As higher education institutions look to prepare graduates for an increasingly digitized workforce, IBM has put its focus on bolstering tech education and research at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) — with special attention to quantum computing.
South Carolina State University officials announced Monday that the university will join more than 20 other institutions as a member of the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center. Described by IBM as the nation’s first HBCU quantum computing research program, it was established in September 2020 with the aim of developing a diverse and inclusive workforce in the field. The partnership provides members with access to IBM quantum computers and other resources for education and research.
As explained on IBM’s website, quantum computing relies on the laws of quantum mechanics to make some computations faster than ordinary computers can. Whereas typical computing systems store and manipulate individual bits with information coded into binary 0 and 1 states, quantum computers use quantum mechanical properties — superimposition, entanglement and interference — to manipulate quantum bits, or qubits.
South Carolina State President James Clark said the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center initiative will help students gain new quantum computing skills and knowledge needed to compete in the workforce of tomorrow.
In addition to letting them access IBM quantum computers via the cloud, the program offers students educational support for learning to use Qiskit open-source software, as well as funding for undergraduate and graduate research. When the opportunity to team up with IBM was brought to his attention, Clark thought, “If you don’t make dust, you eat dust.”
“Quantum computing is going to be huge on the horizon,” he said. “Being on the leading edge out front means that you’re not getting left behind.”
Clark, who studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the partnership with IBM amounts to over $2 million in additional resources for the university. This, he said, will enhance computer science and IT course offerings to include quantum computing.
Through collaborating with IBM and gaining access to new tools such as these, Clark believes students will be able to leave the university with specialized knowledge that will help them pursue lucrative IT careers.
“Students need to come out proficient in knowing how to use the tools or develop the tools the world is going to need,” he said. “When a corporation looks at our students and their degrees, and they have additional experience in those areas, they are highly valuable.
“This [quantum computing] is something that’s evolving. The world hasn’t switched over 100 percent there, but what it makes possible is computing at another level of extraction and complexity,” he later added. “At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, and the right software by the right engineers is applied to the right problems, you can get faster solutions or deeper solutions that were otherwise not computable in a reasonable timeframe.”
The IBM-HBCU Quantum Center recently doubled its membership with 10 institutions: Alabama State University, Bowie State University, Delaware State University, Dillard University, Florida A&M University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina Central University, Tennessee State University and the University of the District of Columbia.
IBM Quantum Growth Product Manager Dr. Kayla Lee said the tech company is looking forward to working with students at institutions such as South Carolina State as part of a broad effort to bolster IT education and research in HBCUs.
Lee noted that IBM hopes to enhance institutions’ course offerings, with an emphasis on research collaboration in quantum information science for under-represented communities in STEM. According to a news release, the tech giant plans to invest $100 million through partnerships with additional HBCUs through the IBM Skills Academy academic initiative.
“We’re extremely excited to work with SC State, which already has a strong physics program,” Lee said in an email to Government Technology. “As a part of the Center, faculty [will] participate in research working groups and an invited seminar series, and students will have opportunities to gain research experience and work with like-minded peers.
“The ultimate goal is for the broader quantum community by including talent from HBCUs — both students and faculty — when they consider research and other collaborations.”
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