ABILENE, Texas (BigCountryHomepage.com) – It’s hard to believe it’s already been an entire decade since Abilene’s first STEM school, ATEMS High School, graduated its first class. BCH caught up with a couple of graduates to see how their education at ATEMS prepared them for post-diploma life.

ATEMS High School (Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math, and Science) with Abilene ISD opened to its first class of freshman students in 2009. That was a class made up of about 90 students, and the school didn’t have an actual campus at the time.

Meredith Haney was the first to arrive to ATEMS High School on a windy and cloudy Friday morning, sporting a gray long-sleeved shirt with lime green vinyl along the front, spelling out “ATEMS.” We met in an empty lab and exchanged pleasantries as we waited for her fellow graduate, Brianna Redd.

The two women sat in stools in the back of the lab classroom. It was on the school’s second floor, settled between two other classrooms filled with students. Just outside, a student practiced picking up and setting down discs with a small robot on a soft mat.

In a city full of rich and set history, being a school’s first class of students in a modern period is no common occurrence. I asked what their experiences were like as some of the firsts.

Even at 14 years old, Haney said she was impressed and felt like she could fit in nicely with the smaller class.

“Being alone in our own little building was really cool, and really brought us together,” Haney vouched.

Redd piggybacked off her former peer’s thought, “We got to do a lot of untraditional things for school. Sometimes we would have class at Monks… It didn’t necessarily feel like school all of the time.”

At its beginning in 2009, ATEMS High was held within the halls of the former Texas Tech University building at Pine and North 3rd streets. The next school year, as according to Abilene ISD’s History of ATEMS, the high school developed a relationship with Texas State Technical College (TSTC), moving the classes to that campus on East Highway 80.

Being on the TSTC campus, students were offered to take some college courses alongside their high school classes so that they could earn college credits and perhaps graduate earlier.

ATEMS wouldn’t get its own building, known as The LIFT, to share with some CTE courses (career technology education) until the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Unfortunately, by then, first class grads like Haney and Redd had already been out of school for some time.

For their 10-year reunion, set for early June, Redd said she was excited for the class of 2013 to get together to not only reconnect, but to see the new ATEMS building, and see how much the school has grown. This reunion is even open to teachers.

“Even if they were only there for a year, we still want to include them because they were such a big part of the school coming to fruition, and our lives,” offered Haney.

Coming to ATEMS was no small feat. While Haney seemed to have an in with the school right off the bat because her dad was set to teach there, Redd said she had a very different experience.

“My mom told me the week before school started that I was actually going to be coming to ATEMS. So, it was a surprise for me because the whole summer I was practicing with the band thinking I’d be going there… But it has actually been one of the greatest things that I have had in my life – for transitioning my life, I would say – because it has really changed my outlook on school and different things, and I appreciate the way that the school was set up,” Redd recalled. “So, it wasn’t a traditional – you just come in, you have class, you regurgitate information that you’ve taken in. But it’s – you’re going to learn why you need this and what career fields you can use this for.”

Even though Haney had the open opportunity to attend ATEMS, she said it’s something she would have been interested in either way.

“This… was a cool opportunity, and getting to be more science-based in curriculum is something I knew that I wanted,” Haney looked back.

The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education these women received ended up being especially beneficial to their post-grad lives. Redd was first and engineering major at Abilene Christian University, and Haney said her dual credit classes helped her in college.

“Having all of the ideas of thinking out of the box and all these things definitely helped my career field… Problem solving, that definitely helped,” said Haney.

For Redd, she said she was able to use the skills taught to her at ATEMS, “Knowing how to program things and to put things together, having to do presentations and things of that nature – it was like secondhand because we’ve been doing that pretty much all four years of our high school.”

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Where are they now?

“I think we’ve both been doing the same thing: Working,” laughed Redd. “Working, living the best auntie life.”

Haney wound up graduating from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. While at Friends University, she said she took on internships in Kansas, Hawaii, and even got to work at the Abilene Zoo. Before ultimately returning home to Abilene to work as a zookeeper, she said she put in some time at the Fort Worth Zoo.

Redd, on the other hand, went on to obtain degrees from Cisco College and Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, and now works in the medical field with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“If you could tell your 2009 self anything, before walking through those doors, what would that be,” I asked Redd and Haney.

Redd quietly responded, “Ooh, so much.”

Haney laughed before picking up where her friend left off, “Be grateful for everything that’s coming.”

“Yes, take full advantage of it… Talk even more,” Redd expanded. “ATEMS is pretty big on networking, so they will put you in front of lots of people that could possibly help you later on in life, or just help you to see if this is the actual career field that you want.”

Before setting her heart on the medical field, Redd said she had always been interested in becoming an engineer. It was through ATEMS that she was able to shadow and meet with engineers, as well as people in other career fields. That was how she realized she’d like to go a different direction.

“You’re going to gain experience either way,” assured Redd.

Fast forward four years, I asked the women what they might say to their newly graduated selves.

Redd quickly replied that she would advise new grads to stay focused in their next endeavors because the years go by so fast, then insisted that it was more than okay to start small.

 “Be open to all the opportunities that you get in college,” Haney added. “Do all the internships that you can, figure out what you want to do with your life.”

ATEMS High School’s 2013 graduating class will have their reunion the weekend of June 2. They will be starting with a meet-and-greet at Potters Pizza Friday. Saturday, they’ll get to tour ATEMS’ new campus, then have a family fun day at a local rec center, and by nightfall it’ll be an adult dinner. Sunday, they’ll round out the reunion weekend with a ‘see you later’ breakfast.

If you were a 2013 graduate of ATEMS High School, or taught the class of 2013, and have not registered for the reunion, you can follow this link to get in touch with the organizers of the reunion.