Alumnus helps Amazon commits $1 million for science and engineering "redshirt" program

9/18/2018 Joseph Park, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE ILLINOIS alumnus Gregg Zehr (BSEE '76, MSEE '77) helped secure $1 million in funding from Amazon to support an academic "redshirt" program. Zehr was the 2016 recipient of the ECE ILLINOIS Distinguished Alumni award.

Written by Joseph Park, ECE ILLINOIS


Gregg Zehr (BSEE '75, MSEE '77)
Gregg Zehr (BSEE '75, MSEE '77)

Amazon has announced that they will be committing $1 million over five years to help support an academic "redshirt" program for Illinois students in science and engineering. Similar to how student-athletes are redshirted, this program allows up to 25 students from disadvantaged backgrounds across the state to prepare for traditional freshmen courses in science and engineering with an extra year. According to The News-Gazette, the gift grew out of a conversation with ECE ILLINOIS alumnus Gregg Zehr (BSEE '76, MSEE '77),  president of AmazonLab216. Zehr was the 2016 recipient of ECE ILLINOIS' Distinguished Alumni award


"ARISE fits the community engagement mission of Amazon — to provide resources and ignite the passion for STEM education to the next generation," said Zehr. "The University of Illinois has a global reputation in engineering, and we're excited to help students who need a little extra preparation to succeed at a place like Illinois."

According to Illinois officials, students from both rural and urban areas show the potential to suceed in engineering but did not have access to Advanced Placement (AP) or other high-level courses in high school. Students in this program will take prep classes in subjects including pre-calculus and pre-physics and received an enhanced orientation to engineering and faculty mentors who will help them during their college careers. These students will also have access to scholarships and financial aid to ensure that it will not cost them more to graduate in five years compared o a traditional four-year program.

In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided $5 million over five years in seed money to six institutions including the University of Illinois but according to Illinois officials, that money does not cover all the costs. The funding from Amazon will fill the gaps and provide funding for scholarships and other opportunities as well as allowing for the university to extend this program beyond the original five years. 

Amazon will also "provide other support, including employees who will be mentors for the students." ECE ILLINOIS Professor Jonathan Makela added that the company wanted to encourage a more diverse talent pool within the college, "so it seemed like a natural fit."

This fall, 23 students are signed up for the university's redshirt program. 

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This story was published September 18, 2018.