IEEE Quantum Podcast Series: Episode 17
Founder, The Coding School, & Executive Director, Qubit by Qubit & TRAIN
Listen to Episode 17 (MP3, 22MB)
Part of the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series
Brian Walker: Welcome to the IEEE Quantum podcast series an IEEE Future Directions Digital Studio production. This podcast series informs on the landscape of the quantum ecosystem and highlights projects and activities on Quantum Technologies. In this episode, Kiera Peltz, founder of The Coding School and Executive Director of Qubit by Qubit & TRAIN shares her views on the current state of education in the quantum space, and efforts underway to build a future Quantum workforce. Keira, thank you for taking time to contribute to the IEEE Quantum podcast series. To get started, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background.
Kiera Peltz: Hi everyone. My name is Kiera Peltz and I'm the Founder of The Coding School which is a 501(c)3 tech education nonprofit focused on emerging technology education and workforce development training. I am also the Executive Director of Qubit by Qubit which is one of the coding school’s initiatives focused on quantum computing education.
Brian Walker: So, Kiera, what's the current state of education as it relates to Quantum technology?
Kiera Peltz: Yeah. I would say you know we started developing our Quantum curriculum and really Qubit by Qubit four years ago now. And at the time most people thought that we were crazy for bringing quantum to K through 12 students. For context, we now train students as young as middle school, so students who are 10 years old or so, all the way up through current members of the workforce. But at the time we were really focused on high school students. And four years ago there were very few people doing anything in the space. I would say we've definitely seen a lot more interest. There's a lot more, I would say, initiatives and kind of grassroot efforts that are building up. There are a number of companies who are investing in the space, but we have a long ways to go. So, I'd say we're really just at the beginning. There's not a lot of best practices that have been developed out or really scalable programs of how is the best way to teach quantum and why? And in particular, we don't have enough information on how to make sure we're one, reaching really diverse groups of students and educators. But furthermore, that we're also really engaging them and empowering them with the right curriculum in the space. I'll just kind of end my thoughts on where we're at in quantum education. I like to use the kind of saying that just because something's available doesn't mean it's actually accessible. And I think that's really true for a lot of efforts happening right now in quantum education. I mean we are working four years on, we are still making changes to our curriculums. And so I think there's a lot of thoughts where you can just kind of throw an expert into a classroom, someone who has a PhD, and they will be able to teach this. But that's where I think we really need to start turning our focus to accessibility and making sure that we really are teaching these students well. And that we're bringing more people into this space than we have previously. And that's going to require a lot more work than what we're currently doing.
Brian Walker: Can you share with us how your company is helping to build a quantum workforce pipeline?
Kiera Peltz: Yes, of course. So, as I mentioned, we have programs for students as young as middle school, all the way up through current members of the workforce. I would say, probably our most well-known program is we offer an introduction to quantum computing course. It is a two-semester course for high school students and above. And we piloted this course out in Fall 2020 in collaboration with IBM Quantum and had almost 8,000 students from over 125 countries participate in this course. And so, this is-- we're currently finishing up actually the third year of this course. We're in a really exciting place where we are nationally accredited by WASC, which is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. We can actually offer this course for high school credit. So, we have students all around the US being able to take quantum computing and have it on their transcript for the first time. In addition, I'll just focus on the high school level for a moment. We offer workshops that we offer for free in high school classrooms and community centers. We also have one to two weeklong summer camps to introduce high school students. We also have middle school camps. We do those both virtually and then in collaboration with partners in their local community. And then for students, who have finished our two-semester introductory course in quantum computing, students will have the opportunity to also participate in a summer research internship with a local university. That was a program that we started this past summer in collaboration with about seven universities around the US. And we're planning on expanding on that this summer. In addition to kind of the student side of the K-12 level, we also have professional development for educators. And actually, not just K-12, but also, for community college faculty, and university faculty. And then at the university level is where we also have a lot of programming. So, we have an early quantum career immersion program, where we provide students from underrepresented backgrounds in their first or second year of university with a 10-week program. Half of that involves class training them in quantum computing. And then the other half, we match them with companies where they do an internship for the rest of the summer. We're really excited and passionate about that program. This will be the second year that we're running it because we know one way that we're going to increase diversity in the space where-- we know to increase diversity in the space we're going to have to break down a lot of the barriers that are currently there. And one huge barrier is that a lot of internships aren't really accessible to students who are early on in their undergraduate career. And so, we're trying to make quantum internships more accessible to students early on, and for those who might not have been exposed to quantum previously.
Brian Walker: Are you seeing a growing interest from young students in quantum technology?
Kiera Peltz: Yeah. For the last several years, we've trained about 20,000 students in quantum technologies and specifically in quantum computing and it's been really exciting. I think there's actually always been an interest among students in this area, but it's definitely been increasing and growing over the last few years. I’ll just use an example. We hosted a winter school this past February with Microsoft, and we were only going to have four to five hundred students in the winter school. It would be open to high school and university students. And with just an initial email blast that we have sent out to our listserv, we had over 5,000 applicants and that just that blew us away how quickly students were applying for this program. So, I definitely think interest has increased. My concern is less about general interest, but are we reaching, you know, students who were really left out of the classical computing revolution. And I think we have still a lot more work to do there. So one of our big outreach efforts is we reach out to school administrators, teachers, the faculty members both in the K-12 level and in the university level. And we asked about bringing our programs to their school, or to their university and creating some sort of collaboration or partnership. And there’s definitely-- especially at the high school level, schools that are serving more high-income students are much more likely to be interested in our programs right off the bat. And we have to do far more work to frankly just get a conversation with students or not with students, with schools who serve lower income populations. And so, I think there's a lot more work to be done there. There's a lot more work to be kind of breaking down the stereotypes that quantum is only for geniuses, which is something we hear time and time and time again from teachers and school administrators. But our philosophy, and what we've really seen in our data, is that quantum is for everyone. It's hard. It'll never stop being hard. But with the interdisciplinary nature of it, with all of the questions that are still unanswered, I see it as an incredible way to excite students from these communities, whether they're from non-traditional backgrounds or from underserved communities. I think quantum is the way we cannot just create a future quantum workforce, but overarchingly really strengthen the STEM workforce.
Brian Walker: Kiera, what are some of the key challenges you face in quantum education?
Kiera Peltz: Definitely. So I have already talked a lot about diversity. And one of the reasons I'll just say that I talk about it so much is I think we have an incredible opportunity to get quantum education right the first time, and to learn from the mistakes that have been made previously in computer science education, and STEM education at large. So we really, I think, any program that comes out needs to make sure that diversity and inclusion are really at the heart and center of what they do. However, I think that there's some other issues at play. And one of the big ones that we've experienced is really funding. There's a lot of funding for pilot programs to get started. But once you have a successful program, or once you have a successful-- like our series of programs are a pipeline for students, it's much harder to get funding actually to sustain those programs. We have also seen from our data that programs where we offer scholarships versus offering a program for free you get far fewer diverse students who are applying for the program where they, in addition, have to apply for a scholarship. No matter how simple you make that scholarship application or how clearly you state that, you know, we're really going to be generous with who we give scholarships to. So I think funding is a huge source of stress and difficulty in terms of not just building programs, but really scaling them out and bringing them to the masses.
Brian Walker: How are your efforts being supported by players in the quantum ecosystem?
Kiera Peltz: We have a lot of support from some incredible companies and partners. I'm really grateful for all that they do. But I think they’re in a very difficult place. Whereas, you know, our middle school and high school students are not necessarily going to be ready to enter the workforce for another decade or so, and they're seeing such an immediate need. And so I think over the last few years we've seen a real-- there was a lot more interest I would say, or from my personal experience at the K-12 level. And I think there is a lot of consensus that we do need to invest in K-12, but there’s just a far more immediate priority in focusing on university students and graduate students who are so much closer to being able to go into the labs or go into the workforce. And make sure that this technology is actually ready for when our middle and high school students come of age and are able to go into this space. From my side, yes, I would love to see companies investing more, and I hope to see that in the coming years. I also think it's a really important area for the government to be making serious investments beyond just the traditional university setting, which is where a lot of workforce development funding has been going and will continue to go. But really investing in nonprofits and community initiatives that, you know, are probably reaching groups and populations that haven't been reached otherwise.
Brian Walker: How do you see the IEEE Quantum Initiative helping to drive educational efforts in the quantum space?
Kiera Peltz: Yeah. I think IEEE Quantum has an amazing role to play in diverse group of practitioners and researchers that are being brought together is absolutely phenomenal. And I really think with the kind of breadth of their community, there's a huge opportunity for them to really make a mark and to bring quantum to the forefront.
Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with Kiera Peltz. To learn more about the IEEE Quantum Initiative. Please visit our web portal at quantum.IEEE.org.