The IBM-HBCU Quantum Center was launched last September, with 13 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as the founding members. The goal of the center was to advance quantum information science at these institutions, as well as to promote STEM-based education more broadly for traditionally underrepresented communities.
Today, it’s been announced that another ten HBCUs have been added to the initiative, a multi-year investment focused on physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and other STEM fields at participating HBCUs. The Quantum Center venture comes in addition to IBM announcing its plans to invest $100 million in technology, assets, resources and skills development for several other HBCUs through the IBM Skills Academy Academic Initiative.
The new schools (in alphabetical order) are:
They join the 13 HBCUs included in last September’s launch: Albany State University, Clark Atlanta University, Coppin State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Southern University, Texas Southern University, University of the Virgin Islands, Virginia Union University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.
At the time the partnership was announced last year, Carla Grant Pickens, Chief Global Diversity & Inclusion Officer for IBM, said, “We believe that in order to expand opportunity for diverse populations, we need a diverse talent pipeline of the next generation of tech leaders from HBCUs. Diversity and inclusion is what fuels innovation and students from HBCUs will be positioned to play a significant part of what will drive innovations for the future like quantum computing, cloud and artificial intelligence.”
In a blog describing this latest development for the center, several key faculty members who will have prominent roles in the project were identified. They include:
The IBM partnerships with the HBCUs is intended to increase the number of Black students educated in Quantum Information Science and Engineering (QISE), strengthening QISE research programs of HBCU faculty, and offering more scholarship, fellowships, and internships for HBCU undergraduate and graduate students interested in STEM careers.
The need for strengthening such opportunities is profound. Black and Latino students leave STEM majors at nearly twice the rate of white students, due largely to the lack of a support structure and access to resources, according to EAB, a Washington-based education research company. Partially as a consequence of that kind of leaky pipeline, Black professionals account for only 7% of the STEM workforce and Hispanics make up only 9%.
So IBM is taking aim at helping create supportive structures where the bulk of Black STEM graduates are educated – the HBCUs, which, according to U.S. Department of Education data, are responsible for 27% of the undergraduate STEM degrees awarded to Black graduates. In addition, a recent report from the National Science Foundation revealed that 21 of the top 50 institutions for educating African-American graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in science and engineering, are HBCUs.
IBM envisions quantum computing benefitting from a more diverse community of researchers and industry professionals. It intends to build the quantum workforce not just at HBCUs, but also at community colleges and other institutions that serve traditionally underrepresented communities in STEM. And it plans to measure the impact of the Center by tracking various metrics, such as student engagement, talent and workforce development, and research capacity.
According to Dr. Kayla Lee, Growth Product Manager, Community Partnerships at IBM Quantum, herself a third-generation HBCU graduate and a driving force behind the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center, “Increasing quantum computing research opportunities for students and faculty is at the heart of the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center. At IBM, we’re proud to provide free access to quantum computers on the cloud and educational materials that make research easier and more accesible. Looking forward, I hope that we can leverage best practices from the Center to expand quantum engagement not only to more HBCUs, but also other Black and underrepresented communities in higher education.”
The IBM investment is a prime example of the renewed interest by business and private donors in boosting financial support for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Dozens of HBCUs received multi-million-dollar donations in 2020, occupying some of the philanthropic space that’s typically been the province for the nation’s most elite colleges.
Leading the list were MacKenzie Scott’s two tranches of donations to hundreds of organizations, totaling about six billion dollars, of which HBCUs collectively received over $500 million. But Ms. Scott’s gifts were not the end.
Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin donated a total of $120 million – $40 million each to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College.
Last September Michael R. Bloomberg announced his foundation would donate $100 million to four historically Black medical schools. The gift will benefit about 800 medical students at the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine; Howard University College of Medicine; Meharry Medical College; and Morehouse School of Medicine.
And Tik Tok, the social media platform, announced in December it was donating $10 million to 10 academic institutions serving underrepresented students with programs focused on public health and professions in the medical and healthcare fields. The majority of the institutions were HBCUs, with each receiving $1 million in scholarships for students pursuing medical careers or other health related fields.
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