Howard University's Founders Library is seen in the distance.
Howard University's Founders Library is seen in the distance. Howard is hosting AEASP “in support of increasing the pipeline of underrepresented minority economists.”
Oscar Merrida IV

Amazon to sponsor Howard University summer program aimed at increasing pipeline of minority economists

Howard University is the first Black college to host the American Economic Association Summer Training and Scholarship Program.

Howard University recently announced that it will host the American Economic Association Summer Training and Scholarship Program (AEASP) “in support of increasing the pipeline of underrepresented minority economists.” The program will be hosted at Howard for the next five years, and Amazon is sponsoring next summer’s program. Amazon first began discussions with Howard University about sponsoring AEASP about two years ago. The program, which aims to prepare “talented undergraduates for doctoral programs in economics and related disciplines,” will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024 at Howard.

"The lack of diversity in economics becomes self-reinforcing"

Four economists from diverse backgrounds shared how economics can address its diversity problem and talked about how their lives have shaped their work as economists.

That Howard, an historically Black college and university (HBCU) which produces more Black economics undergrads than any other institution, is hosting AEASP for the first time serves as a reminder of the progress the economics profession still must make.

The Caucus of Black Economists (later called the National Economics Association) first began exploring the issues of underrepresentation of minorities within the economics field in 1969. More than 50 years later, the economics profession is still grappling with structural issues. In fact, last January’s AEA conference in San Diego featured a panel titled, “How Can Economics Solve Its Race Problem.”

Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe and Omari H. Swinton standing in front of Howard University.
Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe, left, and Omari H. Swinton, right, are seen posing on the campus of Howard University. They discussed why economics still struggles with diversity.
Oscar Merrida IV

Omari H. Swinton, the chair of Howard University’s Department of Economics, who is both an alumni and the current director of the AEA summer program, as well as the past president of the National Economics Association, has observed that, “The vast majority of institutions in the US have never had a Black economist on staff, and the vast majority of schools have never graduated a Black PhD economist.”

Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe, the founder and president of the Women's Institute for Science, Equity, and Race (WISER), which is also a partner in next summer’s AEASP program, authored a research paper in 2019 that found that from 1966 to 2015, “the number of undergraduate economics degrees conferred to Black women was stagnant, and there was a decrease in the number of doctorates conferred to Black men.”

So why does the economics field still have such a massive disparity in minority representation? What needs to happen for systemic progress to be made? Amazon Science sat down with Sharpe and Swinton to ask those questions, as well as why Howard hosting the summer program is so significant, and what advice they would give to students considering economics as a major or profession. We also talked with Amazon chief economist Pat Bajari to find out why Amazon is sponsoring next summer’s AEASP program, and why he thinks diversity within the economics profession is essential.

A Howard University sign on the Howard campus
The AEASP will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024 at Howard University.
Oscar Merrida IV

Why does economics still have such a significant diversity problem?

Omari H. Swinton: I don't know that economics, as a profession, has really agreed that there's a problem. I think that's one of the big issues—we’ll say there's a problem, but nothing ever changes. You oftentimes hear people say things like, ‘We want to increase diversity’ but don't actually make any changes. They just say that that's something that they want to do.

It’s not as if these things haven't been out there. There are people out there who have dedicated their lives to bringing these types of issues to the forefront. I go back to Sandy Darity as an example. If you read from his earlier work, he's talking about these issues. Gregory Price has chronicled which institutions have Black economists in them. Rhonda has been looking at these issues for years.

Whether the economics profession is really ready to change is the issue. There have been a lot of people who have been talking about these issues for years. Others have come out and mentioned these problems more recently, but they ignore the fact that people have been talking about issues of underrepresentation for years.

Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe on the campus of Howard University
Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe says economics needs to define what diversity means. "If you don't define it, you can't measure it, or hold folks accountable."
Oscar Merrida IV

Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe: I narrow the problem down to be three things: 1) Economics has never defined what diversity means, and if you don't define it, you can't measure it, or hold folks accountable; 2) We don't have accurate data to track progress. We need to collect data that can be disaggregated by characteristics that have been used to limit participation in the profession. For example, when you talk about women, that usually means white women, and when we talk in terms of race, then you're really talking about men, and both of those descriptors are biased; and 3) As Omari said, there's enormous erasure happening. People have been doing this a long time, yet newcomers who have recently gotten tenure suddenly feel bad. They are handed a mic as if they are now the authorities. They don’t bother to understand whose shoulders they're standing on.

What needs to happen to address this problem? What role can academic institutions and companies like Amazon play?

Sharpe: I don't think the answer is to hire more Black economists. I really don't. And here is why: Because I think that when people say, ‘hire more Black economists’, people do just that, they hire Black economists. They do not think about whether or not those Black economists are bringing lived experiences that are going to help you craft policies to better interact with your customers.

One of the things I've been saying to folks recently is we need to talk more about structural classism and the ways in which we treat folks who are poor. So, it's not just about hiring Black economists, it's not about hiring Hispanic economists. It's about hiring folks who have lived experience in the US that will get at the inequality and related issues. That's not going to be solved just by hiring an economist because they are non-white.

Omari H. Swinton, the chair of Howard University's Department of Economics, on Howard's campus.
Omari H. Swinton says the AEASP program coming to Howard "is important because this is what our program is designed to do: increase minority participation in the economics profession."
Oscar Merrida IV

Swinton: If you say you want to diversify the profession, then stop looking at things that are not really problems. For example, there's not really a pipeline problem. You can ask almost any economics professor who teaches Principles of Economics, and most will tell you that is probably one of the worst classes to use if you want somebody to be interested in economics as a profession. But it really hasn't changed in years.

One change that we're making in the summer program is the experiential internship, or experiential learning. We’re going to place students with think tanks and corporations to actually see what an economist outside of the academy does. Everybody that gets a PhD in economics isn't going to be able to get a job as a professor. What does it look like to be an economist at Amazon? What does it look like to be an economist at the Census Bureau or at Brookings? Those are entirely different experiences. We’re trying to partner with as many different organizations as possible.

Hopefully we'll see change at those institutions, because students will come to the summer program, have that experience, and want to go back to those institutions. Rather than wanting to be a professor, they will, for example, say, ‘I want to be an economist at the Census Bureau, because I believe this research is important.’ It’s important for organizations, public and private, to be available to students, so they can see the type of experiences they can have if they work for you.

Pat Bajari
Pat Bajari, Amazon vice president and chief economist
Carl Clark, Amazon Imaging Studio

Pat Bajari: As an economist, I have always thought of this is in terms of diminishing returns. If you always have the same type of viewpoint, and keep hiring replicas of that viewpoint, the returns you get from that eventually decrease. Having different viewpoints allows you to do better work. And because we serve a large and diverse base of customers, we have a large and diverse base of problems. We want to take a leading role in supporting a new generation of economists from underrepresented minorities—it is not only the right thing to do, but it will also help bring strong and diverse voices that will create an even more inclusive customer experience.

When individuals come from different backgrounds, they bring different perspectives to the table. You do better work when you have different perspectives.
Pat Bajari

Swinton: One thing organizations can do is find programs that are actually successful at achieving the types of goals they’re pursuing. For example, some of the research done by Becker et al. shows that about 20 percent of Blacks that have PhDs in economics have attended the AEASP program. By helping support Howard in hosting AEASP in this first year, Amazon is doing that. Without Amazon’s support, Howard wouldn't be able to host the AEA summer program at all. We certainly hope others will follow Amazon’s lead.

What is the significance of the summer program coming to Howard?

Swinton: The summer program is extremely important in my path as an economist. My first cohort of economists were the people that I met through the summer program. Howard is the number one producer as an undergraduate feeder of Blacks who go on to get PhDs in economics. This is our mission and one of our goals as an institution and as a department, and I think the AEA summer program coming to Howard is important because this is what our program is designed to do: increase minority participation in the economics profession.

The National Economics Association summer program came out of Marcus Alexis’ mind as a program to help get minorities interested in economics. For the AEASP program to come to Howard at this point in time is a great honor. It’s an honor to be the first HBCU to host the summer program.

Sharpe: I'm excited to see a program that's going to be led by Blacks, which I think is incredibly important, as the program will celebrate 50 years while it's at Howard in 2024. It just feels full circle in terms of thinking about Marcus Alexis, who was a Black economist, and then having the program 50 years later be at an institution that is the number one producer of Black economists. That's incredibly exciting.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone considering whether to pursue a degree in economics? Why is economics such an important field?

Bajari: A lot of economics is understanding people's material wellbeing. Who has low wages? Who has high wages? If you take a given policy, whether that's central bank policy or interventions into labor markets, etcetera, these things deeply, deeply, deeply affect people's lives, people's material outcomes. What they can purchase and where they can live and where they can send their kids to school and so forth. It's an important set of questions, and they range from micro things about what happens to the individual, to macro things, such as how the whole world is evolving and changing in response to things like COVID-19.

Howard University's Founders Library
Howard University's Founders Library is seen here. Howard is the first Black college to host AEASP.
Oscar Merrida IV

If we change policy or somebody goes to college versus doesn't go to college, what are the implications of those economic variables? I know this is what attracted me to economics. As a young person, growing up pretty poor in rural Minnesota, I was interested in the world and how it worked. And I liked economics because it brought math and data and scientific formalism to those questions. That's not the only way you can look at those questions, or the only way you should look at them, but it’s one way that's highly useful.

Sharpe: For students pursuing a PhD in economics, my main advice is to pick a PhD program that's a good fit for you. Many students think that if you don't go to a top program, you can't have a successful career. That’s not true. I went to Claremont Graduate University, not highly ranked, but I had an amazing time as a graduate student. I loved it. My mentee when I was in graduate school was Olugbenga Ajilore who’s at CAP (Center for American Progress) now, who is a rock star right now in terms of being in the news and asking people to think about rural communities. He and I didn't go to top economics departments, but we went to places that were good fits for us, and that's incredibly important.

Bajari: “Technology economics” is a booming field. The largest conference held by the National Association of Business Economists is now the tech economics conference. It’s larger than their annual conference now, because it's been an explosive area of job growth for young people. We are one of the larger private sector employers of economists. When you're in that role, you have an obligation to demonstrate leadership. We saw sponsorship of AEASP as an opportunity to expose young PhDs to this emerging field. I thought Howard was very thoughtful about their proposal, and I'm hoping AEASP can help us establish a pipeline of highly qualified candidates.

Swinton: I talk to students about this all the time. You want to make a change, and you want to be a policy maker? Be an economist. You want to go into business and work on Wall Street, make a lot of money? Be an economist. Economics is one of the most useful majors because it allows you the opportunity you to go out and do a wide variety of things based on the basic training you obtain.

Applications for the summer program are open and the deadline to apply is January 31, 2021. To apply, visit economics.howard.edu/aeasp. The program will be held May 27 to July 25, 2021, and be offered in Washington, D.C., contingent upon COVID-19 restrictions.

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At Alexa Shopping, we strive to enable shopping in everyday life. We allow customers to instantly order whatever they need, by simply interacting with their Smart Devices such as Amazon Show, Spot, Echo, Dot or Tap. Our Services allow you to shop, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can go from 'I want that' to 'that's on the way' in a matter of seconds. We are seeking the industry's best to help us create new ways to interact, search and shop. Join us, and you'll be taking part in changing the future of everyday lifeWe are seeking a Data Scientist to be part of the Correction and Automated Recovery (CARe) team for Alexa Shopping. Our team focuses on solving the hard problem of recovering from shopping errors in the Alexa pipeline and improve customer CX. The solutions will help address unique shopping challenges and maximize the self-learning benefits for shopping. This is a strategic role to shape and deliver our science strategy in developing and deploying Machine Learning solutions to our hardest customer facing problems. The initiatives are at the heart of the organization and recognized as the innovations that are ground breaking and will allow us to exceed customer expectations. If this role seems like a good fit, please reach out, we'd love to talk to you.This role requires working closely with business, engineering and other scientists within Alexa, Shopping and across Amazon to deliver ground breaking features. You will lead high visibility and high impact programs collaborating with various teams across Amazon. You will work with a team of SDEs and Scientists to launch new customer facing features and improve the current features.
US, MA, Cambridge
The Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI) team is looking for a passionate, talented, and inventive Applied Scientist with a strong machine learning background, to help build industry-leading Speech and Language technology.About the hiring groupThe Alexa AI team has a mission to push the envelope in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), and Audio Signal Processing, in order to provide the best-possible experience for our customers.Job responsibilitiesAs an Applied Scientist with the Alexa AI team, you will work with talented peers to develop novel algorithms and modeling techniques to advance the state of the art in spoken language understanding. Your work will directly impact our customers in the form of products and services that make use of speech and language technology. You will leverage Amazon’s heterogeneous data sources and large-scale computing resources to accelerate advances in spoken language understanding.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.
US, MA, Cambridge
The Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI) team is looking for a passionate, talented, and inventive Senior Applied Scientist with a strong machine learning background, to help build industry-leading Speech and Language technology.About the hiring groupThe Alexa AI team has a mission to push the envelope in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), and Audio Signal Processing, in order to provide the best-possible experience for our customers.Job responsibilitiesAs a Senior Applied Scientist with the Alexa AI team, you will work with talented peers to develop novel algorithms and modeling techniques to advance the state of the art in spoken language understanding. Your work will directly impact our customers in the form of products and services that make use of speech and language technology. You will leverage Amazon’s heterogeneous data sources and large-scale computing resources to accelerate advances in spoken language understanding.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.
US, MA, Cambridge
The Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI) team is looking for a passionate, talented, and inventive Applied Scientist with a strong machine learning background, to help build industry-leading Speech and Language technology.We work on privacy initiatives related to Alexa such as continual learning, Federated learning and synthetic data generation.About the hiring groupThe Alexa AI team has a mission to push the envelope in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), and Audio Signal Processing, in order to provide the best-possible experience for our customers.Job responsibilitiesAs an Applied Scientist with the Alexa AI team, you will work with talented peers to develop novel algorithms and modeling techniques to advance the state of the art in spoken language understanding. Your work will directly impact our customers in the form of products and services that make use of speech and language technology. You will leverage Amazon’s heterogeneous data sources and large-scale computing resources to accelerate advances in spoken language understanding.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.
US, CA, Santa Monica
Amazon is investing heavily in building a customer centric, world class advertising business across its many unique audio, video, and display surfaces. We are looking for an Applied Scientist who has a deep passion for building machine-learning solutions in our advertising decision system. In this role, you will be on the cutting edge of developing monetization solutions for Live TV, Connected TV and streaming Audio. These are nascent, high growth areas, where advertising monetization is an important, fully integrated part of the core strategy for each business.As an Sr. Data Scientist, you will be tasked with leading innovations in machine learning algorithms to deliver ads across platforms influencing product features and architectural choices for decision making systems. You will need to work with data scientists to invent elegant metrics and associated measurement models, and develop algorithms that help advertisers test and learn the impact of advertising strategies across channels on these metrics while ensuring a great customer experience.Key responsibilities:· Rapidly design, prototype and test machine learning algorithms for optimizing advertising reach, frequency and return on advertising spend· Build systems that extract and process volumes of disparate data using a variety of econometric and machine learning approaches. These systems should be designed to scale with exponential growth in data and run continuously.· Leverage knowledge of advanced software system and algorithm development to build our measurement and optimization engine.· Contribute intellectual property through patent generation.· Functionally decompose complex problems into simple, straight-forward solutions.· Understand system inter-dependencies and limitations as well as analytic inter-dependencies to build efficient solutions.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.
US, WA, Seattle
We’re working on the future. If you are seeking an iterative fast-paced environment where you can drive innovation, apply state-of-the-art technologies to solve real world delivery challenges, and provide visible benefit to customers, this is your opportunity.Come work on the Amazon Prime Air Team!We're looking for an outstanding engineer who combines strong knowledge of aerodynamics with expertise in using CFD simulations to drive vehicle design. As a member of the high-fidelity aero team, you will have a direct hand in shaping our future drone designs and will interface closely with several other teams, including the conceptual design, wind tunnel, and controls teams.Responsibilities will include using CFD to aid in:· Vehicle-level conceptual and detailed design· Propeller design· Aerodynamic database generation· Wind tunnel support and validationDeveloping pre- and post-processing tooling is another key component to the role, so strong programming skills are encouraged.Export License ControlThis position may require a deemed export control license for compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Placement is contingent on Amazon’s ability to apply for and obtain an export control license on your behalf.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.
US, VA, Arlington
Excited by using massive amounts of data to develop Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) models? Want to help public sector, medical center, and non-profit customers derive business value through the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Eager to learn from many different enterprise’s use cases of AWS ML and DL? Thrilled to be key part of Amazon, who has been investing in Machine Learning for decades, pioneering and shaping the world’s AI technology?At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we are helping large enterprises build ML and DL models on the AWS Cloud. We are applying predictive technology to large volumes of data and against a wide spectrum of problems. Our Professional Services organization works together with our AWS customers to address their business needs using AI.AWS Professional Services is a unique consulting team. We pride ourselves on being customer obsessed and highly focused on the AI enablement of our customers. If you have experience with AI, including building ML or DL models, we’d like to have you join our team. You will get to work with an innovative company, with great teammates, and have a lot of fun helping our customers.If you do not live in a market where we have an open Data Scientist position, please feel free to apply. Our Data Scientists can live in any location where we have a WWPS Professional Service office.We’re looking for top architects, system and software engineers capable of using ML and other techniques to design, evangelize, and implement state-of-the-art solutions for never-before-solved problems.The primary responsibilities of this role are to:· Design data architectures and data lakes· Provide expertise in the development of ETL solutions on AWS· Use ML tools, such as Amazon SageMaker Ground Truth (GT) to annotate data. Work with Professional Services on designing workflow and user interface for GT annotation.· Collaborate with our data scientists to create scalable ML solutions for business problems· Interact with customer directly to understand the business problem, help and aid them in implementation of their ML ecosystem· Analyze and extract relevant information from large amounts of historical data — provide hands-on data wrangling expertise· Work closely with account team, research scientist teams and product engineering teams to drive model implementations and new algorithms· This position can have periods of up to 10% travel.
US
Are you passionate about building successful Data transformations within the Public Sector? At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we’re hiring highly technical Data engineers to collaborate with our customers and partners on key engagements. Our consultants will develop and deliver proof-of-concept projects, technical workshops, and support implementation projects. These professional services engagements will focus on customer solutions such as Data and Analytics, HPC and more.In this role, you will work with our partners, customers and focus on our AWS offerings such Amazon Kinesis, AWS Glue, Amazon Redshift, Amazon EMR, Amazon Athena and more. You will help our customers and partners to remove the constraints that prevent them from leveraging their data to develop business insights.AWS Professional Services engage in a wide variety of projects for customers and partners, providing collective experience from across the AWS customer base and are obsessed about customer success. Our team collaborates across the entire AWS organization to bring access to product and service teams, to get the right solution delivered and drive feature innovation based upon customer needs.You will also have the opportunity to create white papers, writing blogs, build demos and other reusable collateral that can be used by our customers. Most importantly, you will work closely with our Solution Architects, Data Architects and Service Engineering teams.The ideal candidate will have extensive experience with design, development and operations that leverages deep knowledge in the use of services like Amazon Kinesis, Apache Kafka, Apache Spark, Amazon EMR, NoSQL technologies and other 3rd parties.This is a customer facing role. You will be required to travel to client locations and deliver professional services when needed (expected travel time is 20%)Here at AWS, we embrace our differences. We are committed to furthering our culture of inclusion. We have ten employee-led affinity groups, reaching 40,000 employees in over 190 chapters globally. We have innovative benefit offerings, and we host annual and ongoing learning experiences, including our Conversations on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) and AmazeCon (gender diversity) conferences. Amazon’s culture of inclusion is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and earn trust.
US, WA, Seattle
Would you like to shape the future of the video entertainment industry for movies, TV and live sports events? Does solving complex problems within large scale, production systems excite you? If you answered yes, we have an opportunity for you!Prime Video is disrupting the traditional television and movie industry with a growing library of high-quality media. Prime Video launched in 2007 and has quickly become a strategic priority for the company, reflected in the service’s recent expansion into over 240 countries and territories worldwide.This is a big opportunity to apply Computer Vision and directly impact millions of customers.A day in the lifeIn your day-to-day activities in this role, you'll embrace the challenges of a fast paced market and evolving technologies, and develop Computer Vision and Machine Learning models to extract deep 2/3-D video-understanding of Prime Video content. You will be encouraged to see the big picture, be innovative, and iteratively develop technology to impact millions of our customers. This is a young and evolving business where creativity and drive will have a lasting impact on the way video is enjoyed worldwide.About the hiring groupThe PV-CVML team is a group of Applied Scientists working on a diverse set of 2/3-D video understanding problems while partnering with various teams across Prime Video (PV). The most unique aspect of our team is the broad set of exciting problems we get to work on for our multiple stakeholders across the entire video-streaming vertical. If you want to work on technically cutting-edge problems with massive customer impact, then our team is the perfect fit for you!Job responsibilitiesAs a member of our team, you will apply Computer Vision and Machine Learning to problems that have cross-organizational technological impact. Your work will focus on cleansing and preparing large scale datasets, training and evaluating models and deploying them to production. You will work on large engineering efforts that solve significantly complex problems facing global customers. You will be trusted to operate with independence and are often assigned to focus on areas with significant impact on audience satisfaction. You must be equally comfortable with digging in to customer requirements as you are drilling into design with development teams.We would like you to build models that can perform 2D/3D scene-understanding of all video-content available on Prime Video using computer vision, natural language processing, deep learning and advanced machine learning algorithms. We need to solve problems across many cultures and languages and have a huge amount of human-labelled data as well as operations team to generate labels across many languages to help us achieve these goals. Our team consistently strives to innovate, and holds several novel patents and inventions in the motion picture and television industry. We are highly motivated to extend the state of the art.Amazon is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Amazon is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, protected veteran status, disability, age, or other legally protected status. For individuals with disabilities who would like to request an accommodation, please visit https://www.amazon.jobs/en/disability/us.