Any 2022 high school graduate will tell you the last two years have been challenging. From online classes to virtual graduation ceremonies, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of their education. But for one 2022 grad—Destiny Ogar, a senior at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women—the challenges went beyond the classroom. In early 2020, as the pandemic began to rage, her mother was severely injured in a car accident.
“The reality of life being short and precious was magnified,” Ogar said. “Not only was I in the emotional turmoil that we all experienced during the early days of the pandemic, I also held the responsibility of caring for my mother, all while transitioning to online schooling and feeling that separation from my friends.”
Despite all of the disruptions in her life, Ogar became even more achievement-driven, not losing her focus on academics and even pursuing virtual extracurricular activities, including a job-readiness program. Now, as one of the students selected to receive a $40,000 scholarship from Amazon Future Engineer, Ogar will attend North Carolina A&T State University in the fall.
“Without this scholarship, I likely would not be able to attend my dream school,” she said. “This scholarship will open doors for me and allow me to pursue a career in technology.”
As a young Black woman, Ogar dreams of being a trailblazer. She knows all about the inequities of the tech industry, and she’s determined to use her training in computer science as a tool for change.
“A lot of people may not enter this field because they don’t see someone that looks like them,” she said. “People of color are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), so I hope that future generations of Black women will see themselves in me and as someone they can look up to.”
Amazon awarded $40,000 scholarships to 250 students in 2022, for a total of $10 million, more than double the company’s commitment from previous years. Scholarship recipients will also receive a paid internship at Amazon after their freshman year of college to gain hands-on, practical work experience with mentorship from Amazon leaders. Since 2019, Amazon has awarded $22 million in scholarships through Amazon Future Engineer—our global philanthropic education program—to 550 U.S. high school seniors from underserved and historically underrepresented communities. Amazon Future Engineer selects recipients based on academic achievement, demonstrated leadership, community involvement, work experience, future goals, and financial need. This year’s recipients come from more than 30 states and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and, for the first time, an American military base in Europe. More than 70% of scholarship recipients identify as Black, Latinx, and Native American, and 50% identify as women, groups that are currently underrepresented in STEM.
Another Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship recipient, Victor Acuna, a senior at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School in Lynwood, California, shares Ogar’s determination to help students understand the many pathways available to them and build the confidence to pursue those careers.
At 12 years old, Acuna watched a sci-fi movie about computer programming and was immediately inspired, seeing the role of a programmer as an opportunity to shape the future. He researched computer science opportunities and was disheartened to find limited access to STEM programs in his community. To help drive change, Acuna created United We Code, an after-school computer science program that teaches elementary school students in his district how to code using Scratch, a coding language with a simple visual interface.
“On my last day of teaching this semester, two students said they loved computer science and wanted to become coders,” Acuna recalled. “For me, this confirmed that it isn’t that people of color aren’t interested in STEM, but rather, there aren’t enough resources in place to offer people like me access to computer science opportunities.”
Acuna, who is the oldest of four siblings and a first-generation college student, will begin his freshman year at the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall, majoring in computer science and minoring in Chicano studies to learn more about Mexican culture and Indigenous languages. He hopes to build a career contributing to the development of devices people use every day and plans to stay involved with United We Code to help students see themselves and their futures in computer science careers.
“I would love to teach kids from my community more programming languages, like C++, which can be applied to real-world jobs,” Acuna said. “I want to expose people to programming languages that I didn’t have the opportunity to learn at a young age, to inspire them and help increase the number of people of color in STEM.”
Key findings from a recent Gallup survey confirmed that a majority of students across the U.S. are interested in computer science, but many lack access to such classes in their schools and general exposure to the tech sector. The study also highlights that students who strongly agree they have computer science role models are 10 times more likely to say they will pursue a computer science career than students who strongly disagree.
“These two students exemplify how access to computer science education helps enable the self-expression and problem-solving abilities of young people today,” said Victor Reinoso, global director of Amazon’s philanthropic education initiatives. “I’m inspired by their pursuit to broaden people’s imagination and understanding of what happens in tech and the variety of roles that exist across the industry.”
Computer science is the fastest-growing profession within the STEM field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that job opportunities for computer science workers will grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, yet only 8% of STEM graduates earn a computer science degree, and only a small percentage of those come from underserved and historically underrepresented communities. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250 in May 2020, which is more than twice the median annual wage for all occupations.
Amazon Future Engineer aims to bridge the divide between interested students and access to computer science courses and opportunities. In addition to its scholarship and internship program, Amazon Future Engineer gives elementary, middle, and high school students from diverse communities around the globe access to computer science education where they can explore project-based learning initiatives, using code to make music, program robots, and solve problems.
Congratulations to the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship Class of 2022. Learn more about Amazon’s most recent scholarship recipients.