Dr. Melissa Collins: “As a product of this school system, I know what it means to have hard-working teachers push students to do their very best day in and day out.” (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/TSD Archives)

Dr. Melissa Collins, a second grade science teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School, has been selected as a 2021 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient.

Collins will receive a prize package valued at more than $30,000. It includes $25,000 to expand computer science and/or robotics education and a $5,000 teacher cash award.

Selected from among thousands of eligible teachers, Collins learned of the honor when colleagues surprised her with an Amazon box filled with Amazon Future Engineer swag.

“The Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award gives me hope for a better future for my students through believing in them and understanding that others, like Amazon, care about our kids, too,” she said. 

“Receiving this award meant the hard work and dedication that I have devoted to students paid off for them.” 

SCS Supt. Dr. Joris M. Ray said the “HEART work exhibited by Dr. Collins never ceases to amaze. … The way she incorporates innovative teaching and learning practices into her classroom every day is awe-inspiring and we are grateful for her devotion to her students and school.”

John P. Freeman recently was awarded the prestigious Tennessee STEM School Designation for 2021. Plans call for using the prize to help supply and renovate two labs; an imagine lab, designed to spur imagination and innovation focusing on stem coding and robotics, bioengineering and health science as well as a computer science lab where students will have access to 3D imaging technology.

Collins has received national and local praise over the past several years, including being inducted into the  2020 National Teachers Hall of Fame, winning the Presidential Award, the West Tennessee Teacher of the Year, a 2018 Top 50 Global Teacher Prize and being nominated for a 2018-19 LifeChanger Award. 

“It has been an especially difficult year for teachers, so we are excited to recognize their hard work and commitment to their students’ 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.”

Collins 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 percent between 2019-29, much faster than the average for all occupations. 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 percent 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.

This year, Amazon has a goal to reach 1.6 million students from underrepresented communities globally through Amazon Future Engineer with real-world-inspired virtual and hands-on computer science project learning. The program is currently available in the U.S., UK, France, and Canada.