Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School Names STAR Student and Teacher

Sam Watts, a boarder from Thomasville, Georgia, has been named a STAR student at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. Watts chose Dr. Maggie Renken as his STAR professor.

The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition Program, hosted by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, honors the state’s top-performing seniors and their inspiring teachers. To earn the STAR nomination, high school students must have the highest SAT score and be in the top 10% or top 10 students in their class based on GPA.

“We are very proud of this year’s STAR student, Sam Watts,” said school principal Jeff Miles. “Sam is an incredible student, leader and contributor to our arts program. He represents the best of the Class of 2022.”

Watts joined the Rabun Gap community last year and quickly made an impact on campus. Sam brings a lot of experience to the Rearden scene – he has been acting since he was 3 years old and has been in over 30 productions in his career. At Rabun Gap he was the baker in Into the Woods and will play Professor Callahan in the upcoming musical production of Legally Blonde. Watts is also a two-year member of The Gap 8, Rabun Gap’s exclusive 8-member acapella group, and sings in the choir. In addition to his work in the arts department, Watts serves as co-chair of the on-campus chess club.

“It is an absolute honor to receive this award. Our senior class has the highest average GPA in Rabun Gap history. I couldn’t be more proud to represent us,” Watts said.

After graduation, Watts plans to attend a small liberal arts college to study engineering or engineering management. His dream is to one day run an engineering firm or a business.

Watts chose Renken as his STAR teacher. Renken is Rabun Gap’s STEAM Director and leads the STEAM program across all three divisions, as well as teaches AP Physics, AP Psychology, and Artificial Intelligence. She came to Rabun Gap in 2020 after serving as a full professor at Georgia State University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses, conducted research experiments, and supervised master’s and doctoral dissertations. She taught Watts last year in her AP Physics class.

“Of all the teachers I have had, Dr. Renken has spent by far the most time working with me. As I prepared for the AP Physics 1 exam, she probably spent several days of time making sure I was ready. It was after school, during breaks and wherever possible,” Watts said. “She identified the types of questions I had trouble with, as opposed to concepts. She has helped me more than anyone as a teacher, and I can’t think of anyone else who deserves it more.

Renken called Sam one of the loveliest students she has worked with in her 11-year career teaching at the high school and college level.

“The pleasure I find working with Sam largely comes from his self-awareness and his perseverance to improve himself. Sam is one of the best students I have taught in physics. He received the Outstanding Physics Student Award Award for the 2020-2021 school year because of his hard work, resilience and inherent interest in the field,” she said. “Sam persists not only in solving problems, but also in understanding the processes behind the success of his solutions. Outside of the classroom, Sam has a wide range of interests in art, science, and socio-political climates. He approaches each of them with intelligent and thoughtful perspectives.

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