Madison Wood ’15

July 10, 2023

Madison “Maddie” Wood grew up on a horse farm in Kirby, Vermont, and graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in 2015. The oldest of three, siblings Lindsey ‘17 and James ‘20 also attended SJA. During her four years, Maddie was involved with the soccer and track teams. She also participated in the after-school clay club and said, “I still have many of the pots that were thrown and glazed in the Morse studio! The studio access and creative freedom we had as pottery students was incredible, as was learning from a talented artist like former ceramics faculty, Kreg Owens.” Considering her overall experience at SJA, Maddie said, “People are often surprised at the educational opportunities and international community I had in small town Vermont. Attending SJA expanded my bubble in so many ways—my teachers had diverse educational and personal backgrounds and I picked my classes from a course catalog that rivals the offerings of many colleges.”


When asked if there was a faculty or staff member who had a positive impact on her, Maddie said, “Terrence Reed (science teacher and class dean) taught me to balance chemical equations and embrace hard learning; just as he did, I now tell my students the goggle lines we invariably leave the lab with are just ‘marks of intelligence’ and exams are simply ‘an opportunity to demonstrate your learning.’ You know a teacher has been an exceptional role model when their words still ring in your ears almost a decade later!” Maddie also noted, “John Lenzini (former chemistry teacher, now Associate Headmaster) taught my AP Chemistry course which was solid preparation for the fairly grueling physical chemistry curriculum I took in college. Around the same time I was heading to college, he was taking on a new role at Schilling Beer Co., applying his chemistry know-how to brewing. Watching him make that transition and later return to SJA left me with an important lesson I’m still considering— your degree (whether in chemistry or another field) sets you up with a certain skill set, and it’s up to you to figure out how to use those skills in a way that is fulfilling to you. I’ve felt a lot of freedom to shift my degree focus, pursue a graduate degree, and consider a range of post-PhD career options in part because Mr. Lenzini has modeled what career adaptability can look like for a scientist.”


After graduating from SJA, Maddie attended the University of New Hampshire, and started out in the chemical engineering department. After two years of chemistry and engineering classes, she began learning more about climate change and earth system science. She was fascinated to learn that “geoscientists use clues from the natural environment (including the chemistry of minerals, soil, water, and plants) to figure out what earth’s climate was like in the past, even millions of years ago, which can help us better predict the future.” Thanks to a lucky conversation with a professor in the earth science department, Maddie found that she could blend her interests in chemistry and climate. She said, “I ended up with a bachelor’s degree in Earth Science with a focus in climate and applied to graduate schools to get a PhD in geochemistry.”


Maddie now lives in Santa Cruz, California, tucked between mountains, redwood forests, and the Pacific Ocean about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. Maddie said, “I’m a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the fourth year of my graduate program. I’m an isotope geochemist, which means I study the chemistry of the oceans and use isotopes, or “chemical fingerprints” to understand important climate processes. My job at UCSC is a mixture of roles—I’m a student earning my doctoral degree, a researcher, and sometimes a teaching assistant.”


Maddie’s approach to the world is reflected in her advice to SJA students: “In my experience, school is about developing skills that you can use to go many different directions. Your choices in high school won’t determine a single career or life path you must follow, but instead will open opportunities you can pursue depending on what you most enjoy. Your goals and plans might (and probably will) change over time, so just take the next step that feels right, try to have a positive impact, and stay open to new challenges.”


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