2022 Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award: Cherish Samuels


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cherish Samuels, a principal engineer at Amazon, has been named one of 11 recipients of the 2022 Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award by the Penn State College of Engineering.

Samuels received her bachelor of science in architectural engineering from Tennessee State University in 2002 before earning a master of science in architectural engineering, with a focus on mechanical building systems, from Penn State in 2004. In 2011, she also obtained her professional engineering license in Illinois.

Samuels learned about Penn State’s architectural engineering program through years of internships with alumni at SmithGroup in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. With Samuels’s self-proclaimed love for the built environment, her career has spanned multiple areas of the design world: an engineering role in design-build construction at Ryan Companies; technical consulting for energy rebate programs at Xcel Energy; and sustainability consulting at Code Green Solutions. In the last role, she created and implemented portfolio-wide energy efficiency improvements for building owners and property managers.

In 2009, Samuels joined the McDonald’s Corporation as a mechanical engineer on the design team, where she eventually became the principal mechanical engineer for all restaurant development in the United States and earned a leadership position on the U.S. design standards team. In these roles, she helped guide and lead teams that oversaw the creation and implementation of design and sustainability standards for more than 14,000 new and existing restaurants in the U.S. As a 2012 graduate of the company’s Development Leadership Program, which is designed to identify and develop McDonald’s future leaders, Samuels has led many engineering design, compliance and implementation efforts on national initiatives and programs. In addition to participating in numerous efforts to pilot, test and implement kitchen ventilation strategies, Samuels reduced energy use by 20% for McDonald’s prototype restaurant design through her engineering efforts. 

In 2020, Samuels joined Amazon as the company opened the first Amazon Fresh grocery store. She and her team have since worked to establish and evolve the baseline criteria for design, sustainability and conceptual planning in Amazon’s growing retail grocery business. She currently leads the design standards and concepts team for Amazon Fresh stores. She works to bring design, technology and sustainability together to create a physical grocery shopping experience where customers simply have to leave at the end of their visit, rather than traditionally checking out.

Her role involves aligning design standards with the Amazon Climate Pledge goals while providing an innovative customer journey through the physical space. She was selected to participate in the company’s 2022 leading innovation development program and takes pride in mentoring other design professionals in her organization.

Throughout her career, Samuels has championed equity and inclusion efforts. At McDonald’s, she coordinated unconscious bias training and supported the Development Diversity Council, attending career fairs on behalf of the company to share career paths with women and other groups underrepresented in engineering. A proud advocate for diversity in STEM fields, Samuels volunteers for Arquitina, supporting Latina architects pursuing licensure. In 2022, she was featured in “What We Can Be,” an academic teaching book that captures the stories of Detroit public school graduates in STEM careers. 

An active member of the national professional organization ASHRAE since 2010, Samuels currently serves as a voting member of both Technical Committee 5.10 (kitchen ventilation) and SSPC 154, maintaining the chapter and code language on standards for kitchen ventilation design in ASHRAE’s handbook.

Samuels joined the Penn State College of Engineering Industrial and Professional Advisory Council in 2020. She will serve as the 2022-23 vice chair for the Department of Architectural Engineering IPAC.

Samuels currently works virtually from her home in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Rory, and their son, Rocket.  


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