News Archive

CICORE Welcomes Melissa Floca to Its Team

Published December 14, 2021

Melissa Floca pictured earlier this month after being named the 2021 International Leader of the Year by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.  Photo courtesy of Melissa Floca

Last month, the Cyberinfrastructure and Convergence Research and Education Division (CICORE) at SDSC hired Melissa Floca as the Director of Strategic Partnerships to build cross-institutional and cross-sectoral alliances in support of societal-scale technological innovation.

“We are very excited to have Melissa ramp up our use-inspired research efforts involving diverse communities,” said CICORE Division Director Ilkay Altintas.

Floca is no stranger to an inclusive approach to the process of community-based problem-solving. She was named the 2021 International Leader of the Year this month by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce for her previous work at the UC San Diego Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, where she led initiatives focused on innovation and inclusion at the U.S.-Mexico border. Through her work on regional border issues, she has collaborated with a number of researchers at SDSC, including the WIFIRE team, led by Altintas.

Her responsibilities in this new position center around what the NSF identified in 2016 as one of the 10 Big Ideas for its future investments: convergence research. This type of research is driven by a specific and compelling problem solved through a process that includes integration across disciplines for the good of society.

“Convergence is the focus of this particular role and we want to be intentional about integrating innovative and sustainable solutions into society,” said Floca. “The foundation for all of the work that I will be doing is the idea of broadening participation and bringing underrepresented communities and individuals into our work, because any technological solutions that we build are only going to be as robust as the diversity of our collaborators.”

In her role as the inaugural Director of Strategic Partnerships, Floca will build partnerships with a focus on meeting societal challenges through translation of data and Cyberinfrastructure into practice.  Her approach is organized around four pillars:

  1. broadening participation of diverse individuals and organizations in defining challenges and developing solutions;
  2. bringing disciplines together to innovate;
  3. working with partners who can integrate solutions into existing systems across society and
  4. developing collaborations to create business models that are sustainable at scale.

“To be entirely laser-focused on partnerships for impact is really exciting to me,” said Floca.

Floca cited WIFIRE as a good example of convergence research that brings together partners from the fire management and fire science communities, as well as data scientists and the artificial intelligence community, to tackle the challenges posed by megafires that seasonally threaten the nation.

She also referenced her previous work on the challenges that face border communities in San Diego, Tijuana and beyond.

“Our location at the U.S.-Mexico border means that in our region we experience global challenges locally in a way that most places do not, from water resource-related challenges to supply chain disruptions or COVID-19. The border is a very rich learning laboratory for data-driven research, as well as data science-focused education and workforce development,” Floca said.

According to Altintas, SDSC has a wide range of expertise that can be applied to solve big societal challenges and train students in experiential settings involving real problems. “Melissa brings a unique experience at a time when our team is committed to scaling our convergence research activities,” she said.

Floca noted that there are increasingly urgent and complex societal challenges with few workable solutions and SDSC can play a pivotal role as a leader in scalable computing, artificial intelligence, and cyberinfrastructure.

“I’m looking forward to working alongside our PIs to build partnerships for impact at the societal scale. I can't think of any more important way to use my time,” said Floca.