From Trial to Triumph

Madeline Ontiveros loved to make things with her hands. “I used to do crafts almost every day,” she says. “I thought I was weird because I was out of high school and 22 [years old] and I was still playing with popsicle sticks and coloring books.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t much money in crafting.

So she drifted.  After high school, she bounced in and out of college, living in California hotel rooms, trying to survive. She became increasingly desperate until one day, she remembered hearing about JobCorps in high school. By that point, she needed a job so badly that she decided to take any job she could find for a paycheck.

Maddie signed on with JobCorps. She began by learning machine shop, but had to take a few months off for medical leave. When she came back, she was ready for a fresh start. Maddie decided to leave California. The programs available in Utah appealed to her, and the wait was shorter.

Maddie walked into DATC, found the composites program, and knew it was what she needed.  “I actually only peeked through the window [at first],” Maddie says.  “I ran inside, trying to hide.” She asked the instructor lots of questions.

“Once I saw that it was hands-on and could lead to other opportunities in naval and aerospace, it inspired me to get to know the program more. Being really creative and someone that needs to be hands-on, it was the best opportunity to get my foot in the door.”

Maddie’s road to success wasn’t always easy. She took her time on certain projects and extended her program in order to save money.

In the end, though, the extra time paid off. When she heard about the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) competition, the timing was perfect for her to participate. For the statewide contest in April, Maddie, along with other college and university students from across the state, built a bridge to contest specifications. Judges applied weight to the bridges. The lightest bridge that could withstand 15,000 pounds was declared the winner.

Creating a high-quality bridge took some time. Maddie invested most of her efforts in the design phase, studying other successful projects and visualizing her ideas. She knew she’d made a great bridge, but she was still surprised to win. The two highest-scoring bridges were within two grams of each other, so the judges declared a first-place tie, which qualified Maddie to advance to the national competition in Long Beach, held May 23-26.

At the national level, Maddie competed with students from all over the country and beyond. Maddie’s 1296-gram (2.86-lb) bridge held a very respectable 13,845 lbs. When the bridge finally collapsed, Maddie was proud that it smashed the cabinet it was standing on.

Maddie’s success was noticed by others in the industry. She met composites and engineering students from all over the world, and she made contacts with industry leaders. Her work led to offers from NDT in Huntington Beach and Orbital ATK and Hexcel in Utah. As proud as she is of her success, her new relationships mean more to her than her competition awards.

“It’s amazing, because I waited so long, and I’m really proud of myself, and I think it all worked out. If I wouldn’t have waited that long, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity for these competitions and to meet all the people I did.”

Unlike before, Maddie has a clear vision for her future. Her homeless days make her appreciate her newly-found self-sufficiency. She has more confidence in her job skills and her professionalism. Now Maddie loves applying her hands-on crafting skills to projects that make the world a better place.  Even better, she gets paid to do something she loves.

After she’s finished her program at DATC, she wants to work for a company where she can move up in her career and design her own projects. Ultimately she wants to build something that goes into space.

“There’s a lot more to learn, definitely,” Maddie says. “This is just the start. “