HBCU, Amazon, Prime Air Program

HBCU Students Take Flight In Partnership With Amazon’s Prime Air Program

Four students from Hampton and Howard University learned of Prime Air's drone delivery operations at the tour.

HBCU students are taking flight through a growing partnership with Amazon Prime Air. Capstone scholars from Hampton and Howard University took part in the drone delivery program’s Technology and Innovation Tour.

Amazon’s first commercial drone delivery facility launched in College Station, Texas, at the end of 2022. Four students in aviation, mechanical engineering, and computer science witnessed the process first-hand, while also speaking with the diversity leaders and engineers leading its development. As the company hopes to evolve the way customers get their packages through the emerging technology, its focus has expanded to its HBCU partnerships.

Amanda Rodrigues Smith, senior manager of University Partnerships and DEI Initiatives at Amazon, spoke with BLACK ENTERPRISE of the partnership’s roots. Moreover, she emphasized their commitment to accessibility for all young engineers.

“We are collaborating at the university level to build a more comprehensive approach to teaching the fundamentals in mechanical engineering, computer science and aerospace,” explained Rodriguez Smith. “But that’s a part of this learning exchange, creating real time opportunities for students to learn and as we open up, you know, our offices as an extension of their labs. So there aren’t kind of barriers.”

She added, “It’s ultimately these students’ decision to choose where they take their foundational skills and how they apply that, and to provide them with the most options so that they have the ability to choose…It’s not just about flying drones, there’s actually different types of career opportunities that can be for a quality engineer.”

Beginning at Hampton University in 2021, a collaboration with Amazon Robotics was the start of a multi-year modernization plan. Its goals of funding labs and flying drones on campus hope to establishment a degree program in the measure. Students from Hampton and Howard have taken part in this capstone program, with fellow HBCU Tuskegee in the works. Some have also earned their pilot’s license to fly these innovative machines.

The fulfillment center will introduce a newer drone model soon, providing a sleeker look and quieter sound to its operations. Currently, its autonomous drone, whose flight paths are monitored by personnel, can deliver packages of up to 5 pounds within a 5 mile radius, all in 60 minutes or less. Witnessing the technological possibilities of the program also inspired the students to visualize a future in drone aviation.

“It’s pretty exciting because what I do right now with drones is more-so research and research-based missions. This is a much further step, going into a commercial laws,” shared Tyrique Moss, a Mechanical Engineering Major at Hampton. “My own goal is telling the future of aviation honestly, to do and see as much as I can. There’s so many different types of drones, different usage and utilities. You can expand from it to absolutely everywhere, as far as search and rescue to delivery. I can try and do that. That’s all out there for me.”

Amazon continues its DEI and upskilling initiatives in STEM, including its AI Ready program and Amazon Future Engineer. These measures hope to build a foundational skillset for students of all backgrounds to go higher with their dreams. As for the drone delivery sites, plans to launch a second location in Arizona are underway.