Overachievers, visionaries and ‘game changers’

Illinois-based Celebrating High School Innovators program seeks out young brilliant minds

Innovators are a different type of animal.

Sometimes, they’re even capable of swimming with sharks. Take Trisha Prabhu, for example.

Prabhu, a high school student at Naperville, Illinois, developed a mobile app last year called ReThink—a tool that effectively prevents cyberbullying, and encourages adolescents to become responsible digital citizens.

She took the concept all the way to ABC’s hugely popular TV show Shark Tank in September—reeling in two sharks, Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, who made a joint $100,000 investment offer in her company.

Another day, another success for the Illinois-based Celebrating High School Innovators program.

“Clearly, these kids are game changers,” says Paul Ritter, director and co-founder of the program, a collaboration between Illinois State University, Millikin University and Pontiac Township High School.

“We’ve had students in our program who do poetry slams, study neuroscience and sleep disorders, create electric all-terrain vehicles for students with physical disabilities, compete in hyperloop competitions,” says Ritter. “These kids are creative, innovative, inspiring. It’s off the charts.”

This spring, the Celebrating High School Innovators program will ramp up for its third year-long cycle. The program begins with initial assessments of students from across Illinois, and continues with summer workshops between teachers and students, and mentorship arrangements with academics from Millikin and ISU, and business representatives.

The program casts a wide net, accepting students from various streams that include:

  • arts, media and literature;
  • business entrepreneurship;
  • health and nutrition;
  • social entrepreneurship; and
  • science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

No grades or test scores needed—in fact, they are actively discouraged.

“We want to cultivate ideas and find truly inspiring individuals,” says Ritter. “Sometimes GPAs, ACTs and SAT scores don’t reflect the true brilliance. We want to find kids by their merit and their accomplishments—not by what a standardized test tells us.”

Enbridge is committed to fueling quality of life in the communities where we operate. In 2016, we invested nearly $145,000 in community-strengthening initiatives across the state of Illinois, and more than $13.4 million across North America. We also recently made a $3,000 donation to the Celebrating High School Innovators program to help discover more brilliant young minds.

In the coming year, Ritter expects the program to take on a truly international flavor, with teaching colleagues bringing STEM students from Africa and the United Kingdom to the Land of Lincoln for workshops.

“We want to continue creating a truly innovative space,” he says. “And you know, the best part of this situation is learning from the kids. Honestly, this program is my dream come true.”

(TOP PHOTO: Trisha Prabhu, a graduate of the Celebrating High School Innovators program in Illinois, took her mobile app idea all the way to ABC's Shark Tank in September 2016, landing a $100,000 investment offer in her company from Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner.)