IBM looks to HBCUs to help create next-gen tech leaders

IBM Corp. is looking for the next generation of leaders who will harness technology to solve societal and business problems. And if those next-generation leaders are students at historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, IBM is committed to ensuring that cost does not get in the way of developing a diverse talent pipeline.

“We are focused on giving all students the best opportunity to go into some of the most in-demand areas,” said Valinda Scarbro Kennedy, specialty programs manager, IBM Global University. “In striving toward that goal, we want to make sure HBCU faculty and students have access to resources and assets to further develop the innovation of the future.”

In 2020, IBM announced an $100 million in-kind give investment of resources – including guest lecturers, curriculum content, digital badge certificates, software and faculty training – to HBCUs as part of enhancing its existing IBM Global University Programs. The programs include the IBM Academic Initiative, the IBM Skills Academy and the IBM Masters Fellowship Award, which was created last year.

At the same time, IBM launched the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center in September 2020 to provide support, collaboration and funding for research opportunities, curriculum development, workforce advocacy and special projects for science, technology, engineering and math disciplines at HBCUs. The center will provide cloud access to IBM quantum computers, educational support for students learning the Qiskit open-source software development framework and funding for undergraduate and graduate research.

The Quantum Center and the IBM Global University Program investment of $100 million of in-kind give through HBCU partnerships build on the company’s longstanding programs and combine with new programs to provide access to software, tutorials and curriculum to the academic community.

The IBM Academic Initiative provides students and faculty at participating colleges and universities the ability to use their school email address to gain access to IBM resources at no cost if the resources are used for teaching, learning and noncommercial research. Faculty can engage these resources along with others, including more than 380 university guest lectures with new lecturers constantly being added.

Meeting a critical need

The follow-on to this program is the IBM Skills Academy, which focuses on eight critical, in-demand areas: artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, cybersecurity, data science, design thinking, internet of things and quantum computing.

“IBM recognizes the critical need to provide access to technology and resources to deliver the key in-demand skills needed globally,” Kennedy said. “IBM Global University programs are our main vehicle to provide access to this treasure trove of industry resources.”

The IBM Skills Academy trains college and university faculty members in leading-edge technology, providing the knowledge and resources that allow those faculty members to train other faculty and students. The academic initiative currently provides training at a practitioner level, but IBM is already developing intermediate and advanced training, plus an e-learning option, Kennedy said.

Once faculty are trained, the same resources and assets are then available for them to use with students with even the approximate price of a textbook fee waived. This helps schools build the high demand skills while being better positioned to nominate students for the annual IBM Awards including the long-standing IBM PhD Fellowship Award and the two-year-old IBM Masters Fellowship Award, which are designed to reduce financial barriers that might prevent future leaders from getting advanced degrees.

“This is a foundation we’re putting in place to continue to grow and expand what we’re doing with these schools,” she said. “This is how we get this pipeline of data scientists in the market that can help us in health care, retail, transportation, sustainable energy and new technical abilities. When students have been through that level of exposure to quantum computing or to artificial intelligence or to internet of things, they become amazingly adept at being able to pivot on the conditions of the market.”

The enhanced IBM HBCU outreach efforts started with 17 schools in September 2020 and now includes over 40 HBCUs. Kennedy said her goal is to work with all 102 HBCUs to ensure that traditionally underserved students are well-positioned to become the next generation of tech leaders.

HBCUs interested in learning more about the program can contact Valinda Scarbro Kennedy by phone or text at 630-747-8807 or by email at

~ By Tonya McMurray


IBM HBCUs IBM Global University Programs IBM Academic Initiative IBM Skills Academy IBM Masters Fellowship Valinda Scarbro Kennedy

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