Seattle University announced today that Amazon has made a $3 million gift to the new Center for Science and Innovation. This gift supports the school's commitment to increase access to computer science and STEM education, particularly for women and underrepresented minorities.

Seattle University has a deep history of educating women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering. Women comprise half the members of the leadership team in the College of Science and Engineering, 41 percent of the college’s full-time faculty, and 44 percent of its students.

If we don’t have employees that represent the type of people for whom we’re building, we’re not going to have the right perspective.
Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS

Speaking to students today at a fireside chat with Roshanak Roshandel, PhD, associate professor and chair of computer science and an Amazon Scholar, Andy Jassy, chief executive officer of Amazon Web Services (AWS) discussed important topics like education, diversity and how to prepare for careers in computer science.

“We’re proud to help extend Seattle University’s capabilities in terms of the number of quality students it educates, especially women and underrepresented minorities,” said Jassy.

“This is important for Amazon’s future as well, allowing us to hire strong candidates and bring diverse perspectives to what we’re creating. If we don’t have employees that represent the type of people for whom we’re building, we’re not going to have the right perspective.”

The new Center for Science and Innovation will allow more students from all backgrounds to develop advanced technical skills, increasing enrollment in computer science and data science by 50 percent, from 400 to 600 undergraduate and graduate students by 2025, according to Mike Quinn, PhD, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. The Center for Science and Innovation is providing the additional space needed to support that growth.

The state-of-the-art, 111,000 square foot building will be the new home of the departments of biology, chemistry, and computer science.

A bridge between tech and academia

“With this donation, a bridge has been built between Amazon and Seattle U. Students will get more opportunities to be exposed to new mentorship, and career and enrichment opportunities at Amazon,” said Roshanak Roshandel, PhD, associate professor and chair of computer science at Seattle University.

“It is also a bridge between the tech industry and academia. It helps us ensure we remain relevant as an institution, providing a strong technical foundation to our students in addition to the ethical and moral values stemming from our Jesuit tradition.”

Roshandel leads the computer science department at Seattle University, where the number of students studying computer science has quadrupled in the past decade. It's the fastest growing department at the university, with four undergraduate programs, two graduate programs, and three graduate certificates.

She's also an Amazon Scholar, working on large-scale technical challenges while teaching and conducting research at Seattle University. She's currently focused on building machine learning solutions for anomaly and intrusion detection.

“I like to do creative, impactful work. That takes on many different forms: helping my friends and family, collaborating with my faculty colleagues, supporting our students, and now this role at Amazon. The work I do as an Amazon Scholar is challenging and creative, and the scale of impact is enormous.”

Seeing those kids, especially those who have gone through hardships, succeed in the competitive field of computer science feels really good.
Roshanak Roshandel - PhD, associate professor and chair of computer science at Seattle University and Amazon Scholar

Customer-centric focus

Her roles at Seattle University and Amazon allow her to make “a difference in people's lives.” And, although the environment and audience are different, Roshandel has found a common thread across the projects.

“Seattle U and Amazon are both incredibly customer centric. At Seattle U, we have a clear perspective that we serve the public interest by educating our students. It's not about my individual professional goals, it's about making sure that my decisions address the needs of my students.”

Seattle University’s focus on the student experience is felt around the campus, all the way until graduation.

“Graduation is a really proud moment for me. We have a lot of first-generation students for whom a Seattle University computer science degree will offer many future opportunities in the tech industry,” said Roshandel.

“Seeing those kids, especially those who have gone through hardships, succeed in the competitive field of computer science feels really good.”

Connecting with the local tech community

To prepare students to enter the technology field, Roshandel and her colleagues are committed to developing new programs and initiative for the department to grow and expand. This has included a highly successful “career change” certificate program in computer science fundamentals, as well as new graduate programs in data science.

A text graphic that states, " Seattle University is the only university in the U.S. with women chairing all of its Engineering and Computer Science departments."

“The software industry changes every few years. Our department is also growing rapidly; it's a different environment than it was 14 years ago when I started at Seattle U. We need to maintain our spirit as a department, while staying responsive to the needs of the tech industry.”

There's no better way to keep up with the industry than to embed students directly in the field. Thanks to Seattle University's award-winning Project Center, seniors majoring in engineering and computer science collaborate with industry partners to develop solutions for real-world problems.

“One of the strengths of our program is our close relationship with the tech communities in the area. We’ll be able to maximize these partnerships by creating a new co-working space for all computer science students, which will be named the ‘Amazon Computer Science Project Center,'” said Roshandel.

“This space will highlight the great relationship that exists between Amazon and Seattle U.”

Amazon’s investment in the future

Our donation to Seattle University is part of our ongoing efforts to inspire and increase access to computer science and STEM education. We are committed to ensuring all children and young adults, especially those from underrepresented communities, have the resources and skills they need to build their best future.

Our primary computer science initiative is Amazon Future Engineer, a four-part, childhood-to-career program aimed at educating 10 million students from underserved and underrepresented communities each year to try computer science and coding. Through this initiative, we have provided robotics grants to 100 schools, funded computer science classes in more than 1,000 high schools across all 50 states and the District of Columbia – including 130 high schools in New York City – and awarded $40,000 Amazon Future Engineer scholarships to 100 college-bound seniors.