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Standout Williams School senior to attend Yale in the fall

New London — To say Mary Madaus is a well-rounded student who has flourished during her time at Williams School would be a vast understatement.

The 17-year-old New Londoner, an accomplished three-season athlete — captain of both the sailing and cross country teams — who is torn between her love of science and the humanities, is headed to Yale University in the fall to study biomedical engineering.

She was part of the inaugural 6th grade class at Williams in 2014 and, according to her instructors, an exceptional student with vast potential.

Her favorite class this year has been advanced biology but Madaus had immersed herself in the classics during her time at Williams, taking a college-level course, Reason and Revelation, at Connecticut College as part of the New London Scholar program.

Her choice of which college to attend grew clearer after attending a virtual open house at Yale. She listened to a panel discussion between doctors and other alumni as they talked about their humanities courses and things like “the coolest philosophy courses they took.”

“That made me say ‘OK, these are the types of people I can get on board with. They’re taking advanced science courses but also so appreciative of the humanities and the opportunities they’ve had to balance that out,” she said.

She traces some of her fascination with the sciences to the time when she learned that she developed a hole in her lung after her birth.

“I was able to survive having not being able to breathe the first few moments in my life. That was really cool. That sort of opened my eyes to the possibilities that await in the field of biomedical engineering and how impactful that could be,” she said.

For her senior capstone project, Madaus created a prosthetic hand in part with use of a 3D printer. It was a design she’s been tinkering with — independently of the school — since eighth grade after she attended a STEM conference with her fellow students at the University of Connecticut. Students were grouped and given projects. Madaus said her group worked on designing a road, “using chocolate and marshmallows or something cute like that.”

She noticed the other group had worked on what looked to be crude prosthetic hands made of things like straw and string and cardboard. Disappointed she had not been part of that other group, Madaus went home to try building her own prosthetic hand.

“I ran around my house and grabbed a tissue box and marbles and some plastic cups and tape, lots of tape, and just went up to my room and started building it and I just sort of never stopped,” she said.

The project led to outside research during her freshman year and a visit to a prosthetics clinic in Springfield, Mass., as a sophomore, where she was able to sit in with patients and watch them get fitted for prosthetics. She recalls watching one woman, an amputee, walk for the first time in months.

“It was crazy,” she said. “That was when I said this is really cool.”

After school she sees herself entering any number of fields: prosthetics, tissue engineering or designing and building medical instruments or synthetic organs.

Madaus is the daughter of Melissa Root and Joseph Madaus and has two brothers, Colin and Patrick. Colin is a cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and was home in New London with Mary after the coronavirus pandemic struck and forced students into virtual classes.

The time at home was not a bad thing for Madaus, who joined her brother Colin and a friend to create a short film, "Cede to Reality," that has been accepted into various film festivals.

Melissa Moss, chair of the classics department at Williams, said Madaus is superlative in numerous ways.

“As a student she has been curious and serious, going beyond the requirements for any particular assignment by expanding on the research needed,” Moss said. “When she was a sophomore, a paper she did for one of my classes  was about early Christian communities — we had read Pliny's letter to Trajan about Christians in a province — the letter is the earliest non-Christian evidence for the practice of that religion — and Mary ended up researching Pontius Pilate and the archaeological evidence for him, and found things I had not known about, down to an inscription on the ‘Pilate Stone.’ Where her classmates were still learning how to find sources more in depth than an encyclopedia entry, Mary was wading through archaeological journal articles and scholarly debates.”

As a leader of the Classics Club, Madaus has pushed for the group to do more experiential learning, "so making wax tablets, examining coins, putting together a banquet, complete with invitations and togas were all activities she helped to come to fruition," Moss said. "She wanted to mummify something this year, but COVID restrictions made that impossible.”

“Mary's number one quality, though, has to be her gentle kindness.  If you've met her, then you know what that feels like,” Moss said. “She listens, she reads people well, and she's able to notice when someone needs a kind word or a smile.”

g.smith@theday.com

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