Amazon Robotics welcomes students to inaugural Day One Fellowship Summit
Summit offered Day One fellows the opportunity to interact with leaders in the robotics field.
Recipients of Amazon Robotics Day One Fellowships gathered this summer with dozens of university faculty and Amazon scientists for four days of activities as part of the inaugural Amazon Robotics Day One Fellowship Summit.
The Day One Fellowship program supports uniquely talented students from multicultural backgrounds who are pursuing master of science degrees in technology-related fields.
During the summit, held July 15–18, 2022, at Amazon Robotics’ headquarters in Boston, fellowship recipients met with academic advisors and professional mentors in preparation for graduate school.
Featured Amazon speakers included Tye Brady, Amazon Robotics’ chief technologist; Ken Washington, vice president of software engineering; Jovonia Thibert, director of robotics strategy; Sherwin Prior, director of the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund; Joey Durham, senior applied science manager; Kayla Watson, hardware reliability engineer with Prime Air; and Amanda Rodrigues Smith, an Amazon Robotics university outreach program manager who organized the summit.
“We thought it was valuable for us to create a really intentional and meaningful in-person experience to bring the best of our community together,” said Rodrigues Smith. “At Amazon, we value opportunities to learn and be curious. So, it’s in that spirit that we created the summit — an experience to immerse in dialogue, diving deep, and asking questions.”
The students toured Amazon innovation campuses in Boston’s Seaport area, and North Reading, a Boston suburb, attended professional development workshops, participated in a wellness immersion day on Martha’s Vineyard, and interacted with local high school students as part of community outreach.
The Day One Fellowship program provides qualified recipients full tuition, room and board, mentorship, and internship opportunities with Amazon Robotics. Amazon launched the program in 2021 with a goal to empower Black, Latinx, and Native American students to become industry leaders through scholarship, research, and career opportunities.
The summit also featured panel discussions that focused on professional development and academic success, team-building activities, and networking opportunities with other fellowship recipients, academics, and Amazon scientists.
“The networking was definitely a huge perk to this fellowship,” said Bianca Aumann, a 2021 Day One Fellowship recipient who is pursuing a master’s in mechanical engineering at Stanford. “At the summit, I got to extend my network within Amazon and also with all of the other fellows at other schools, even getting to meet faculty at other schools.”
In addition to graduating debt free, all fellows receive the opportunity to intern at a division of Amazon Robotics during their master’s programs. Aumann, who became interested in robotics after a childhood trip to Disney World sparked her curiosity in how the characters moved, interned with Amazon’s Dexterous Manipulation Application Team in summer 2022.
Asbel Fontanez, a 2022 Day One Fellowship recipient, credits the program for helping him fulfill a childhood dream of working in robotics. In January, Fontanez starts a six- to eight-month co-op program with a team at Amazon Robotics as he completes his master’s degree in robotics and autonomous systems at Boston University.
If I had not gotten the fellowship, it would have been much more difficult to possibly go into an actual robotics company. If the 10-year-old version of me was to see where I am today, he would be very excited.
“If I had not gotten the fellowship, it would have been much more difficult to possibly go into an actual robotics company,” Fontanez said. “If the 10-year-old version of me was to see where I am today, he would be very excited.”
Under the leadership of Joe Quinlivan, vice president of Global Robotics, Brady and his team launched the fellowship program in 2021 with an inaugural class of six participants representing three universities. The 2022 program included 20 fellows from seven universities: Brown University, Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Stanford University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
“We are looking to support diversity, equity, and inclusion as an initiative,” Rodrigues Smith said. “It really is the tapestry and fabric of who we are. In order for us to innovate and to truly be the best, we must recognize that talent, ideas, experiences, and backgrounds that are diverse enrich how we innovate.”
Amazon is broadening its outreach initiatives so more students become aware of the program. In addition to campus visits by Amazon recruiters, the robotics team is increasing its collaboration with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and minority-serving institutions.
Amazon Robotics’ other diversity initiatives include collaboration with professional organizations such as Women in Tech, AFROTECH, and Black in Robotics, which sponsored one of the summit’s panel discussions.
“In cutting-edge fields like engineering and robotics, where the solutions are not answered yet, there is no rule book to follow as to how to approach something,” Aumann said. “We’re coming up with really innovative concepts and innovative technology. And I think having people from diverse backgrounds naturally results in people approaching things differently or just having different ideas for how to tackle a specific problem. So I think it ultimately leads to better technology.”