How did you become interested in science and engineering?

When I was growing up in Virginia, I attended a Gate’s robotics program and loved it. Robotics was cool because I was able to both build the robot and also program it to do the things I want. That was the foundation for me to become an electrical engineering concentrator, even though I didn’t see it then. I just really loved the ability to tinker with robots and make them do cool stuff, like attacking each other and scaling large obstacles.

Tell us about the STEM initiatives you launched that earned you an invitation to speak at the White House.

When my family moved to Tennessee, I got involved with an emerging engineering club at my high school. That was the first time I really saw the exciting solutions engineering brought to important problems. Furthermore, I realized the confidence creating and implementing solutions gave to students, including myself, as it enabled us to build solutions that could immediately change our world. This realization drove me to work heavily with my sister and our teacher to create the first honors class for engineering in the state of Tennessee, and then we also created an extracurricular program to go along with it. We started expanding to middle schools and elementary schools, both public and private, throughout the region. The programs are really special because they encourage youth to pursue higher education and attend college. Our work was recognized by Michelle Obama as part of her “Reach Higher” Campaign, and I was invited to speak and present at the White House for a celebration honoring innovators in career and technology education. I was additionally awarded the National Excellence in CTE Student Innovator Award, the inaugural award to launch the U.S. Presidential Scholars in CTE program.

Tell us about some of the research you’ve done at Harvard.

The summer after my sophomore year, I started working in the labs of Rob Wood [Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences] and David Clarke [Extended Tarr Family Professor of Materials] on a project to create battery supplies for soft robotics.

We set out to mimic human muscle and to create an onboard power supply that would still allow a robot to be soft. The biggest takeaway for me was the power of an interdisciplinary team coming together. I also developed a real passion for intellectually stimulating projects. Being able to explore a project and drive something forward made me really excited.

What was it like to teach a class in China as part of the Young Leaders Summit?

I went to Beijing for two weeks and taught a seminar called “Building the Best You,” which was about unlocking your potential through working in teams, communicating your ideas, and using engineering design principles. Learning those skills in high school profoundly changed my ability to meaningfully contribute to teams, so I thought it would be important to share with these students, especially since the Chinese education system focuses a lot more on grades, so they don’t always have the opportunity to learn soft skills. That teaching experience opened my eyes to the global disparity in educational opportunities. It reaffirmed my belief in my responsibility to use my knowledge to give back through creating opportunities and devices that build a better world. Through Harvard, I have been lucky to travel internationally as an IOP student ambassador, peer, and teacher to a variety of regions like Tokyo, Seoul, and Jakarta. These experiences serve as a constant reminder that we all have the same dreams and hopes for the future and will reach them much faster by working together.

Raheem greets attendees at MakeHarvard, a 24-hour make-a-thon at Harvard she helped organize. (Photo courtesy of Anne Raheem)

Tell us about MakeHarvard, the University’s first 24-hour make-a-thon.

Being a founder of MakeHarvard was the most meaningful experience I’ve had at Harvard. The purpose of MakeHarvard was to create a space for engineering students and non-engineering students alike to develop some fundamental engineering skills in order to begin prototyping their own projects. We wanted to create a make-a-thon because we felt like there’s a reputation around engineering that you have to know exactly what you’re doing in order to build something. But in reality, the more you build, the better you get at it. MakeHarvard allows students to take that first step—that initial dip into the water of building and making—and we gave them the resources, machines, and mentors to help them on that journey.

Was it rewarding?

It was really inspiring for us to see hundreds of students from around the world coming together for MakeHarvard. We’ve seen all kinds of projects come out of MakeHarvard, from AR technology linked with wearables to help the blind navigate, to giant unicorns, to the ultimate salad spinner (which was calibrated and incorporated gyroscopes.)

Launching and leading MakeHarvard also taught me a lot about myself. I realized that one of my life missions is empowering others through technology. Tech has this reputation for being really hard and that only a certain type of person can be successful at it. But if you’re committed to learning, anybody can do it. Once you realize that, I think it unlocks a lot of mental doors and helps people believe in themselves.

Raheem and the rest of the MakeHarvard leadership team created an event that introduced hundreds of students to the tools and techniques involved in engineering design projects. (Photo courtesy of Anne Raheem)

Tell us about your senior thesis project.

I’m building an emergency response wearable that uses low-power wide area network technology to communicate a distress signal. This could be used as an energy efficient and far-signaling safety device. 

My hope is that this tool can be used by a lot of people, especially women, as a proof of concept for how we can make safety easier, more convenient, and more reliable. I’m working with the Harvard Innovation Labs as part of their venture incubation program to try and make this a reality. I want to make safety something that’s easily incorporated into a person’s lifestyle.

Tell us about some of the cultural and dance organizations on campus you’ve been involved with.

I’ve really loved dancing since I was little, and at Harvard I’ve been able to join a few dance groups—two of the most impactful for me were Ghungroo, which is our South Asian dance festival, and Expressions, which is a hip-hop dance troupe. I’m actually Indo-Caribbean—my parents are Guyanese and my ancestors are from South Asia, so our culture is quite a fusion. It has been so rewarding to connect with different parts of that culture through dancing here. With Ghungroo, I’ve been able to hear some of the songs I listened to growing up and have met other students who are also interested in that kind of dance. And then through Expressions, I get to hear a bit of reggae or soca or dancehall. Dance has been a way for me to connect to my cultural roots and my heritage, while also connecting to and learning more about others

Performing in Ghungroo, Harvard's South Asian dance festival, has helped Raheem stay in touch with her Indo-Caribbean culture. (Photo courtesy of Anne Raheem)

Tell us about your involvement in Currier House.

I have been intimately involved in house life during my three years in Currier House. I just finished my term as a Currier 2018 House Committee (HOCO) co-chair, and have also served as a Currier Undergraduate Council Representative on student government. I’m currently on the Senior Class Committee as the Currier House Representative. This honor recognizes a distinct commitment to representing, connecting, and serving the Harvard Class of 2019 and is supported by the Harvard Alumni Association and Harvard College Fund. I got involved with the house community here because I saw there were some issues with low-income students paying for laundry and printing costs. As I got more involved, I worked to get better representation at our house events and on our House Committee (HOCO), spearhead a Currier House mentorship program, and give students a greater say in what happens within the house through creating student-initiated events. I want to draw representation from the entire house to make spaces that are truly inviting for all, where everyone in the house feels like they belong.

When I enter any environment, I automatically begin thinking about it critically and constructively—how can we break this apart into its components and see what and where we can improve? I think that’s a very “engineering” way to think about community and people, but it’s what I do—I’m an engineering student, after all. I love working with people, and I want to make every environment that I am a part of better so all of us can achieve what we are working for, together.

Raheem received the Herschbach Award for Currier House, which is the highest honor for a Currier student. The award recognized a student who has been integrally involved in events, projects, and improvements to House life that perpetuates the lively spirit and humanitarian values of the House.

As a performer in Expressions, a hip-hop dance troupe, Raheem has connected and learned more about other students. (Photo courtesy of Anne Raheem)

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’m really interested in how we can use technology to digitally empower others. How can we use tech to level the playing field? From education to health, how can we use technology as a way to make the lives of people better? For the short term, I am interested in working in management consulting to better understand the business side of technology and other sectors as well as pushing forward my senior thesis. For the long term, I would love to drive strategy for a foundation or corporation in terms of better enabling access to technology for our most underprivileged communities.

Being involved in house life at Currier House has been one of Raheem's most rewarding college experiences. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell/SEAS Communications)