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Dublin High School’s Madison Hildenbrand on Pursuing Engineering in High School and Beyond 

February 9, 2016

IMG_7587DUBLIN, CA–Our popular Women in STEM Series continues with Dublin High School senior Madison Hildenbrand. Madison entered Dublin High with no idea what she wanted to do after high school and after several years in Dublin High’s Engineering and Design Academy, and an internship with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has decided to study engineering in college next year. With one college acceptance already received, and others likely, we sat down with Madison to learn more about what inspired her to pursue engineering. What sparked your interest in the Dublin High School Engineering and Design Academy?

Madison Hildenbrand: “I’ve always been curious about how things work so I decided to take the Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) class to see if I was interested in engineering, because at that point I had no idea what I wanted to do. And while I didn’t really like the IED class because it was a lot of computer modeling and I prefer hands on activities, I did decide to take the Principles of Engineering class which showed me many different facets of engineering and had lots of hands on work. Most important though was an internship I had last summer with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the City of Dublin Public Works Department where I worked with traffic engineers on problems in the City of Dublin. I worked on civil engineering projects including modeling street overlays in AutoCAD Civil 3D, helped with project funding applications, and worked on re-striping projects. I really enjoyed civil engineering because I was able to be outside and wasn’t on a computer all day.” What did your experience working with engineers teach you about the perception of engineers vs. the reality?

: “Engineering has a reputation of being a ‘nerdy’ thing to do, and very math and science heavy. In reality engineering is a lot of common sense. Most importantly engineering is really fun; I’d wake up every day super excited to go into work and help solve problems. With civil engineering you reach a lot of different people since it’s all about how communities function. Civil engineering is fun and useful, and it challenged me every day.

“One of the projects I worked on during my internship involved providing aerial shots of where Dublin would be adding green bike lanes to signify conflict zones, on Tassajara Road, Dublin Boulevard and Village Parkway. We’re trying to make the city of Dublin more bicycle friendly.” What kinds of engineering problems have you been faced with?

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 7.34.26 PMHildenbrand: “In my classes we had one day design challenges where you had to be quick on your feet. There were many problems that I wouldn’t have been able to solve without being in teams with other kids in the class. There are so many different kids and that provides diverse perspectives; it’s not just my way of thinking but how someone else thinks. In my internship I learned how to ask for help which is really important for tackling difficult problems.

“In the Principles of Engineering class we had to build a hydrogen cell car which included some electrical work. I had no idea how to approach the electrical part so with my teammates we went online, did lots of research on how to wire the car, in order to solve the problem. Learning how to research a problem is also an important part of engineering.” When you realized that engineering would be your path in college what did you have to think about to be ready for the college application process?

Hildenbrand: “I took harder math and science classes to make sure I’d be ready for the higher calibre classes in college. Last year I took two math classes and a science class and this year I’m taking two engineering classes. I’ve been able to deal with the extra workload and found it’s important to accept that you won’t always be the best but as long as you work hard, learn and understand the material you’ll be successful.

“My teachers and counselors also provided information on what types of courses I would need to apply to engineering schools, and I used that to tailor my course selections for what interested me. I started thinking about course selection in my sophomore year and really thought about it for my junior and senior years.” There are so many stereotypes about math. How have you approached math courses, knowing that’s an important part of engineering?

Hildenbrand: “I work really hard to find patterns when approaching math problems, ask my teachers for lots of help and most importantly I work hard on my homework every night to ensure I understand the material. I know math is a foundation for many aspects of engineering.

“I took statistics and pre-calculus last year and I found that stats really helped me with my other math classes because stats is a different way of thinking about math. I enjoyed statistics because I could see a real world connection between what I was studying. AP Statistics was my hardest course but also my favorite. My teacher, Ms. Kim, was terrific. She really cares for her students and wants to help them learn. She made learning fun. Ms. Chou was also great, she was my first engineering teacher and I had her for two classes; I learned a lot from her.” What have you learned about balancing academics, including AP classes, with extracurriculars, and still getting enough sleep?

Madison - 2Hildenbrand: “I took three AP classes last year (math, science and history) and it was really hard, but I would do my homework at lunch and try to get as much done as I could before soccer practices because I knew I’d come home tired. When assigned a long project I’d start early and get a bit done every day.

“Time management is really important. You learn how valuable twenty minutes is here and there – how it adds up. I don’t spend very much time on social media, I’d rather use the time to study, as lame as that sounds! Learning how to manage my time has really helped this year – I don’t find that I have to spend a colossal amount of time on homework.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to give up soccer and as a result I didn’t take quite as many AP classes as I could have because soccer is so important to me. I knew I had to carve out 2.5 – 4 hours every day for soccer. You also have to plan ahead – if you know a heavy night of homework or studying is coming up, start early, because practice isn’t going to move.

“Most nights I’m able to get a full night’s sleep, there are exceptions, but most of the time I’m in bed by 10:30pm.” What was your thought process in selecting engineering schools to apply to?

Hildenbrand: “I made a spreadsheet of options and created a matrix of criteria to narrow it down! The end result aligned well with what I was thinking. Reputation of the school mattered a little bit, but it was as important where I would feel comfortable fitting in. Some schools had good women in engineering clubs, and some schools had better research opportunities. I also want to go to a school where I liked the surrounding area. Overall, what would be the most bang for the buck and the best fit for me.” What advice do you have for 8th graders that are getting ready to enter high school?

Hildenbrand: “The saddest thing I’ve seen in my engineering classes throughout the years is kids saying they are taking a class because their parents want them to. You need to be passionate about engineering – if you are only doing it because that’s what your parents want you to do then you aren’t going to create good work. Engineering takes a lot of work and is hard to be good at, so if you don’t really want to pursue engineering then don’t.” Looking forward to your first year in college, what are you expecting?

Hildenbrand: “A reality check! I’m expecting engineering to be a lot harder than I realize, but I also believe I’ll really enjoy the experience. I really love everything I’ve learned about civil engineering so far. I believe it will be a lot of hard work, but I’ll believe I’ll be happy because it’s something I really want to learn about. It’s exciting!”

Dublin High School is a comprehensive 9-12 high school in Dublin, California.

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