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The Daily Tar Heel

Meet Maggie Hilderbran, a UNC senior who received a scholarship that only 40 people get

Maggie Hilderbran

As a Marshall Scholar, UNC Senior Maggie Hilderbran will work towards a masters degree in science and religion at the University of Edinburgh and another in space exploration systems at the University of Leicester. Hilderbran has had a passion for math and science since elementary school, and she hopes to be a researcher at NASA someday.

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.”   

As a founding member of "UNC JOURney," the University’s first interdisciplinary undergraduate research journal, Hilderbran has helped students across all majors communicate their interests to the public.

Hilderbran is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society, where she became good friends with Alexis Hawk. Hawk and Hilderbran originally met during the summer between their junior and senior year of high school and realized they had been attending different sessions of the same summer camp, Camp Illahee.

“I kind of consider her my rock or my moral compass, which I know sounds odd, but I think she’s a genuine person, and she wants to do what is best," Hawk said. "She wants to treat others with respect."

Even though she knows receiving the Marshall Scholarship is challenging, Hawk said she was not surprised at all when she heard Hilderbran had been chosen. She watched Hilderbran apply to the program last summer when they both worked at Camp Illahee and believed her friend had to receive the scholarship after putting forth so much effort.  

Professor Inger Brodey, the director of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships, also spoke to Hilderbran’s character, describing her as remarkably mature, level-headed and approachable. Brodey worked closely with Hilderbran as she applied to the program and said she was a model citizen. 

“I hope she stays in touch, and I hope she becomes the kind of scientist who can communicate with all types of people,” Brodey said. 

Hilderbran's ambition is clear, but creating a sense of balance is also important to her. That's why she is happy she chose to attend UNC. 

“I love Carolina basketball and all of the other things that make college more than just going to class,"  Hilderbran said. "Carolina has the perfect balance going on."

Hilderbran said her favorite memory from her time at UNC is watching the basketball team win the National Championship in 2017 and subsequently rushing Franklin Street.  

“You should come out of college with more than just a degree to show for it," Hilderbran said. "To me, friendships are really important."


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