Sloan Foundation funds two-year pilot open source program office at UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz, through generous funding from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, is creating an open source program office.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded Professor Carlos Maltzahn a $695,000 two-year grant aimed at establishing an open source program office (OSPO) that will serve the entire campus community. The new OSPO will be one of the first four in the United States to have such an office (John Hopkins, RIT, and Vermont are the others) and one of only two public universities.  

Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) are an organizational innovation developed initially by companies in the tech sector as a way to manage the relationships with open source software ecosystems of strategic importance to their business. The UC Santa Cruz OSPO, together with the three other offices, are adapting this OSPO concept to build on the missions of research universities of research, teaching, and public service. 

"We're extremely excited about the establishment of university open source program offices and their potential to legitimize and improve the development of open source software across the research enterprise," said Joshua Greenberg, director of the Sloan Foundation's technology program. "We're especially proud to support the establishment of an office at UC Santa Cruz. This work is being led by an accomplished team and represents an exciting development for the campus—as well as offering a blueprint for other UC schools."

The UC Santa Cruz OSPO will transcend the scope of Baskin Engineering’s Center for Research for Open Source Software (CROSS) but not replace it. CROSS will continue its education, research, and incubator programs, with an increased focus on the topics of interest of its industry sponsors. CROSS was started by Maltzahn in 2015 to bridge the gap between student work and successful open source projects. Since its establishment, CROSS has raised $2.6 million in industry funding. 

“By generously sponsoring CROSS, major corporations including Toshiba, Kioxia, Micron, SK Hynix, Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, and Fujitsu clearly signaled that industry-university research collaboration via open source strategies and techniques works,” observed Maltzahn. “Thanks to their engagement and Sloan Foundation’s funding, we now have an opportunity to significantly expand this collaboration in innovative ways.” 

As noted by Interim Vice Chancellor for Research John MacMillan, “The UCSC Office of Research will work closely with the OSPO team at cross-divisional and corporate engagement and help track funding of open source projects within the university. We are pleased that the Sloan Foundation chose to fund UC Santa Cruz’s efforts in open source  – making it the first UC campus with an OSPO. We think this pilot project will allow UC Santa Cruz to be a model for UC campuses and other public universities.”

As part of the Sloan Foundation award, the OSPO introduces a new incubator fellowship aimed at attracting postdoctoral scholars whose compelling and innovative open source research projects make them natural open source ambassadors to UC Santa Cruz. The OSPO will establish a teaching fellowship to encourage innovation in teaching students how to productively engage with open source projects.. The OSPO will also promote and track funding of open source research efforts to help estimate the value of open source to UC Santa Cruz and the UC system as a whole. 

The OSPO team, led by Maltzahn and CROSS Assistant Director Stephanie Lieggi, runs the Open Source Research Experience (OSRE) program, an exchange of summer project ideas that matches student contributors and sponsors with mentors working on open source research efforts. As part of the OSPO, the OSRE will be able to expand and engage mentors across UC campuses and associated national labs.

Maltzahn summarized: “The Open Source Research Experience is the kind of OSPO program we want: inclusive and easy to engage with, highly rewarding, scalable across multiple UC campuses, well-aligned with the goals and desires of stakeholders, and increasing in value with the number of contributors.” 

For more on the OSPO and how it works, check out the recent feature published by the Red Hat Research Quarterly.