How a Frustrating Search for Scholarships Grew Into a Life-Changing...

Student Success

How a Frustrating Search for Scholarships Grew Into a Life-Changing Opportunity

from Amazon Future Engineer

By Christy Matte     Nov 16, 2021

How a Frustrating Search for Scholarships Grew Into a Life-Changing Opportunity

This article is part of the guide: Building Inclusive Childhood-to-Career Pathways in STEM.

One afternoon, during Samuel Hill’s junior year at the Mississippi School for Math and Science, his parents told him that they wouldn’t be contributing to his college fund. While such news might have been devastating to some high school students, Hill took it with grace.

“It was not out of malice,” he explains with a smile. “They knew my potential to succeed. They knew that I was a hard worker and could pay my college expenses. That would allow them to avoid a financial situation that would harm my three younger siblings.”

His parents’ faith was not unfounded. Hill is now a college freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi, thanks in part to the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship program. In addition to an internship with Amazon, he’ll be awarded up to $40,000 over four years.

Recently, Hill took a few minutes away from his studies to discuss the struggle of scholarship hunting and the joy of earning a life-changing opportunity. He also shared a bold idea aimed at helping his community.

EdSurge: Why did you apply for the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship?

Hill: My search wasn’t going too well. I had only received two other scholarships when my mom said, "Hey, there is this $40,000 scholarship that perfectly fits you. I think you could do it."

I was skeptical. I thought, “This is one of those big scholarships that only a handful of people get. What makes me special in any sort of way?”

But I was reading my resume and realizing, “Wow, I've done a lot of stuff.” I participated in a lot of computer science activities before college. I was a counselor and student teacher at a cybersecurity camp. I worked at a local STEM-based organization that helped kids get firsthand experience. I started thinking maybe I could do it.

I went to my English teacher every single day for around two hours. We would review my resume and my essays for the scholarship. It was very hard to be happy with my application, but I submitted it anyway.

In April or May, I was starting to worry when I was called into the office by the administration. I thought, “Oh no, what did I do? I don't think I did anything!” I walked into the room, and I saw all the administration—and an Amazon box. It was the award letter for the scholarship!

100 computer science students from underserved communities received a $40,000 scholarship in 2021.

What does that award mean for you?

It is the most relieving sense of freedom. My college is fully paid for, and I won't be a financial burden to my parents. Now, my siblings can be okay, too, even if they don't get any scholarships.

When I told my mom, she was in disbelief. That was one of my proudest moments. My dad just kept smiling. It was really cool to experience that.

In your application, you mentioned starting a cybersecurity academy. What’s that about?

I'm really excited about that! One of the application questions was, “If your budget was limitless, what would you create?” I thought, “What is missing in Mississippi that would benefit the generations beyond me? What would send Mississippi in a different direction than where we're going now?”

My answer was a cybersecurity academy. Why not expose the younger generation to cybersecurity and start a new industry within Mississippi? That would create so many more job options in STEM and computing for the residents of Mississippi.

Right now, we are last in nearly everything: education, healthcare, health levels. It's really bad. People I know say, "Man, I can't wait to get out of Mississippi." "Well, why?" "Because there's nothing to do here. There are no opportunities." "Well, it's not going to change if you leave." Since no one else wants to do it, I'll do it.

That's my thought process: Start a new industry within Mississippi that will make it a better place to live. Once we have that new stream of income, we can start making the changes that we really need to see here. We can start funding more schools and raising those brilliant minds in the classroom so they're not hurting and feeling that their only option is to work at the chicken farm across the street. Show them that they can be engineers. They can be astronauts. They can pilot that spaceship that they always wanted to be in. There are some really bright kids here who lack exposure. I think a cybersecurity academy would really bring them out.

What plans do you have for your own future—academic or professional?

I actually changed my major recently. I was just a broad computer science major originally, but since coming here and meeting some of the faculty and getting counseling about my strengths and interests, I've switched to cybersecurity. I’ll get certified along the way. The curriculum integrates all the certification tests I need to take.

To be honest, I don't really know what I’ll do long-term, but I do have some things in place once I get out of college. This summer, I have the Amazon internship. Starting next year, I'll be an intern for the FBI. Whether that means I'll be a full-time agent once I get out of college or something else is up in the air. I might want to keep working for Amazon and really honing my skills for cybersecurity.

I just know that I want to be prepared for the opportunity to start building this cybersecurity academy and bringing STEM into Mississippi. I will do everything in my power to be ready for that.

Any parting advice for aspiring Amazon Future Engineer scholars?

I would tell other students to really try; you don't know what to expect when going into it. I didn't have the highest expectations for myself starting out. And that confidence slowly grew over time.

I was lucky because I had really good role models who encouraged me. But to the people who don't have that, you can do it—just have full confidence in yourself. I know I personally struggle with that. You're well worth the value. It's a great opportunity, and it just takes a little bit of time and effort. It completely changed my life.

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