Amazon is thrilled to announce the 2021 class of Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipients. Each year, Amazon recognizes 10 dynamic teachers for their work to inspire students from underserved and historically underrepresented communities to pursue careers in computer science and robotics. The following educators are this year's recipients:
- Mark Ahrens, Texas High School, Texarkana, TX
- Cesar Barreto, Explorations Academy, Bronx, NY
- Sheena Birgans-Wright, Prairie-Hills Junior High School, Markham, IL
- Harold Brown, Newark Collegiate Academy, Newark, NJ
- Melissa Collins, John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis, TN
- Christopher Hatten, KIPP Central City Academy, New Orleans, LA
- Lorand Incze, Alisal High School, Salinas, CA
- Terry Laesser, Melvindale High School, Melvindale, MI
- Aris Pangilinan, Cardozo Education Campus, Washington, D.C.
- Michelle Pierce, Mallard Creek STEM Academy, Charlotte, NC
"It has been an especially difficult year for teachers, so we are excited to recognize their hard work and commitment to their students' successes," said Victor Reinoso, global director, Amazon Future Engineer, Amazon in the Community. "The Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipients work diligently to help students in underserved and underrepresented communities build life-changing skills to propel their futures in computer science. We celebrate their tireless efforts to increase access to technology and computer literacy in their classrooms and beyond."
Recipients were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within computer science education, a recommendation from a school administrator, and compelling, personal anecdotes about their schools and students. Scholarship America reviewed the applications and selected the 10 award recipients.
Teachers learned of the honor when their principals and fellow colleagues surprised them with an Amazon box filled with Amazon Future Engineer swag. Each of the award-winning teachers received a prize package valued at more than $30,000, which includes $25,000 to expand computer science and/or robotics education at their respective schools, as well as a $5,000 cash award for each educator to celebrate their exemplary work with students.
Computer science is the fastest-growing profession within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field, but only 8% of STEM graduates earn a computer science degree, with a small percentage from underrepresented communities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the market for computer science professionals will grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average for all other occupations.
Learn more about a couple of our 2021 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipients below:
John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis, TN
Dr. Melissa Collins was respectfully coined an equity champion by her colleagues at John P. Freeman Optional School. Dr. Collins serves as the elementary school's STEM Coordinator and helps forge meaningful connections with partner organizations to ensure students are exposed to development opportunities that will help shape their futures. She founded and continues to lead the school's STEM Club, which engages students in interactive coding activities and encourages face time with diverse computer science professionals to show students that their career possibilities are boundless. When asked what receiving this award meant to her, Dr. Collins responded:
"The Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award gives me hope for a better future for my students through believing in them and understanding that others, like Amazon, care about our kids, too. I was able to look into their faces and let them know they did it! Receiving this award meant the hard work and dedication that I have devoted to students paid off for them. I introduced my students to coding because I understand we live in a digital age and our children are our future. Yet, we don't have many STEM professionals of color, and I know it's important for them to have role models to give them confidence to pursue those careers. We have to work with our future generation so they can help change the narrative and become STEM professionals who help motivate and encourage other students. I've never received an award that will benefit my students and school community in this way."
Explorations Academy, Bronx, NY
An invaluable member of the Explorations Academy community, Cesar Barreto maintains multiple roles. He teaches science and computer science, serves as the technology coordinator, runs the technology team, and helps students find internships. Barreto has an incredible passion for the subjects that he teaches and for the community that he serves. He creates opportunities for high school students to be successful by making learning relevant and engaging them in meaningful collaboration to develop solutions to real-world problems. When asked what receiving this award meant to him, Barreto responded:
"When former Explorations Academy High School Principal Susana Hernandez recruited me, she encouraged me to join the school's faculty because they needed more male, Hispanic, bilingual science teachers as role models at the school. At that time, 14 years ago, she appointed me to serve as the school's technology coordinator, and we had one small smartboard on wheels. We have since worked continuously to prioritize and improve the delivery of instruction via technology tools. I am beyond ecstatic for our efforts to be validated by this Amazon award. I have used it as a point to help encourage our students in their endeavors—because if this could happen for me, it could happen for them. They can see, it's not impossible. It's feasible and doable! So, thank you so much for selecting me. I can't wait to show you how we used the prize to continue helping our students develop skills needed in high-demand, 21st-century careers."
Amazon Future Engineer is a childhood-to-career computer science education program intended to inspire and educate millions of students globally, including hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. each year. Students explore computer science through school curriculum and project-based learning, using code to make music, program robots, and solve problems. Amazon Future Engineer also awards 100 students each year with four-year, $40,000 scholarships and paid internships at Amazon. Now in its second year, the Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award program is part of Amazon's commitment to STEM and computer science education. For 2021, Amazon has a goal to reach 1.6 million students from historically underrepresented communities 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.