Friday, May 20, 2016

Cuyamaca College graduate Rebekah Shtayfman: A lesson in overcoming adversity

Rebekah Shtayfman
More than 2,100 students will be receiving degrees and certificates at the Grossmont College and Cuyamaca College commencements on June 1 and 2. Here's the story of one amazing graduate.

Rebekah Shtayfman refused to give up.

 Even after dropping out of high school, becoming a single mom at 18, and – at times – sleeping in her car while looking for a permanent home for her and her daughter, Shtayfman persevered, never losing sight of her dream to pursue a higher education. 

Now, as a result of her determination and hard work, Shtayfman  is graduating with honors from Cuyamaca College. She has been accepted to UC Berkeley, where she will be majoring in physics beginning this fall en route toward her goal of earning a doctorate and becoming a college professor. 

She credits Cuyamaca College for playing a pivotal role in her journey. 

“The faculty is amazing,” said Shtayfman, who will be the student speaker at the Cuyamaca College Commencement on June 1. “It’s a tight-knit student community, and the teachers here genuinely care about your life and your future. The instructors here at Cuyamaca have genuinely provided me with more than what I would expect from school faculty. I had an incredible experience there that I wouldn’t trade for anything.” 

Lauren Vaknin, Cuyamaca College’s Associate Dean of Dean of Student Affairs, is among Shtayfman’s biggest fans. 

“Rebekah is an amazing student,” Vaknin said. “She’s determined, resilient and dedicated to everything she does. And she has an absolute passion for physics.” 

Shtayfman’s interest in physics and her road to the University of California began early, fueled by popular kids’ shows such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus – shows that motivated her to continuously ask, ‘Why?’  

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always been interested in how the universe works,” Shtayfman said. “And I’m totally in love with mathematics.” 

Her journey, though, took a detour when Shtayfman dropped out of El Cajon Valley High School and moved in with her boyfriend during her junior year. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Shtayfman was pregnant. Not much longer after giving birth to her daughter, Naomii, Shtayfman broke up with the child’s father and moved out. 

A social worker suggested during a visit that Shtayfman enroll at Cuyamaca College.

Soon, her dreams of pursuing a higher education were becoming a reality.  

Shtayfman quickly became a star. Though she worked more than 30 hours a week to provide a stable home for her daughter, the single mom maintained a 3.5 GPA during the three years at that job.
The first-generation college student, who volunteers with the Girl Scouts of America and in her daughter’s classroom, has since boosted her grade point average to nearly 3.8, joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, served as a mathematics and physics tutor, and earned a spot on the President’s List 

“She’s also passionate about encouraging young women to pursue STEM fields,” Vaknin said. 

This summer, she’ll be taking part in UC San Diego’s Summer Training Academy for Research Success (also known as the STARS Program), an eight-week summer academy for community college students, undergraduate students, recent college graduates and postgraduate students.  

“She has a very bright future,” Vaknin said.