Kelly Bonilla Guzmán, a senior at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia, saw parents in her community struggle to navigate distance-learning tools with their children in 2020, the most disrupted American school year since World War II. Language and computer literacy barriers caused decreased class time and student engagement. To help local, Spanish-speaking parents overcome these concerns, Guzmán and Latinx leaders in her community created Latinos Unidos por Educational Equity to teach computer skills in those parents’ native language. She personally created step-by-step video guides to help Spanish-speaking parents navigate the educational tools provided by her school district. It's an experience that influenced her desire to pursue a higher education in STEM with dreams of a career that increases technology access and opportunities for diverse communities.
Guzmán, who will begin her freshman year at Stanford University in the fall, is one of the inspiring recipients of the 2021 Amazon Future Engineer scholarship, which awards 100 college-bound seniors from underserved and underrepresented communities with four-year, $40,000 scholarships, as well as guaranteed paid internships at Amazon after freshman year. The program is part of Amazon's commitment to STEM and computer science education. This year, we have a goal to reach 1.6 million underrepresented students globally through Amazon Future Engineer with real-world-inspired virtual and hands-on computer science project learning. The program is currently available in the U.S., UK, France, and Canada.
"Winning this scholarship made me feel like all of my hard work for the community was paying off," Guzmán said. "It helped me realize that going to an institution like Stanford was doable, for me, and really going to happen, not only for me, but in honor of my community."
After graduating from Stanford, Guzmán plans to pursue a career that allows her to help multicultural communities and people with disabilities access, leverage, and understand technology. She also aspires to be involved in local government to drive education policy that improves access to technology.
Eight hundred miles away, Samuel Hill, a fellow recipient of the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship, will pursue a computer science degree at University of Southern Mississippi in the fall. Hill is a residential student at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Mississippi. He grew up in Laurel, Mississippi, a small town where 98% of the students in public schools are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Witnessing his peers drop out of school to work at a local chicken plant amplified his commitment to serve and influence transformative outcomes for his community. Hill developed a passion for helping Mississippians tap into the rapidly growing market for computer science professionals, which is projected to grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Our underserved youth are not trained for the industry of the future," Hill said. "I want to help the students in my community realize the different paths available to them. Computer science exposure is invaluable and the way to prepare Mississippi for the future. I want to create technology-based 'Dream Centers' that would house the foundations for student exploration into computer science."
Before learning of the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship, Hill planned to pay for college using student loans. However, the scholarship and internship together remove his largest barrier and give him the opportunity to gain the skills needed to make a greater impact.
Guzmán, Hill, and 98 other college-bound seniors across 24 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam make up the third class of Amazon Future Engineer scholarship recipients to receive funding to pursue a degree in computer science and real-world work experience through an Amazon internship. 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.
"I'm so inspired by the stories of these students who are pursuing career paths to help increase access to technology and computer literacy among American families," said Victor Reinoso, Global Director, Amazon Future Engineer, Amazon in the Community. "These two stories show the long-term impact that this program can have on the communities it's reaching.”
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 camps and classes where they can explore project-based learning, using code to make music, program robots, and solve problems. The program works to address the fact that the vast majority of public elementary and high schools, particularly those in underserved or underrepresented communities, do not offer computer science classes.
Click here to learn more about the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship Class of 2021.