Skip to main content

Former Bronc becomes nationally awarded scholar

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo - Create Article
Photo accompanied story via the Wyoming News Exchange
Hector Martinez with The Sheridan Press, via the Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN – Students leave high school with high hopes and determination to make their dreams come true. Sheridan High School alumni Rebecca Rapf has been doing just that since graduating in 2008.

Rapf is currently a chemistry professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Rapf also does fundamental physical chemistry research which is applied to environmental chemistry problems. She joined the university in August 2020.

Rapf was recently named a 2024 Cottrell Scholar and the national award includes $120,000 to help fund her research and projects to improve her teaching. The program is for early career researchers in chemistry, astronomy and physics. She was one of 19 people from across the country to receive the award.

The project Rapf proposed for the award will focus on how chemistry at water surfaces is different from chemistry that occurs in a beaker of water. She will be looking at specific classes of molecules that are key pollutants which also absorb light really well, said Rapf.

“The reason why we care about that is because we have lots of air water interfaces in the natural environment,” said Rapf. “Basically, if chemistry is really different at these interfaces, that has big implications for how the natural environment processes material, but also how those aerosols scatter light and that ultimately has implications for the climate.”

Rapf’s mother Anne Gunn was not surprised when she learned her daughter had received the award.

“I am generally very proud of my daughter. I admire her on so many levels and one of the biggest levels is just how hard she works for everything that she sets her mind to,” said Gunn.

Rapf said she has always been interested in chemistry and science in general.

“I was always interested in sort of tinkering with little problems and figuring things out,” said Rapf. “Physical chemistry in particular; I really liked the mathematical aspects that are also related to other things.”

Rapf’s undergraduate research and her experiences in graduate school helped her realize she wanted to find a balance between doing research and being able to teach people.

“I didn’t really know what science research looked like until I started doing that. I really liked the lab environments where it’s kind of team problem solving (and) all working united for a goal,” said Rapf. “I found the right balance for me.”

Gunn believes it made sense for Rapf to pursue a career in chemistry and teaching.

“It just made perfect sense for her. She had identified with chemistry very early on, and she was always helping peers in high school and college,” said Gunn. “It seemed obvious that teaching was something that she could want to do.”

Rapf has enjoyed being a professor and has had many rewarding experiences.

“It’s just so much fun. I teach first-year students all the way up to graduating seniors from college. It’s really fun to see people figure out what they want to do in life and have their eyes opened to new information that they don’t know about,” said Rapf.

Even though Rapf has been away from Sheridan for quite some time, it is still a community that she misses and feels connected to, she said

“We moved to Sheridan when I was eight, and it’s really nice to still have that connection to the Sheridan community, and it’s something I think about a lot,” said Rapf. “I don’t necessarily come back all the time, but it’s always amazing to me how connected I still am to my friends from Sheridan and just feeling connected to the community.”

Rapf hopes that by the end of her career, she can look back and know that she made a positive impact on her students.

“I really love this job. I think the balance of teaching and research is really what I want. Hopefully as I get toward the end of my career, I can look back and see that my students have gone on to do exciting things,” said Rapf. “Whether in science or elsewhere, hopefully that would be sort of the legacy that I was able to teach people (and) have them go on to be successful in whatever they choose to do.”

This story was published on April 23, 2024.

--- Online Subscribers: Please click here to log in to read this story and access all content.

Not an Online Subscriber? Click here to subscribe.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates