A group of scientists from five universities across the Midwest will lead an effort to redesign quantum science education, working together 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 large quantum-ready workforce that can meet the existing and growing demand for skilled workers across the communications, optics, computing, and materials industries.

The new, multi-institutional program, QuSTEAM: Convergent Undergraduate Education in Quantum Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator, 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 Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin, professor of physics at The Ohio State University and 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.”

QuSTEAM is a member 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 across five universities: The Ohio State University, University of Chicago, Michigan State University; Chicago State, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. QuSTEAM has also partnered with industry and national laboratory collaborators, including Applied Materials, HRL Laboratories, IBM and Argonne National Laboratory.

QuSTEAM will begin by gathering information from stakeholders in academia, industry and national laboratories to identify critical scientific and engineering practices required of 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 QuSTEAM co-PI David Awschalom, Liew Family Professor in Quantum Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. “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.”

The QuSTEAM team, which consists of experts in subject matter, pedagogical practices, and workforce development 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 University. “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 would provide educational opportunities for two- and four-year institutions, minority-serving institutions and industries. It addresses the need for diversity and inclusion in both STEM education and the STEM workforce, systematically building a structure that works to undo barriers that have historically limited inclusivity. By incorporating content beyond traditional STEM disciplines and gearing the modules toward project-based evaluation to broaden participation, QuSTEAM aims to focus on inclusivity while confronting and dismantling 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 Angela K. Wilson, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Michigan State University and 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 and instituting high-quality, engaging courses and educational tracks that allow for students of all backgrounds and interests to choose 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.”