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Surviving and Thriving in UC Berkeley Engineering – Dublin High School Alum Madison Hildenbrand on the Transition to College

May 26, 2017

We last spoke with Dublin High School Class of 2016 alum Madison Hildenbrand about her experiences in the Dublin High School Engineering and Design Academy. Fast forward to today and Madison has completed her first year of engineering at UC Berkeley, where she is pursuing a degree in civil engineering. Read more profiles of Dublin High School students, and other inspiring STEM professionals, in our Life in College and Women in STEM series of interviews.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset What does it feel like to have survived your first year of Berkeley Engineering?

Madison Hildenbrand: “Right now it feels really rewarding and I finally get to relax! Looking back there were definitely times when I felt ‘I can’t do this!’, but in the end I passed all my classes and I learned a lot.” What makes engineering hard, to the point you weren’t certain you’d make it through?

Hildenbrand: “There were so many topics we were expected to cover both in class and on our own. I had a really heavy course load; in one semester I took physics, computer science, calculus and a writing class. There was a lot I had to stay on top of: if I fell behind in one class it would catch up with me really quickly. I remember one week in computer science when I could not finish the lab project for the week and I thought ‘if I do poorly on this it will make next week even harder’ and so on. Unlike high school, where you’d always have the weekend to catch-up, in college it moves so quickly it’s much harder to catch-up if you fall behind.” What did you learn in your first year that will help you do things differently next year?

Hildenbrand: “Definitely study harder for the first midterm! I often did not do well on my first midterm and needed the final to catch-up my grade – so I won’t make that mistake again. I went into midterms thinking I knew the topic, but found you are expected to know so much more than what was taught in class.

“Berkeley has a really good tutoring center specifically for engineering students, with tutors for a wide ranch of subjects. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos, which probably helped me more than anything, because those videos provided a different voice and perspective than what I heard in class.” What made all that hard work rewarding?

Hildenbrand: “I feel like I’m a much better problem solver now than I was a year ago. I learned a lot in my classes but most importantly I learned how to attack problems from different perspectives. I now can start a problem with one approach, realize the design won’t work, and can pivot to try something else.” What are some of the cooler things you’ve learned or problems you’ve solved during your first year?

Hildenbrand: “Math has become my favorite subject since coming to Berkeley, I’ve had terrific professors. Dublin High School’s AP Calculus class also provided a really good basis for college level math. I enjoy proofs and problem solving, and I can see how calculus can be applied to so many real world problems.” ‘Engineering’ is a very broad discipline. How did you decide to pursue civil engineering?

Hildenbrand: “I really like civil engineering because there are so many different fields, and at Berkeley I can get exposure to many different aspects of civil engineering. If I want to pursue structural engineering, environmental engineering or transportation engineering, or learn more about engineering project management, I can take all of those classes. Berkeley actually wants you to take a variety of classes. I’m not confined to just exploring one facet of civil engineering.” Tell me more about the cool summer program you’ve lined up.

Hildenbrand: “I always knew I wanted to study abroad so over the winter break I started to research programs that would supplement the work I’m doing at Berkeley. I looked at programs in Germany and in Asia, but it was the program at the London School of Economics that really caught my eye because there was a wide range of options, and the school is prestigious. I’m going to be studying there for seven weeks and will be taking two management courses. I want to learn more about management in a foreign country because so much of civil engineering is happening abroad right now, esp. in developing countries. If one day I want to pursue engineering management this program will help me get there.” What’s been the experience of living on your own?

Hildenbrand: “I really enjoy living at Berkeley and I haven’t felt the need to come home. During second semester I only came home during spring break and one other time. Both of my parents really respected my independence which was great, and I felt like I was able to grow. I’ve made a lot of friends.

“I’m also playing on the Cal Women’s Rugby TeamCal Women’s Rugby Team which has been a lot of fun. It took up a lot of time, it’s a real commitment, but it’s been rewarding and fun. Rugby is a nice break from studying.” How were you able to balance a sports club commitment with engineering?


Hildenbrand: “I met three girls on the team who were also civil engineering students, which meant we could study together. Knowing that I had to carve out time for practices, travel and games meant I had to be really organized, having all my assignments downloaded to bring with me.

“Doing both did mean really long nights sometimes, but it was worth the experience, and helped me balance my mental and physical health.” For high school students who don’t have an engineering program like Dublin High School, who have had less exposure to engineering, what is your sales pitch to get students excited about engineering?

Hildenbrand: “Everything you look at was created by an engineer at some point, and I think that’s incredibly cool. Things you take for granted, like a stop sign or a part buried inside your refrigerator, were created by an engineer. There are so many things left to discover and create. My grandmother always tells me that just like I have so much to explain to her, my grandkids fifty years from now will have so much to explain to me. Engineers will create that future.” What advice would you give to your high school self if you could go back in time?

Hildenbrand: “Don’t take 17 units at one time! I wish I could have told myself how important it is to study on your own, outside of class. I would tell myself to go beyond the textbook.”



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