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May 19, 2023
Amazon Freight creates supply chain tech career pathways for diverse college students
According to industry research, only 10% of leadership in tech at top firms are held by people from underrepresented groups, despite the fact that they comprise 27% of the U.S. population. What’s more, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020, only 17% of Black Americans and 3% of Asian Americans held positions in transportation.

To combat this, Amazon Freight is helping create a pipeline of diverse talent in the industry. We are working with Howard University, a private, historically Black research institution, through a program that fosters faculty academic research with support from undergraduate students.

Amazon Freight sponsored the Vertical Integration Program (VIP) during the 2021-2022 school year and continued it in 2022-2023 for another year. The program offers a research project to undergraduate senior engineering students, in which they work for a full school year to complete a real-world problem in freight.

The first cohort in 2021-2022 focused on a project for cold chain implementation in an inbound supply chain network to test how a company could transport perishable items in a low-temperature vehicle. The project looked at the middle mile to determine the best route when moving cold products—such as ice cream and frozen food—from producers to fulfillment centers. The second cohort is working on a common issue in the industry, which is optimization of capacity for freight transportation.

Assistant Professor Md Sami Hasnine, PhD, leads the program and explains one student outcome is to educate and shape the next generation of freight tech experts. “This project connects complex transportation engineering theories with practical and real-time industry problems,” he says. “And it allows us to work with leading managers and scientists at Amazon, which is huge for our students.”

By working on this project, students can learn various machine learning and econometric models and receive hands-on experience about which model to choose depending on the problem they are trying to solve. This could create a pathway for them to be data scientists and machine learning experts in freight, transportation, and logistics. Students will also learn new skills such as how to work with SQL, Python, Java, and Google Directional API to prepare them for the workforce.

Amazon Freight provides funding for the project, mentorship for students each week, and a real-world challenge for them to solve. According to Lei Chen, Senior Manager of Sales Operations and Data Analytics at Amazon Freight, the company is engaging with Howard University because of its large, diverse engineering student body. “We want to be inspired by the new ideas from young, talented students. This is important to help us grow a diverse talent pipeline for Amazon and the industry,” says Chen.

This fresh thinking is needed in the industry he says. “Logistics problems are complicated and need innovation, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives. By engaging with historically black universities, we are also having them tackle the same, real-world challenges everyone in freight is facing today. This helps complement the cutting-edge work they are doing on the theoretical front,” says Chen.

“Amazon’s involvement in the VIP at Howard is significant. With Amazon's technical support and the faculty advisor's supervision, our students can expect to gain the skills and proficiency needed to excel in the industry, as well as the soft skills needed for rewarding teamwork in their careers. I hope this project leads to a long-term relationship between Amazon and Howard,” commented Charles Kim, PhD, professor of electrical engineering and the project coordinator.

The program is part of a larger effort for Amazon, which previously launched the University Partnership Program to work on similar projects with other universities to mentor and hire diverse talent. Such programs will offer our customers more innovation and leadership from diverse perspectives, as well as create a career path program to recruit top engineering students.

See what else Amazon is doing in the field of DEI.
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