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HBCU Center driving diversity and inclusion in quantum computing

17 Sep 2020

Benita Zazueta

The summer of 2020 will likely long be remembered as a tipping point for racial and social justice in the U.S., as protests against systemic racism and police brutality against the Black community swept across the country. These events have also served as a wake-up call to tech companies and other industries—they have a vital role to play in promoting equity in education and career opportunities.

IBM Quantum is answering this call through a new collaboration with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that will help prepare these students for careers in quantum computing. A nascent area of technology and business, quantum computing will benefit greatly from a diverse community of researchers, developers and businesses that can help advance the technology and identify commercial applications.

The new IBM-HBCU Quantum Center announced this week at IBM’s Quantum Summit is a multi-year investment that will bring together researchers and students across a network of 13 HBCUs. The program will provide these schools access to IBM quantum computers via the cloud, educational support for students learning to use the Qiskit open source software development framework, and funding for undergraduate and graduate research – all to create a more diverse quantum-ready workforce from students studying not just physics and chemistry, but computer science and business, and more. Students at the participating HBCUs will become familiar with this technology and have career options rooted in quantum computing.

IBM-HBCU Quantum Center Members

  • 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
  • Xavier University of Louisiana

The program’s research advisory board is composed of industry and academic leaders in the quantum computing and physics fields. Notably, the board features Black talent in the field at various levels of their careers.

IBM-HBCU Quantum Center Research Advisory Board

  • Abe Asfaw, Global Lead of Quantum Education & Open Science, IBM Quantum
  • Charles Brown, Postdoctoral Researcher, UC Berkeley
  • Reginald DesRosches, Howard Hughes Provost, Rice University
  • Serena Eley, Assistant Professor, Colorado School of Mines
  • Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow and VP of Quantum Computing, IBM Quantum
  • Boubacar Kanté, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley
  • Donnell Walton, Director of the Corning Technology Center Silicon Valley, Corning Incorporated
  • James Whitfield, Assistant Professor, Dartmouth
  • Bill Wilson, Executive Director, Harvard Center of Nanoscale Systems

Preparing HBCUs for the quantum workforce

HBCUs were founded on the belief that every individual deserves access to higher education. They have played a critical role in the development of Black professionals. HBCUs educate 27 percent1 of African American graduates with STEM degrees. In addition, these institutions are the origin of almost 30 percent2 of Black graduates of science and engineering doctorate programs. These numbers, along with the recent American Institute of Physics’ TEAM-UP report highlights how HBCUs are successful at supporting students and their increasing importance in physics education.

The power of community

As graduates of HBCUs, and members of the IBM Quantum team, we have a special appreciation for the culture and community that HBCUs provide long after graduation. Our primary goal for the Center is to create a space for students and faculty of these institutions to learn about this new and exciting technology that fosters a sense of belonging, which is often absent in higher education and STEM. Our goal at IBM is to enable and empower undergraduate students to drive the events, activities, and research in the program.

The Center’s second goal is to provide undergraduate and graduate research opportunities. IBM Quantum is taking an active role to ensure that quantum education and open science is designed for everyone. Part of this effort entails providing diverse communities with opportunities. Ultimately, this will increase the number of Black students educated in Quantum Information Science and Engineering (QISE), while also strengthening faculty QISE research efforts at HBCUs.

The third goal is to connect talent to the quantum research community. Our team is building a platform to showcase research activities and accomplishments that includes mentoring, championing, and sponsoring quantum journeys from undergraduates and up through graduate fellowship programs. The program will provide opportunities for scholarships, fellowships, and internships for HBCU undergraduate and graduate students.

As a part of IBM’s commitment, the Center is establishing an infrastructure that includes program managers from IBM and Howard University as well as alignment with existing HBCU programs to help ensure the success of the new IBM-HBCU Quantum Center.

Accessible technology for a path to inclusion

The IBM Quantum team is optimally positioned to have a positive impact on HBCUs and other diverse communities. IBM’s quantum research and development prioritizes diversity through our quantum education and open science strategy, leveraging of open source for the Qiskit framework, and offering access to real quantum hardware on the IBM Cloud.

IBM is already working in a number of ways to ensure quantum computing is open and accessible. We launched our Quantum Educators Program in July enabling educators to reserve time on our quantum systems for their educational activities and giving priority access to our systems without any cost. Recently, we hosted the Qiskit Global Summer School, a virtual two-week event designed to empower the next generation of quantum scientists and developers around the world with the knowledge to write quantum applications on their own.

Early touchpoints with new technology, like quantum computing, help increase the likelihood of capturing interest in the subject and is critical for underrepresented communities. The new center offers a pathway to quantum computing resources and a platform to enable students to demonstrate their abilities in a way that helps connect Black talent with the larger quantum research community.

For more about IBM’s investment in HBCUs, read Quantum Center part of broader HBCU investment, including additional $100Min Skills Academy technology, assets, resources and skills development


  1. White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. (2016, March 16). FACT SHEET: Spurring African-American STEM Degree Completion. Higher Education Today.

  2. Fiegener, M. K. Proudfoot, S. L. (2013, April). Baccalaureate Origins of U.S.-trained S&E Doctorate Recipients. NCSES.


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