“It’s fun to learn!”
–A theme for Maddie Laitz ’12 since her days at Harley
The year 2022 was a big one for Maddie Laitz ’12. Last summer she graduated with a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, married the love of her life, and landed a fantastic job in Boston. To get there, she made some pivotal decisions along the way including her departure from Pittsford-Sutherland High School to join Harley in search of a smaller, more intimate school. She was first attracted by Harley’s art program, but soon discovered the vast learning opportunities available and she dove right in.
Working with John Dolan (Psychology, 1994-present) in creative writing was an enriching experience. Maddie was interested in writing a novel and Dr. Dolan encouraged her. She turned in a chapter each week for Dr. Dolan to review. She said it was a wonderful experience and that his feedback was thoughtful and helpful, red marks and all. She worked on the fantasy/historical fiction work for years and when she looks back, the first chapters were “utter garbage” so it was rewarding to see the arc of her work improve with the help of Dr. Dolan. She reflects that teachers like Pat Malone P ’20 (English, 2009-present), Bill Schara (History, 1997-2021, 2022), Sandy Foster P ’19, ’19 (History, 1997-2022), Kristin Sheridan (History, 2007-present), were all “so supportive and gave you the confidence to accomplish anything.”
Maddie had a real interest in English and she enjoyed the arts, especially glass blowing with Tim Rogers (US art, 2003-2013). Her work with Mary Anne Evans (Science, 2011-2017) in chemistry, a teacher with “phenomenal energy and curiosity” sparked a new interest and that reminder that “it’s fun to learn.” Near the end of her time at Harley, she saw a little bit of an “art of science” in chemistry.
She went to the University of Rochester and all signs pointed to a major in English. However, always wanting to learn new things, that spark from chemistry got her thinking. Although she had focused on creative writing in high school, in the end, she took a chance and chose Chemical Engineering as her major and took English classes for fun. She saw her work in science as a growth opportunity that could allow her to have an impact in the renewable energy space—an interest of hers. While at U of R, she started researching and getting involved in the hands-on aspect of green science. She was interested in grad school and a possible fellowship. As graduation approached, she applied for both a Fulbright Fellowship and a doctorate program at MIT—she got into both and decided to go to London for a year for the Fulbright and defer MIT.
Maddie attended Imperial College London as a Fulbright Scholar and her focus was on green chemistry, specifically hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen technology. She said her year in London was the “best year ever.” She said her academic experience better shaped her interest in renewable energy.
On the non-academic side, she had the opportunity to meet some really incredible people. Fulbright Fellowships are not restricted to science and Maddie was part of a cohort of 40-50 students all over the United Kingdom, representing many disciplines of study. She spent the year getting to know these other scholars, visiting them in their various cities (though London was a central location), and learning about their different programs. These were small master’s programs and each individual, working on their dissertation or project, had a deep passion for their subject of study. The Fulbright ended after a year and she returned to the United States to join the doctorate program at MIT.
At MIT, she worked with a small group of people focused on the photophysics of semiconductors for solar energy. She said it was, “very intense and fascinating work.” She had extraordinary classes where she learned about semiconductor device physics, light-matter interactions, emerging solar cell technology, photonic computing (vs. current analog computing), and more. Her dissertation focused on the ways in which light interacts with matter including how photons and electrons interconvert in everything from solar cells to LEDs to quantum computing. After five-years, she received her degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Following her graduation, Maddie wanted to zoom out from nanoscale and better understand the macroscopic picture and how technology fits into the broader whole, so she took a job as a consultant at Bain and Company in Boston, MA. Her goal there is to work with companies around the globe to accelerate the global energy transition. She said we have amazing technology, but realizing its full potential will require concerted effort between scientists, engineers, policymakers, and business leaders.
Maddie also married Martha, her “favorite person in the world”, this past June. They had a beautiful outdoor celebration surrounded by family and friends. Martha is the Director of PCDI Policy at Massachusetts Medicaid and her work has helped to shape Maddie’s interest in the public policy landscape.
After the intensity of the last year, Maddie also shared that she has come full circle with her interest in arts and has recently taken up (and loves) photography!