EE Professor /Senior Executive Vice Dean of Columbia Engineering Shih-Fu Chang Works with Amazon to Launch Undergraduate Program to Increase Diversity and Inclusiveness in Tech Fields

January 21, 2021

Columbia Engineering and Amazon today announced their initiative to create the Columbia-Amazon Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program aimed at increasing diversity and inclusiveness in technology fields. The eight-week summer research and professional development program is designed for 30 undergraduate students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in all fields in STEM. Amazon has committed $324,000, with matching support from the School, for SURE, which is tentatively scheduled for June 28 to August 20, 2021.

“We are very pleased to join together with Amazon on launching such an important educational program. Expanding diversity and inclusion in science and engineering is critical to our mission of educating the leaders and innovators of the future, and also pioneering engineering innovations to meet societal challenges,” said Mary C. Boyce, dean of Columbia Engineering.

“The Columbia-Amazon Summer Undergraduate Research Experience will extend our vision, Engineering for Humanity, to a wider and more broadly diverse group of undergraduate students and is emblematic of the importance of university-industry partnerships in developing talent and delivering much-needed solutions to society’s grand challenges,” said Shih-Fu Chang, senior executive vice dean of Columbia Engineering and inaugural director of Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology in collaboration with Amazon.

“Amazon is thrilled to collaborate with Columbia on this important initiative to connect STEM undergraduate students from historically underrepresented backgrounds with top faculty in academia and scientists, engineers, product managers, and designers in industry,” said Prem Natarajan, Alexa AI vice president of Alexa AI Natural Understanding. “The unique learning opportunities created by this initiative will accelerate the professional development of the students and contribute to creating a more diverse national talent pool.”

SURE students will engage in cutting-edge research on campus at Columbia, and explore foundational research in areas of artificial intelligence, material science, and computational science and engineering, and research in confronting challenges in medicine, climate, sustainability, business, and other areas. They will also meet with leading experts and practitioners from Amazon to learn about real-world scientific and technical challenges, from understanding customer needs to designing, implementing, testing, and launching products. The blending of academic and industrial perspectives will provide a unique end-to-end learning experience to the participating students.

In addition, the students will be integrated into other summer programs on Columbia’s campus, including the Summer@SEAS program, where they will take part in workshops on presentation skills, learn how to build personal mentor networks, and join discussions on ethics and scientific integrity.

Each SURE student will receive a weekly stipend, help with travel expenses, and on-campus residency during the duration of the program, including room and board (pending COVID-19 restrictions). Participants will have an academic advisor (a faculty member or PI), a research mentor (a SEAS graduate student or postdoctoral fellow), and an industry mentor (scientist or engineer from Amazon). They will be offered visits to company sites and social engagements both with their peers as well as the extended research community at Columbia Engineering.

Participants will also receive support on preparing applications for graduate schools and fellowships. This will include application fee waivers, scheduled office hours (virtual or in-person) with potential faculty mentors and student peers, invitations to seminars and research symposia at Columbia Engineering, and other benefits. In addition, they will be given opportunities to be considered for an industry internship in the future.

SURE will culminate in a symposium with presentations from the students about their research and professional development activities during the program.