Amazon expands SURE program to boost diversity in STEM education


The lack of diversity in STEM fields and the way it hinders innovation have been well established. But seeing the numbers can still be eye-opening: According to the National Science Board’s State of US Science and Engineering 2022 report, in 2019, women represented 48% of the employed US population, but only “about one-third of the STEM workforce,” and that Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives collectively represented 30% of the employed US population, but just 23% of the total STEM workforce.

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The report also notes that strengthening STEM education efforts in the US is “critical to maintaining the US position as a lead performer” in the science and technology realm.

Last year, in an effort to address these inequities, Columbia Engineering and Amazon announced the creation of the Columbia-Amazon Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program aimed at increasing diversity and inclusiveness in technology fields.

Now, building off the success of that initial program — 74% of surveyed undergraduates in that Columbia-Amazon program said it exceeded or far exceeded expectations — Amazon today announced it is increasing its commitment to the SURE program by expanding its SURE partnership with Columbia, and by initiating new multi-year SURE program commitments with two other top-tier universities, Georgia Tech and the University of Southern California (USC).

“Amazon is excited to expand our commitment to SURE partnerships with top US academic institutions with the goal of enriching the diversity of our national STEM talent pool,” said Prem Natarajan, Alexa AI vice president of natural understanding. “Each year, SURE internship programs will provide more than one hundred undergraduate students from historically underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to participate in research initiatives at top academic institutions. The students will also have the opportunity to receive guidance and mentorship from university faculty members and from scientists at Amazon.”

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The inaugural 2021 summer instance of the Columbia-Amazon SURE program provided 26 students, primarily from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges and Universities, opportunities to conduct research in top tier laboratories at Columbia, and engage with professionals at Amazon. This year, the program will expand to 50 students for a 10-week program, as part of Amazon’s multi-year commitment to the initiative. Amazon will also increase the opportunities for these SURE alumni by funding five master’s fellowships for graduate studies.

“Columbia Engineering is excited to expand our successful partnership with Amazon, which creates new university-industry collaboration models with a goal to broadening the pipeline in STEM fields,” said Shih-Fu Chang, interim dean of Columbia Engineering. “This generous multi-year support will allow us to explore and validate novel approaches to widening our STEM talent pool over a longer period.”

Georgia Tech’s SURE program was founded in 1992 by the university’s Center for Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED). Over the past 30 years, the program has supported more than 500 students, with 75% ultimately attending graduate school to pursue master’s or doctorate degrees. This 10-week summer research program will support underrepresented minority and women students in conducting research within Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering and College of Computing for 2022 and 2023.

“Amazon’s partnership with CEED will enable Georgia Tech to double the number of students from across the nation who participate in SURE,” said Felicia Benton-Johnson, CEED director and assistant dean. “We are grateful to Amazon for its commitment to growing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.”

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The USC-Amazon SURE Program will provide undergraduate students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks in Los Angeles working on cutting-edge research projects in artificial intelligence, computer science and engineering, and robotics. Amazon will support 30 students in this program. The USC-Amazon SURE program allows undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to develop their research skills under the supervision of Viterbi faculty and current PhD students.

“Amazon is one of the largest employers of USC Viterbi alumni,” said Kelly Goulis, senior associate dean for Student Affairs. “We are honored that they have chosen to collaborate with us on the key goal to ensure that all students have the opportunity to work on leading-edge research, particularly research that is focusing on solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

To learn more about each institution’s program, and application deadlines, please visit the links below:

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