For NAU grad Rebekah Wucinich, mechanical engineering isn’t just about understanding the world—it’s about inspiring the next generation to explore it. Not only did she become an accomplished student and researcher, but she also discovered a love of teaching and mentoring that has inspired her to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Wucinich chose to study mechanical engineering because of her deep love for understanding how the world works. She holds that life’s most seemingly mundane things can be complex, and learning about this complexity is fascinating. Wucinich also is passionate about serving others; as an engineer, she believes it is her job to do so. For Wucinich, working with underprivileged children to teach them about robotics has been an unforgettable experience.
Wucinich got involved with the youth robotics camp for underprivileged families after being approached by one of her favorite professors, Perry Wood, lab manager for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She soon found herself taking on the role of head counselor, responsible for creating curriculum and activities for the children. She quickly had to adapt to the different younger age groups and her shortened time with the children.
“I first met Rebekah Wucinich as a freshman in my ME180 Introduction to Engineering Graphics class and she would always help other students with their homework. She is a wonderful and amazing student,” Wood said. “Her humility, kindness and excellence as a student make me feel blessed to know her.”
The weeklong camp, held in Flagstaff, allowed children to learn about robotics, coding and engineering while sharing those experiences with their peers. She loved working with children and finding opportunities to show them why engineering is incredible.
“Watching the students grow in their knowledge and confidence over the week was phenomenal, and all the kids left the camp with a smile on their face,” Wucinich said. “As much as I helped those kids, they helped me.”
Despite the challenges, she believes working with the children was an enriching experience. “Each of them was such a great kid who was just looking for a way to express their creativity through science. There is truly no other experience I have had that can compare,” Wucinich said. “From teaching coding to spending nights making cannonballs in the NAU pool, I had such an incredible experience.”
Teaching engineering can be complex, and communicating is one of the most challenging parts of it. She learned to meet her students where they felt comfortable and believed that teaching was all about the individual. Over the course of the summer, she developed a passion for teaching engineering after working with children to teach them about robotics. Wucinich now hopes to continue working with children in the future to inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“I want to give kids a place to be creative while exploring the world around them! Teach them that science and math can be fun and exciting,” Wucinich said.
A student becomes a teacher
With her passion for teaching and mentoring, Wucinich hopes to continue making a difference in the lives of young people, showing them the exciting possibilities that STEM careers can offer. Receiving an education was important for her because it taught her about the rigorous curriculum needed in engineering and showed her how to learn something of interest. She learned that she could achieve anything if she applied herself. If she could go back and do anything differently, it would be to join her clubs even earlier and learn to become comfortable with not knowing the answer at the start of her academic journey.
“There is strength in admitting when you need to learn more rather than being afraid of being wrong,” Wucinich said. “That is when true learning occurs.”
It’s likely that Wucinich so quickly became an exceptional teacher because she has been an exceptional student. She learned and sought a greater understanding of the material until she was given the role of helping her classmates understand the material. She tutored NAU students in her major’s complex and dense subject matter and became a teaching assistant for ME 180 and a grader for the high-level course ME 440. She assisted in the ESCAPADE Camera Design project, designing camera housing hardware to collect research data for NASA. She organized a tour to the Vandenburg Spaceforce Base and Space-X rocket launch in California for 30 engineering students. When she wasn’t excelling in her classes, tutoring other students, working as a teaching assistant and grader and working on projects with her professors, Wucinich was involved with the Rocket Club, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at NAU. She has served in numerous officer roles for her clubs including president of ASME.
Wucinich built an escape room that was one of the largest club-run events on campus, attracting more than 700 people. She worked on the 52-count casino room, creating multiple puzzles that tested her engineering skills. She also created significant set pieces and programmed code to solidify the room’s success and was one of the foundational officers who helped gain $12,000 from NAU’s Student Activities Council (STAC) to create a memorable experience. “It meant the world that I got to show my friends and families all the hard work I was able to do,” Wucinich said.
She is the lead engineering student for the 2023 ASME Human Powered Vehicle Competition. Her team is designing and manufacturing a human-powered vehicle to compete against 50 universities from throughout the world.
Beyond the classroom adventures
Wucinich’s favorite moments at NAU were spending time with her friends doing fun activities outdoors. “Truthfully, I could not have made it without them. I cannot thank them enough for all they provided for me,” Wucinich said. She recalls all the late nights spent with friends, doing homework, building the escape room, telling stories and going on adventures in the woods or at Lake Mary that will forever live with her. Her favorite way to spend free time is with her friends, paddleboarding on Clear Creek, setting up hammocks and hanging out. She also spends her free time singing. Wucinich sang in choir for seven years, including time with NAU Women’s Chorale, and was able to sing in Grace Cathedral.
Wucinich loved connecting with other engineering clubs and joining the large community within the engineering department. She is proud of the impact she had on students. She believes that she was able to do more than just study; she was able to enact change. Still, one of her biggest challenges was tackling the content of her demanding major—one of the majors with the highest change rate. “Overall, classes are not easy. There are many times I have failed a homework assignment or exam and have learned how to push through and overcome,” Wucinich said. “I learned to grow rather than just stay defeated.”
Wucinich’s has accepted a position as an ergonomics engineer at W.L. Gore & Associates and hopes to teach robotics at Marshall Elementary. Although her dream is to work in aerospace, Wucinich values the importance of helping others and is thrilled to have found opportunities to do so in her new role. She hopes to give back to the community and make a difference in the world and is committed to a career that positively impacts others.
“I am so proud of her. I will miss her but know she will do great things,” Wood said.
Wucinich is excited to start the next chapter of her life and make a positive impact on others. She plans to reach out to local schools and offer her support in any way she can. Her experience teaching robotics to children sparked her interest in teaching, and since then, she’s been exploring different approaches to teaching engineering and finding new ways to inspire and educate others.
“I want to continue working with kids and show them how great engineering can be,” Wucinich said. “NAU gave me the resources and ability to help teach and learn engineering!”
Cynthia Gerber | NAU Communications
(928) 523-7341 | Cynthia.Gerber@nau.edu