Maddie Verbica was originally drawn to Walnut Hill "for its prestigious dance program and strong academics," and ended up finding a "home away from home" here on campus. "In the first few months on the Hill, I was thoroughly impressed (and intimidated) by my classmates' talent, and I had to remember not to get discouraged in the competitive environment," Maddie recalls. "At the beginning, I would find myself making excuses for my initial shortcomings. However, as I built relationships with my classmates and sought advice from the faculty, I developed more confidence and a drive to embrace the vulnerability required for artistic growth." After graduating, she attended Butler University on scholarship as a dance major, but an ankle injury soon threw a wrench in her plans. While recovering from surgery, Maddie had to withdraw from her dance classes. "At that point, I figured I could either get sad or get busy," she explains. "I took a leap of faith and started taking classes in other subjects. I began the switch from life as a dancer to life as a scientist."
Maddie's central interest was tropical ecology, so she began taking courses in Spanish and biology, hoping to work in Central America one day. Through studying for her science classes, she stumbled upon a potential future career. She explains, "In my science courses, I noticed there was an inconsistency in the amount of visual aids available for various subjects. I found that creating detailed sketches to make step-by-step visual dissections was the best way for me to learn in these courses. Other classmates would often consult my drawings to study for exams. I began dreaming of a career as a scientific illustrator." Next year, Maddie will continue working toward that dream at Rhode Island School of Design, in a certificate program for natural science illustration. Despite her new goals, however, dance never left Maddie's life. In college, she and Alex Zaslav '12 became involved with a nonprofit organization called Movement Exchange, which they heard about through Dana Vanderburgh '13, who was involved with MoveEx at Indiana University and invited Maddie and Alex to start a chapter at Butler. "The organization really resonated with me because it strives to make dance classes available to high-risk youth, both locally and internationally," Maddie tells us.
Through MoveEx, she had the opportunity to travel to Panama last year and teach a free dance workshop. She fell in love with the country and returned this March for an internship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Living here has allowed me to stay connected to the dance community while continuing my career in science," Maddie says. "Dance taught me to take care of my body. When I was training in the studio, I didn't know I was prepping myself to hike rural Panama on a daily basis, but those years of work definitely gave me stamina for this rugged terrain and hot weather." In addition to physical benefits, Maddie credits her dance training with her observational skills and precision: "These are the integral components that make studying biology and hyper-realistic illustration possible for me. Walnut Hill sparked my avid appreciation of interdisciplinary learning, and for that, I will be forever grateful!"