Sam Watts is 2022 STAR Student, Dr. Maggie Renken named STAR Teacher

Sam Watts ’22, a boarding student from Thomasville, GA,  has been named STAR Student at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, and Dr. Maggie Renken earned the STAR Teacher recognition for 2022. 

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

Watts joined the Rabun Gap community last school year and quickly made an impact on campus. Sam brings lots of theatre experience to the Rearden Stage - he’s been acting since age 3 and has been a part of more than 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-president of the Chess Club on campus. 

“It's an absolute honor to get this award. Our senior class has the highest average GPA of any in Rabun Gap's history. I couldn't be prouder 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 run an engineering firm or company someday. 

Watts  selected Renken as his STAR Teacher. Renken is Rabun Gap’s Director of STEAM 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 tenured professor at Georgia State University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses, led research experiences, and oversaw masters' and doctoral students' theses.  She taught Watts last year in her AP Physics class. 

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

Renken called Sam one of the most delightful students she’s worked with in her 11-year career of teaching at the high school and university level. 

“The delight I find in working with Sam comes largely from his self-awareness and persistence in self-improvement. Sam is among the top students I have taught in Physics. He received the Outstanding Physics Student award for the 2020-2021 school year as a result of his hard work, resiliency, and inherent interest in the field,” she said. “Sam is persistent in not only solving problems, but also in understanding the processes behind why his solutions are successful. Outside of the classroom, Sam has a broad set of interests in the domains of art, science, and sociopolitical climates. He approaches each of these with clever, thoughtful perspectives.” 
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is a private, coeducational day and boarding school for grades Pre-K through 12. Centrally located between Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC, we prepare young people for college, career, and a lifetime of leadership and service.