Sheena Birgans-Wright, an 8th-grade computer science teacher at Prairie-Hills Junior High School, has been selected among thousands of eligible teachers as a 2021 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient. Ms. Birgans-Wright will receive a prize package valued at more than $30,000, which includes $25,000 to expand computer science and/or robotics education at her school and a $5,000 teacher cash award. Prairie-Hills Junior High School plans to use the prize to further advance S.T.E.M. opportunities for students at Prairie Hills Junior High School.
Sheena Birgans-Wright learned of the honor when her colleagues surprised her with an Amazon box filled with Amazon Future Engineer swag at the 8th-grade commencement ceremony.
“It was a total shock to learn that I was an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year,” said Birgans-Wright. “I just want to thank Amazon for caring enough to invest in our students. Having access to the resources that this award will enable us to purchase is going to be life-changing for many of my students and the people who benefit from all they have to offer. Closing the diversity gap in computer science is so important and Amazon is doing its part to make that happen.”
“This is an amazing honor. There is no one more deserving than Ms. Birgans-Wright,” said Kenndell L. Smith, Principal of Prairie Hills Junior High School. “Her hard work and dedication to our school community is unmatched. We are extremely proud of her.”
Ms. Birgans-Wright is a 17-year veteran teacher. She has served as the Prairie-Hills Junior High School STEM teacher for the last five years. In that time, she has expanded the STEM program to include engineering, robotics, and coding. Ms. Birgans-Wright also sponsors after-school STEM programs such as IMSA Fusion, Girls Who Code, and Broadcasting Club.
“It has been an especially difficult year for teachers, so we are excited to recognize their hard work and commitment to their student’s success,” said Victor Reinoso, Global Director, Amazon Future Engineer, Amazon in the Community. “The Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipients work diligently to help students in underserved and underrepresented communities build life-changing skills to propel their futures in computer science. We celebrate their tireless efforts to increase access to technology and computer literacy in their classrooms and beyond.”
Sheena Birgans-Wright is one of ten teachers across the country who received the Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award. Recipients were chosen based on a variety of criteria, including their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within computer science education, a recommendation from a school administrator and compelling, personal anecdotes about their school and students. Scholarship America reviewed applicants and selected the award recipients.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the market for computer science professionals will grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations and, as of May 2020, the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250, which is more than twice the median annual wage for all occupations. Computer science is the fastest-growing profession within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field, but only 8% of STEM graduates earn a computer science degree, with a small percentage from underrepresented communities. Students from underserved and underrepresented communities are 8 to 10 times more likely to pursue college degrees in computer science if they have taken AP computer science in high school.
Amazon Future Engineer is a childhood-to-career computer science education program intended to inspire and educate millions of students globally, including hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. each year. Students explore computer science through school curriculum and project-based learning using code to make music, program robots, and solve problems. Amazon Future Engineer also awards 100 students each year with four-year, $40,000 scholarships and paid internships at Amazon, and celebrates teachers with professional development and $25,000 Teacher of the Year Awards. Amazon Future Engineer is part of Amazon’s $50 million commitment to STEM and computer science education. The program is available in the U.S., UK, Canada, and France.
Prairie Hills Junior High is a comprehensive middle school that is committed to excellence in the areas of academics, professional development, social-emotional learning, athletics, and community outreach. Our students are exposed to rigorous instructional activities and a multitude of cross-curricular projects. In addition to a strong core curriculum, Prairie Hills Junior High School also offers courses in Art, Band, Choir, Foreign Language, Music, and S.T.E.M. Our curriculum is designed to meet the diverse needs of our students.