Scott Schoneberg is a science teacher at Central Academy. Like a veteran coach who has sent athletes on to the big leagues in their chosen sport, he’s been at it long enough to afford himself some name-dropping rights. Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest, is a former student of his. So is Feng Zhang, already a winner of the prestigious Gairdner’s Award as a world-class geneticist who many predict is destined for a Nobel Prize. Which brings us to Alexander Liu.
Alex is a senior at East High/Central Academy who was recently named a winner of the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship, an achievement heralded with a full-page ad in the New York Times. The company, known by many for shopping and other online services, has launched an initiative to support education in areas such as science, computers, and engineering, from K-8 classrooms through to college scholarships and internships.
“East and Central received a grant to teach AP Computer Science,” said Schoneberg. “Alex is in the AP Computer Science class at Central. As part of the program, students were enrolled in the Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program. They were encouraged to apply for this scholarship.”
And Alex won, to the tune of a $10,000 scholarship, renewable for up to four years. The money is nice, but the part of the award that most interests Alex is the summer internship at Amazon that will follow his freshman year at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he’d already been awarded a scholarship that will cover his tuition and room/board.
Alex, who also attended River Woods Elementary, Weeks Middle and qualified for the state swimming meet all four years of high school at East, chuckled at the mention of Schoneberg’s past protégés.
“Yes, he does sometimes bring them up,” he said, “to challenge us, I guess, and remind us about what’s possible for our futures.”
Which is to say, just about anything.
The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway provides scholarships to 100 students from underprivileged, underrepresented, and underserved communities planning to study computer science at a four-year college or university. The program aims to address a critical shortage in the field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates to fill them. Computer science is the fastest growing STEM field, but only 8% of STEM graduates earn a computer science degree. Also according to the BLS, the average computer science major makes 40% more in lifetime earnings than the average college graduate and nearly three times more than the average high school graduate. Still, most public school districts do not offer computer science classes.
That’s changing at DMPS, as we first reported in 2016 on the expansion of AP computer courses at Alex’s home high school, East. Since then, AP Computer Science has been added at Roosevelt and North and will be on the academic menu at Lincoln next fall. Schoneberg says student interest in the field of unlimited opportunity is growing.
“The challenge will soon be for us to provide enough qualified teachers to meet the student demand,” he said.
The moral of the story told by those Bureau of Labor stats is that Alex is setting a good example to follow. In the tradition of Ben and Feng, to name just two, before him.