. Diercks became a member of the MSOE Corporation in 2002, joined the Board of Regents in 2005, was inducted to MSOE’s Alumni Wall of Fame in 2006, and received MSOE’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015.  

He joined NVIDIA in 1994, a year after its founding, as its 22nd employee and today serves as senior vice president of software engineering, overseeing more than 5,000 software employees.  

Based in Silicon Valley, NVIDIA is the inventor of the GPU (graphics processing unit), a high-performance processor that is fueling advancements in AI which impacts all areas of its business, including graphics, robotics, data centers and self-driving cars. The company, which had more than $11.7 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year, is a global leader in AI, supercomputing and visual computing.