Maggie Hilderbran has been a math and science person ever since elementary school. She often watched Star Trek with her dad as a child and always felt fascinated by space.
Coming to UNC, Maggie decided to be a physics major. But after taking a few religious studies classes, she realized she had another interest and began to pursue a double major that led her to become the University's 18th Marshall Scholar.
Religious studies and physics may appear to be disparate fields, but Hilderbran, a senior, said they both seek to answer the deeply philosophical questions that people have grappled with for centuries.
“They both get at these kind of big-picture questions," Hilderbran said. "What are humans doing here in the universe? What is the nature of our universe? How does our society work?”
As a Marshall Scholar, Hilderbran will pursue a master's degree in science and religion at the University of Edinburgh and another in space exploration systems at the University of Leicester. The program provides tuition, living expenses and an additional grant funding for up to 40 Americans yearly to pursue graduate-level education in any field of study at any U.K. institution.
Hilderbran’s choice of study is motivated by her desire to perform astrophysical research at NASA. She wants to be able to communicate with members of the public, especially those without scientific expertise.
“Wanting to work at NASA, in a public agency and doing science for the public using taxpayer dollars, to me it’s really important to be able to figure out how to explain the science properly and be able to communicate to people why this kind of work is important,” Hilderbran said.
The desire to put others first is also a driving force behind Hilderbran’s professional goals. She said she wants humanity to have a better understanding of its place in the universe.
“I want to be doing something that is good for people and meaningful for people,” Hilderbran said. “So I’m hoping in whatever career path I take, it’s something where I’m not just producing knowledge, but hopefully that knowledge is inspiring people or creating some sort of tangible benefit.”