Student Achievers: Elgin U46 STEM Graduate on Her Own Sort of Galaxy Quest

Student Achievers: Elgin U46 STEM Graduate on Her Own Sort of Galaxy Quest

When Madeline Koldos’ third-grade teacher, Jackie Kutina, recommended Maddie for entry into the U46 “School Within a School” program, a direction was set that sees her today enrolled in University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering to study astro engineering.

Entry to and sticking with the SWAS program meant leaving behind friends through school changes as the program through the elementary and middle school years is offered only at certain locations. It also often meant long early morning bus rides and maintaining the required grade point averages in classes generally two grade levels above the enrolled level.

Entering high school, Koldos had the choice of five different academy programs, each specializing in a unique discipline. Bartlett High School’s Science Technology Engineering Math Academy fit the bill.

“It certainly wasn’t easy, but in the end it was worth it. It taught me independent thinking, and that’s pretty important in college,” says Maddie. “The AP courses were the best.”

Solidly in the lower middle class, paying for college was a big concern, especially in her junior year.

“It was a huge distraction,” she said. “The thought of getting out of college a hundred or more thousand dollars in debt for a good engineering school scared me. How do you even pay that off?”

The beginning of the solution came in the fall of 2014 when she learned of the Questbridge scholarship program. It’s been matching academically and economically qualified students since the late 1980s to more than 35 top-tier universities across the country.

“In some ways, making sure all the right paperwork was sent to all the right places was harder than my actual school work!” Maddie said of the application process and of applying to more than 20 schools.

After becoming a Questbridge finalist, during spring break 2015 she got her Southern California dream, the letter of acceptance to USC Engineering. A week after that, the final weight was lifted with the $67,000 per year college costs being reduced to $700 mainly through the Questbridge/USC scholarship package but with also a Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarship and a Foresters Scholarship.

”I just want to let anybody else know out there, students and families, facing the same challenges that it is possible,” says Maddie.

Her dream now is to serve internships at places like her (“THIS MAN IS SERIOUSLY MY HERO, I WANT TO BE HIS UNDERLING”) Elon Musk’s Space X or Burt Rutan’s  Scaled Composites. Both companies lead the way in the technology surrounding private space exploration. USC has a direct internship program with Space X which begins in the sophomore year.

Classes start for Maddie at USC on Aug. 24. Her version of “Go West Young (Wo)man” in the form of a car loaded with her carefully selected supplies and powder  blue 1970s Schwinn Breeze bicycle with the wicker basket leaves mid August.

From Schwinn Breeze to spacecraft — a quick jump for this budding Kane County astro engineer!

  • This article was submitted by David Koldos. If you have an inspiring story about Kane County youth that you’d like to share with the community countywide, please email

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