Rebecca Verchimak playing a cello.


Coe College, Cedar Rapids, IA

Rebecca grew up in a household of music, as her mother is a violinist, and often played gigs at churches and weddings. Rebecca learned to play the violin as a toddler, and later went on to play the cello in elementary school. She currently plays the cello in her school’s symphony orchestra. Rebecca also can play the guitar, ukulele, and viola. As an only child, Rebecca spent quality alone time with her mom on visits to the local library, starting when she was an infant. Her first recollection of being interested in science dates back to when she was in first grade. She would frequently take out the same book on astronomy, checking it out of the library almost weekly! She loved to learn about the planets.

In high school she had a phenomenal physics teacher and gravitated toward astrophysics at that time. As of recently, she has become interested in exploring psychology and its intersection with physics. She was encouraged to find an REU program with research opportunities addressing that. RIT was the best choice for education research in STEM.

Rebecca’s research, under the mentorship of Dr. Ben Zwickl, Associate Professor, School of Physics and Astronomy, is looking at key factors (aside from academic factors) that may influence the retention of undergraduates within the STEM disciplines. These factors include students’ help- seeking behaviors, their perception of career support from their department or college, their confidence in their ability to succeed and their sense of belonging within their program or college. She is helping to develop a survey to be administered to undergrad STEM majors at a variety of colleges and universities. The hope is the responses will, as she put it, “touch the invisible factors” that cause students to think about  leaving their STEM major. This will help faculty and administrators better understand and support students’ success and career goals.

Rebecca enjoys social activities via Zoom with the other REU student, and learning all of the different academic backgrounds each bring to this REU experience.