May 27, 2014 – Cadet 1st Class Rebecca Esselstein was named the top graduate for the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2015. As a member of the Astronautics Department, she worked as part of the systems engineering team on FalconSAT-8, one of two Academy satellites scheduled to launch May 2016.
“Rebecca is a standpoint among one of the most remarkable classes of astronautical engineering majors we’ve seen here,” said Col. Martin France, the department head for the Academy’s Astronautics Department. “This year in our department, we had 12 scholarship winners but Rebecca was in a class by herself, winning both a Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship. She was clearly one of the most focused, professional, and hard-working cadets we’ve ever seen in the classroom but also humble and helpful with her classmates, and a joy to have in class.”
During her time at the Academy, Esselstein served as Flight Commander and regularly appeared on the Dean’s Aces List and Superintendent’s List for excellence in military, academic and athletic performance.
“This is unbelievable,” Esselstein said. “I never really expected to be the top graduate. I just worked really hard and had a lot of people support me along the way. I couldn’t have done it without all the help and support from the faculty, my coaches, friends, and teammates here. A lot people helped me get to where I am today.”
Last week the Ohio native qualified for the 1500-meter finals at the Mountain West Conference Championships. It was Esselstien’s last collegiate track competition.
“I was lucky enough to see her on the track since I’m the officer representative for track and cross country here,” France said. “She brought the same focus and fire to her competition there and same team-first attitude. She gave it her all in both the preliminaries and finals, and proved she belonged among the elite athletes in the conference, being the best scholar-athlete in the entire Mountain West. We’re looking forward to her doing great things in the Air Force.”
Esselstein is the Academy’s 38th recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and was selected as a Marshall Scholarship recipient last year. In January, Esselstein was honored by the mayor of Colorado Springs for bringing pride to the community, receiving the Spirit of the Springs award.
Esselstein did research at M.I.T. on radar and infrared signatures, and was an Aspen Institute Socrates Program Scholar studying the Supreme Court.
Following graduation, 2nd Lt. Esselstein will work in the graduate studies office here, helping the Class of 2016 prepare to apply for post-graduate scholarships. In mid-September she will begin studies at Oxford University.