For Rosary High School senior Colleen Madlinger, space really is the next frontier.
Madlinger, who lives near Batavia and attends Holy Cross Catholic Church, will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall, where she plans to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. But she is not looking to travel to space herself.
“I would rather focus on improving technology than being an astronaut myself,” the 18-year-old said. “They are trying to think of more efficient ways to do things in space.”
The Kane County Chronicle is highlighting local high school seniors and sharing their stories as graduation season nears.
Madlinger has been interested in space since she was a youngster.
“I did a project on lunar eclipses in the fifth grade,” she said.
Madlinger attended a lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison given by American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
She looks up to him.
“He’s really into supporting space programs,” Madlinger said. “He’s very inspiring.”
The fact that she was able to get into MIT is somewhat of a surprise to Madlinger.
“I didn’t think I had a great chance of getting in,” she said. “It helped that I had really great letters of recommendation.”
The Boston Marathon bombing happened a day after she visited MIT. Later that week, an MIT security guard was shot and killed by the Boston Marathon bombers. Although she said she was shocked by what happened, she still feels the MIT campus is safe.
“It’s probably not going to happen again at MIT,” Madlinger said. “You can’t let it rule your life.”
Madlinger excels at math, and has won numerous awards in the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Marmion Academy math contests as a team member and individual. During the summer, she tutors high school and college students.
“I like the constancy of math,” Madlinger said. “Math doesn’t change. It always is going to be the same answer.”
She developed her love for math as a student at Montessori Academy of Batavia, which she attended from kindergarten through third grade.
Beverly Cange, Rosary’s mathematics department chair, said Madlinger is “very inquisitive.” Madlinger has been a student in four of Cange’s honors math classes, where Madlinger has continually maintained an “A” average even as the material has gotten more difficult.
“She is not afraid to ask ‘why’ questions about material and is not satisfied until she understands totally,” Cange said.
Besides her academic efforts, Madlinger has spent time giving back, whether that is shelving books at St. Vincent de Paul’s Deja Vu thrift shop in Geneva or helping middle school students at Holy Cross Catholic School practice for math competitions.
“She does what she loves to do,” said Madlinger’s mother, Cathy. “She’s focused her energies into things she enjoys.”