Multi-institutional QuSTEAM initiative awarded $5 million from NSF to advance quantum science education

A multidisciplinary, multi-institutional program led by Ohio State is taking its next step in its aim to develop a diverse, effective and contemporary quantum-ready workforce by revolutionizing and creating more equitable pathways to quantum science education.

QuSTEAM: Convergence Undergraduate Education in Quantum Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, was awarded a $5 million cooperative agreement over a two-year period from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Convergence Accelerator. Following QuSTEAM’s initial assessment and needs-finding period, Phase I, the award will fund Phase II’s objective to build transformative, modular quantum science degree and certification programs.

“NSF’s Convergence Accelerator is focused on accelerating solutions toward societal impact. Within three years, funded teams are to deliver high-impact results, which is fast for product development,” said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. “During Phase II, QuSTEAM and nine other 2020 cohort teams will participate in an Idea-to-Market curriculum to assist them in developing their solution further and to create a sustainability plan to ensure the effort provides a positive impact beyond NSF funding.” 

The rapidly evolving field of quantum information science will enable technological breakthroughs and have far-reaching economic and societal impacts — what researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology refer to as the second quantum revolution. Ohio State recently joined the Chicago Quantum Exchange as its first regional partner, and the CQE is also a partner on the QuSTEAM grant.

"QuSTEAM is a great example of how universities and industry can work together to build the foundation for a strong, diverse workforce," said David Awschalom, the director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago, senior scientist at Argonne, and director of Q-NEXT, a Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Center. "Innovations in this field require us to provide broadly accessible quantum education, and QuSTEAM represents an ambitious approach to training in quantum engineering."

Unlocking that potential, however, also requires a foundational shift in teaching and growing a quantum-literate workforce. QuSTEAM brings together scientists and educators from over 20 universities, national laboratories, community colleges, and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to develop a research-based quantum education curriculum and prepare the next generation of quantum information scientists and engineers. It also includes an effort to broaden in participation by engaging students with quantum science and the arts.

The initiative also has over 14 industrial partners, including GE Research and Honda and several Chicago Quantum Exchange corporate partners: IBM Quantum,  JPMorgan Chase, Quantum Opus, Quantum Design Inc., Toptica, and qBraid.

The initiative also collaborates with leading national organizations such as the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), and national research centers, including the U.S. Department of Energy National Quantum Information Science Research Centers led by Argonne National Laboratory, Q-NEXT, and the HQAN NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute, to help provide a holistic portrait of future workforce needs.

“We have leaders in quantum information and STEM education, and both of these groups independently do good work building undergraduate curriculum, but they actually work together surprisingly rarely,” said QuSTEAM lead investigator Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin, professor in the Department of Physics at Ohio State. “We are talking to people in industry and academia about what aspects of quantum information are most critical, what skills are needed, what workforce training looks like today and what they expect it to look like a couple years from now.”

“We feel strongly about the need for redesigning quantum science education, which is the objective of QuSTEAM,” said Dr. Marco Pistoia, Head of the Future Lab for Applied Research and Engineering (FLARE) at JPMorgan Chase.  “The complexity of the quantum computing stack is enabling the creation of many new job opportunities.  It is crucial for quantum curricula nationwide to collectively support this multiplicity of needs, but for this to happen, quantum scientists and engineers must have the proper training.  We are very excited to see the impact of QuSTEAM’s work in the near and long term, considering finance is predicted to be the first industry sector to start realizing significant value from quantum computing.”

QuSTEAM is headed by five Midwestern universities: lead institution Ohio State, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, all of which have partnered with local community colleges and regional partners with established transfer pipelines to engage underrepresented student populations. In Chicago, this includes a partnership to build a quantum educational curriculum with faculty at the City Colleges of Chicago.

The group is also collaborating with the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center to recruit faculty from its network of over 20 partner colleges and universities, as well as Argonne National Laboratory. In all, the QuSTEAM team is comprised of 66 faculty who share expertise in quantum information science and engineering, creative arts and social sciences, and education research.

"The QuSTEAM partnership is in synergy with the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center's strategic plan to engage HBCU students and faculty in the process of enhancing the diversity of the quantum workforce, said Raymond Samuel, professor of biology at North Carolina A&T and director of the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center Education Working Group. “The participation of faculty members from 12 HBCUs in the QISE undergraduate course development will ensure our students reap immediate benefits from this undertaking."

To best develop a quantum-ready workforce, QuSTEAM identified the establishment of a common and modular template for an undergraduate minor and associate certificate programs as the near-term priority. The team will build curricula consisting of in-person, online and hybrid courses for these degree and certification programs — including initial offerings of the critical classes and modules at the respective universities while continuing to assess evolving workforce needs. QuSTEAM plans to begin offering classes in spring 2022, with a full slate of core classes for a minor during the 2022-2023 academic year. The modular QuSTEAM curriculum will provide educational opportunities for two- and four-year institutions, minority-serving institutions, and industry, while confronting and dismantling longstanding biases in STEM education.

“If we want to increase diversity in quantum science, we need to really engage meaningfully with community colleges, minority serving institutions and other small colleges and universities,” Johnston-Halperin said. “The traditional STEM model builds a program at an elite, R1 university and then allows the content to diffuse out from there. But historically this means designing it for a specific subset of students, and everything else is going to be a retrofit. That’s just never as effective.”

QuSTEAM is one of 10 teams selected for two-year, $5 million Phase II funding as part the NSF Convergence Accelerator 2020 Cohort, which supports efforts to fast-track transitions from basic research and discovery into practice, and seeks to address national-scale societal challenges. With this funding, QuSTEAM will address the challenge of developing a strong national quantum workforce by instituting high-quality, engaging courses and educational tracks that allow for students of all backgrounds and interests to choose multiple paths of scholarship.