Surprise delivery: Amazon hands out $40K scholarships to Prince George’s Co. high school seniors

Seven Prince George’s County high school seniors gathered inside a room at Eleanor Roosevelt High School for what they were told would be a STEM-related conference.

But they walked outside and saw cameras, microphones and their parents all gathered together. Even then, they didn’t truly know what was happening. Neither did their parents.

The seven students, hailing from four different high schools around the Maryland county, stood through a few quick speeches before Victor Reinoso, the global director of education philanthropy at Amazon, had delivery drivers walk back to a truck in the parking lot, grab a box and hand it to the students.

The baffled students had to be prodded, “Why don’t you open up your boxes here,” said Reinoso. Seconds later, eyes lit up, jaws hit the ground and students started screaming as they pulled out cards announcing they had just won college scholarships from Amazon. Parents and relatives screamed, too.

The Amazon Future Engineer Scholarships are worth $40,000 over the next four years to pursue computer science and engineering degrees.

‘I thought it was going to be something else’

“I wasn’t even sure what this was today. My principal told me I should just come,” said Nhandi Nyawela of Upper Marlboro. The senior at the Chesapeake Math and IT Academy was planning to be in New York today, but scrapped her plans at the last minute.

“I was so surprised,” she admitted. “I was just really surprised Amazon noticed me and really liked my application.”

The Amazon Future Engineer Scholarships are worth $40,000 over the next four years. (WTOP/John Domen)

In fact, no one looked more surprised than she did, and she had tears running down her face as she beamed to her mother.

“As soon as I opened it, I looked straight at her … I saw her face and she was proud of me, so it made me happy,” she said.

“I still thought it was a conference,” while walking outside, said Kalkidan Michael, a senior at the Academy of Health Science at PGCC. “That was the story they told us.”

“The principal tricked us,” laughed his mom, Nina. Kalkidan called it a master-class effort to pull one over on them. An event like that was totally believable to them.

“We didn’t know about (the scholarship) until we got here. Now, right now, when he opened the box,” she said.

Even those who thought something was up when they walked outside didn’t think it was $40,000 in scholarships.

“I thought it was going to be something else,” said Oluwademilade Toluwani, a senior at Flowers High School. “It means the world. I’m so surprised.”

Students also offered paid internships

“Science and technology can change the world,” said Reinoso. “We also know that passion and potential is spread out throughout the county, throughout the country, throughout the world. But access to opportunities is not.”

Students will also be offered paid internships with Amazon after their first year of college, though that isn’t required.

“Really, our initiative here is just to increase the number of folks pursuing studies in this space, and we are excited for them wherever they choose to work, however they choose to apply these skills,” said Reinoso.

The full list of winners are:

  • From Eleanor Roosevelt High School: Yeabkal Abeje and Gabrielle Stewart
  • From DuVal High School: Jayson Kiggundu and Mouhamadou Dieng
  • From Academy of Health Science at PGCC: Kalkidan Michael
  • From Charles Herbert Flowers High: Oluwademilade Toluwani
  • From Chesapeake Math and IT South: Nhandi Nyawela

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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