By Mac Trammell
When two local young women pursued their desire to improve themselves, as well as their school and community, they came up with a result that was so outstanding the White House decided to honor them.
Anne and Anna Raheem, twins who just graduated Collierville High School, were honored as National Student Innovators at the Celebrating Innovations in Career and Technical Education presentation at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The two highlighted the June 30 event with speeches regarding their work with CHS’ Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program and their involvement in the Technology Students Association.
Their remarks were followed by a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, who stressed the importance of finishing education. Anne and Anna, both 17, were involved in the school’s Engineering Society as freshmen.
There was no STEM program at the time, so the two approached Shelli Brasher, who worked with them to create the program.
“There was a lot of paperwork,” Anna said. “When it finally got approved, it was an amazing feeling.”
Once the paperwork went through, Collierville’s STEM program became the first honors STEM class in the state of Tennessee. It is composed of two main parts: an in-school section and an after-school section. The after-school section is for students who couldn’t fit the class into their schedules or for kids who don’t want to take the class but want to be a part of the program.
There are six classes a day, taught by Brasher, with four levels, one meant for each grade. STEM I and II are more introductory, while STEM III and IV students are more likely to conduct research and acquire internships.
“The program is designed to promote creativity and project based learning,” Anne said, “which is a fancy way of saying you’re letting students engage in hands-on projects to learn.”
Through the STEM program, more than 200 CHS students have been able to participate in the FIRST Robotics program, the TSA, and a CyberPatriot team.
After witnessing the success of the Raheem sisters and Brasher, other area schools are beginning to start STEM programs too.
“It’s starting a STEM revolution,” Anne said.
For their diligent work to create the state’s first honors STEM program, and their involvement in the TSA, the Career-Technical Student Organization honored them, along with 34 other students and teachers, with a ceremony at the White House.
“Sixteen National Student Innovators and 10 National Teacher Innovators were recognized at this convening,” Anna said. “Usually only one Student Innovator and one Teacher Innovator are chosen to represent their respective Career-Technical Student Organizations. This year, after a thorough selection process, the selection committee could not decide between Anne and I.
“Therefore,” she continued, “this year they made an exception and both of us were recognized as the National Student Innovators for TSA, an organization with over 200,000 members nationally.”
This was the first time that two students from the same CTSO were chosen as National Student Innovators, and this was also the first time where a student representative from Tennessee TSA was selected.
“We were additionally chosen as speakers for the ceremony,” Anne followed, “and were later informed that we had also been selected as exhibitors who would be given the chance to showcase their achievements and interact with the audience during the White House Innovation Fair. Both of these were additional recognitions reserved for only a portion of the Innovators.”
Although both were a bit nervous to speak at the ceremony, their nerves were relaxed when Obama took the podium.
“The First Lady’s vibe was very calming,” Anna said.
Anne said that it was “refreshing and really exciting to see someone so important and such a public figure to be so concerned and ready to improve CTE.”
The sisters are excited as they’re both about to head off to Harvard University this fall. They’re also confident in the STEM program they’re leaving behind.
“I would say it is 200 percent on the rise,” Anne said.
And not only are they confident in their legacy, but happy to have had a part in its success and its impact.
“I’m glad I had the ability and chance to be able to help develop a STEM program,” Anna said.
Her sister agreed.
“A student’s potential is limitless, especially with the help and guide of a mentor,” she said. “[STEM] really does make a difference in the lives of those students and the community.”