30 Under 30: Rebecca Kurfess
Student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Rebecca Kurfess, 19, and a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, readily admits she comes from a nerdy family. Her mother has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT (Cambridge, MA). Her father has a doctorate in the same field from the same school, and teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The school not only employs Rebecca’s dad, it once was a source of entertainment for the Kurfess children, and introduced them to aerodynamics.
“I remember, gosh, when I was probably 7 or 8 my dad used to take me and my brothers to a building at Georgia Tech with a high staircase and we would fly paper airplanes,” Rebecca recalled.
She’s following in her parents’ footsteps by majoring in mechanical engineering, with a minor in German. Rebecca was an exchange student in Germany in high school. Her father, whose grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany, speaks the language fluently. So, if Rebecca needs help with her engineering studies she can call on either parent, and on her dad for her minor.
The same summer Rebecca was an exchange student, she did an internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, in the additive manufacturing lab. Her internship included designing and 3D printing an artifact to test the accuracy of an additive manufacturing machine, a task that whetted her interest in the manufacturing technique.
“For (admission to) MIT you have to go to an interview,” she explained. “And for most of my interview I talked about additive manufacturing.”
Rebecca isn’t 100% nerdy, however. After all, she grew up in Clemson, SC, home of Clemson University and the Clemson Tigers football team.
“The people there are very intense about football,” she said. “In fact, the population triples on game day.”
The focus on football in her hometown also gives Rebecca an analogy for her love of science and math, which she said matches the fervor of the Tigers’ fans.
Growing up in a college town also made for some pretty smart classmates, but that allowed her to soar, not blend into the woodwork.
“It is typical for 20% or more of my AP (advanced placement) class to have parents with doctoral degrees in some form of math or science,” wrote Gary DuBose, AP chemistry teacher at D.W. Daniel High School, Central, SC, where Rebecca earned top academic honors and graduated valedictorian. “Even in this environment Rebecca managed to stand out as one of the top students.”
She stood out in another way as well. Like her MIT alumnus mother who prefers to teach seventh grade science rather than work in industry, Rebecca loves to teach others. She taught Sunday school at her church, flute to middle school students, and would help classmates who were struggling in school.
“In this respect, she was somewhat unusual,” wrote DuBose. “As many of our top students are so competitive that they are unwilling to help their peers.”
Rebecca plans to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and possibly a doctorate so she can teach at the university level like her dad. Either way, her mother’s story has inspired a desire in Rebecca to continue to help others learn.
“I enjoy helping others both because it helps me learn and because I really enjoy helping others make sense of things,” she said. “And seeing it on their faces when the concept ‘clicks’ with them.” ME
Published Date : 7/1/2014