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Smithville High School senior awarded $40K scholarship from Amazon to pursue STEM

Posted at 6:33 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 19:55:41-04

SMITHVILLE, Mo. — A senior at Smithville High School is headed to college nearly debt-free after receiving the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship.

He is one of more than 400 students nationwide to qualify.

Nathan Fletcher has been hooked on computers from an early age, and now almost a decade later, he is set to study computer and electrical engineering at the University of Missouri - Columbia this fall.

“I was like 11-years-old, and I wanted to make a game," Fletcher said. "And ever since then I was like, 'Oh, this is really cool. I can just make anything I want on my computer.' I think it would be really cool to do something in robotics-related or like chip manufacturing.”

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Fletcher and his computer science and business education teacher, Destiny Marsh, say the pathway to STEM is not always easy.

There are a lot of barriers, whether it be social, environmental or financial.

“Sometimes STEM and computer science can be an underrepresented field and industry,” Marsh said. “There is money out there for STEM education; there are scholarships out there, because it is underrepresented, and it is a growing and in-demand field. So it’s important that we continue to develop students in the classroom that know that, see that, and can utilize what’s out there for them."

There has been a huge push for STEM career paths in recent decades.

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the STEM workforce grew by 20 percent between 2011 and 2021.

But industry experts say there is still a critical need.

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“Recent studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of both fastest growing and highest paid jobs need computer science skills," Andy DiOrio, an Amazon spokesperson. "But yet, in any given year, less than six percent of high school students are in a computer science class."

This is why Amazon created the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship in 2019 and has awarded $54 million to more than 1,300 students since its inception.

The scholarship aims to make STEM education more accessible for students who live in under-served and under-resourced communities.

“Maybe they couldn’t go to college if they didn’t have this financial scholarship to afford it; maybe they’re a first-generation student of their family to chart this new path," DiOrio said. “Or maybe there’s a death in the family; maybe they are having to raise themselves a lot of the times.”

Recipients receive a $40,000 scholarship to study computer science, engineering, or a related field in college and a guaranteed, paid internship at Amazon after freshman year.

“You come out of college and a lot of jobs are already asking for prior experiences, and so these internships really help,” said Fletcher.

Students will also receive skills development and mental health resources, access to an emergency grant fund for unexpected financial obligations that might prevent them from attending school, and networking opportunities with their peers and Amazon employees.

Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship recipients were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including their academic achievement, demonstrated leadership, participation in school and community activities, work experience, future goals, and financial need.

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With students like Fletcher, the future of STEM is limitless. He encourages other students to see themselves in the industry.

“To anyone who is interested in like the scholarship or just getting into stem in general is just like getting involved in school,” Fletcher said. “FBLA, robotics, being able to do this like real-world learning was just like really impactful on me.”