UChicago to partner on transformative QuSTEAM quantum education initiative

With NSF funding, Midwestern universities will develop curricula, build more inclusive field

A group of scientists from five universities across the Midwest, including the University of Chicago, will lead an effort to redesign quantum science education—working with industry and national laboratories to develop a diverse, capable and effective quantum workforce. 

The rapidly evolving field of quantum information science will enable transformative technologies that will have significant impact on our economy and society. Reaching that promise, however, requires developing a workforce that can meet the existing and growing demand for skilled workers across the communications, optics, computing and materials industries. 

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the new multi-institutional program—called QuSTEAM: Convergent Undergraduate Education in Quantum Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics—aims to change how quantum information science and technology is taught throughout the United States. 

“Quantum information science is a shift in the way technology works,” said Ohio State University physicist Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin, lead investigator on the project. “That requires a fundamentally different skillset and knowledge base than a traditional STEM degree offers, and as a result, we need a new educational approach for training a quantum-ready workforce.”

“We are fortunate to have this opportunity to build nationwide curricula for future quantum scientists and engineers from the ground up,” said David Awschalom, a QuSTEAM co-principal investigator and the Liew Family Professor in Quantum Engineering and Physics at UChicago. “Doing so will enable us to develop a teaching and learning environment that attracts new students to the area by focusing on field-leading innovations and societal impact from the outset, a paradigm shift from most STEM programs.” 

Awschalom is also a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

QuSTEAM is part of the 2020 cohort of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, which supports use-inspired and team-based efforts to fast-track transitions from basic research and discovery into practice. The QuSTEAM team consists of 19 faculty members from Ohio State, UChicago, Michigan State University, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. QuSTEAM has also partnered with industry and national laboratory collaborators, including Argonne, Applied Materials, HRL Laboratories and IBM.

To begin the initiative, QuSTEAM will gather information from stakeholders in academia, industry and national laboratories to identify critical scientific and engineering practices required of a quantum-ready workforce.

By bringing together experts in subject matter, pedagogical practices and workforce development, the QuSTEAM team will develop modules built around single concepts that can be arranged to shape an array of educational paths—from bachelor’s and associate’s degrees to certificates and minors. 

“Just like science itself, science education has advanced a lot in the last couple of decades,” said QuSTEAM co-PI Andrew Heckler, professor of physics and physics education research specialist at Ohio State. “We know a lot more about how to help a diverse population of students connect with content, learn it better and advance through programs. It is important we use these methods to attract and educate students in the complex and exciting field of quantum information.”

Developing inclusive paths forward

The modular QuSTEAM curriculum will provide educational opportunities for two- and four-year institutions, minority-serving institutions and industries. To address the need for diversity and inclusion in both STEM education and the STEM workforce, the curriculum will systematically build a structure that works to undo barriers that have historically limited inclusivity. By incorporating content beyond traditional STEM disciplines and emphasizing project-based evaluation to broaden participation, QuSTEAM aims to confront and dismantle longstanding biases in order to advance diversity across STEM fields.

“By bringing together our institutions with some of the largest diverse STEM populations in the country, we will put together an effective program in this challenging interdisciplinary field with a goal of broad-scale accessibility” said Michigan State chemist Angela K. Wilson, the director of MSU-Q, the MSU Center for Quantum Computing, Science and Engineering. 

QuSTEAM looks to support and accelerate this development by setting national standards for the 71% of the STEM workforce that does not require a postgraduate degree. The initiative will institute a variety of engaging courses and educational tracks, allowing students of all backgrounds and interests to pursue multiple paths of scholarship.

“Turning out large numbers of high-quality undergraduates who excel in their fields and have a significant impact in the economy is something Ohio State and our partners do well already,” Johnston-Halperin said. “Quantum information science is a rapidly growing field and we are positioned to be early actors with the opportunity to innovate in a way that will serve the whole community. The QuSTEAM group is optimally positioned to fill that urgent need.”

—This release was first published by the Chicago Quantum Exchange.