Tennessee Tech University alumna Rachel Baker Richard has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It took a little over three years for the chemistry major from the northwest community of Holladay, Tennessee, to complete the rigorous requirements for the award, which includes a minimum of 400 hours of voluntary public service; 200 hours of personal development; 200 hours of physical fitness and 5-day, 4-night expedition or exploration.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” Richard said. “I first heard of this program when I was in high school while attending the Tennessee Conference on Volunteerism and Service Learning. There was a student there who was meeting their representative to receive the congressional medals they had earned. It seemed like a very challenging program, especially the expedition and exploration component.”
Richard completed more than 400 hours of public service while volunteering with organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee to help prepare deliveries of food to families in need and working with students in science workshops. She achieved more than 200 hours of personal development through student work and tutoring at Tech, and more than 200 hours of physical fitness activities.
To complete the expedition/exploration component, she organized a trip through the Ozark area of Missouri to learn about the history of the area. In 2020 she had also planned a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to likewise learn about the history and culture of the city and how it ties into the history of the United States. Because of the restrictions due to the pandemic, she had to adjust to be able to gain similar experience through online resources, however was later able to visit the city in person and participate in a few of her originally planned activities.
“Tech was a major assistance in helping me achieve these goals,” Richard said. “Most of my professional development work was completed with my student worker hours and the hours I spent tutoring on campus. During my junior year I was awarded the Gingko Grant from the honors program which allowed me to complete a service project in my home community. This project is still continuing today over two years later. The campus resources like the fitness center also helped me in staying active to achieve my physical fitness goals.”
As Richard progressed through her requirements, she hit several tiers of awards along her way to the Congressional Gold Medal. She received her bronze certificate in 2018 and the silver and bronze medals in 2020. She was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2022 ceremony, after her graduation from Tech in May 2021.
“The Congressional Award program has six tiers to the award,” Richard said. “Bronze, Silver, and Gold Certificate, and Bronze, Silver and Gold Medal. The tiers are arranged stepwise but you can apply for the award at any level as long as you meet all previous requirements.”
She also won the STEM Star Award in conjunction with her Congressional Gold Medal. The award is given to those who incorporate STEM outreach into their program work.
“I included STEM activities in both my voluntary public service and personal development areas,” she said. “One summer I did a student stem event every Monday with Benton County 4-H, titled ‘MacGyver Monday,’ to help encourage students to explore STEM fields.”
While at Tech, Richard was the 2021 Derryberry Award recipient. Now she has returned to Benton County where she resides with her husband. She continues her habit of volunteer work through organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and the University of Tennessee-Tennessee State University Extension Office. She also continues her work with STEM outreach through her employer, The Chemours Company, where she works as a chemist in research and development.
For more information about the Congressional Awards and how to apply, visit https://www.congressionalaward.org.