Future engineers get ahead through Amazon-funded program

The first thing spokesperson Allison Flicker wants to make clear is that the Amazon Future Engineer program isn’t about recruiting kids for the online giant’s future workforce.

“We believe coding and computer science are becoming as important as reading, and it’s important for these kids to take classes that will be so helpful as they move through school and into the working world,” she said. “The focus is to laser in on kids in under-served, underrepresented communities that don’t have the funding for these extra classes. Many students in these neighborhoods might get to college and not know about what could be a rewarding career.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects those career opportunities to be plentiful as soon as 2020, when it estimates 1.4 million computer science-related jobs will be available. The Future Engineer program is designed to get kids thinking about those jobs as early as kindergarten in after-school sessions and camps, and at the high-school level with introductory and AP computer science courses. It also awards $10,000 annual scholarships and Amazon internships for students who study computer science.

Last November, the program rolled out in cities across the country, and the Hapeville Charter Career Academy became one of the first of 56 in Georgia. The goal is to expand to 2,000 high schools across the country – a goal Flicker expects will be reached this fall.

“Hapeville was very excited about the program because it serves a lot of minority students who are striving for higher academics and may need some extra attention,” said Flicker. “That’s a good fit for us.”

At the upper levels, the program provides an entire online curriculum, complete with support networks, lessons and teacher development. “If a school has the desire to do it, and a teacher with the appetite to do it, we’ll provide the materials,” explained Flicker. “A lot of the teachers are taking on these classes because they’ve been trying to get a program funded and couldn’t.”

Hubert Gresham, Hapeville Charter’s chair of the business department, jumped at the chance to have Amazon fund courses at his school.

“I thought it was excellent that it offers real-world skills these kids can use to find a position in life, even if they don’t decide to go to college,” he said. “I’ve got 43 students now who are learning Python, a support language for software development, and everything was made for us – the videos, web pages with material, test sites and quizzes. And next year, we’ll have a more advanced course that will give them fundamental skills. I tell them, everything will revolve around technology, and the ones who can control that technical environment will be in demand.”

But it’s challenging, said freshman Devon Irving, who hopes one day to build his own apps.

“You can move at your own pace, but as you move on, it gets more rigorous,” he said. “It’s definitely not something you can blow right through. But it’s fun learning more.”

Information, including application materials for interested schools, is online at amazonfutureengineer.com.