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February 9, 2017

Freshmen twins and triplets lay future foundation with engineering majors

Written By: Pat DeFlorin

Two’s company, three’s a crowd and seven’s a freshman engineering cohort at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

In 2016, two sets of identical twins and a set of triplets began studying engineering at UW-Madison.

The Peterson and Hellenbrand twins and the Geissler triplets are all Wisconsin natives, but their reasons for choosing engineering and relationships with their siblings are quite different.

Peterson twins Sarah (left) and Sydney (right)
Peterson twins Sarah (left) and Sydney (right)

The Peterson twins, Sarah and Sydney, came from Prairie du Sac to study at Madison. Sarah and Sydney are “typical” identical twins; they both decided on engineering as a major due to their interests in math and science. They say that they had many high school teachers who are alumni of UW-Madison and did a good job promoting Madison’s engineering programs to them.

Sarah studies civil and environmental engineering because she has always loved the environment. Sydney, on the other hand, studies industrial engineering and says a family friend who is an industrial engineer piqued her interest in that discipline.

Did the Peterson sisters influence one other when coming to their decisions to study engineering at UW-Madison?

“Yeah,” they chime in unison, as they turn to one another and smile. “We have similar goals and interests and are thinking the same thing all the time,” Sarah adds.

The thought of studying something markedly different never occurred to the Peterson sisters. They also currently live in the same dorm room and have almost the same friend group.

“It’s great to have a companion to work on homework and discuss what they are learning together,” Sydney says. “And we don’t like it if one of us gets ahead of the other,” adds Sarah.

Although the Peterson twins didn’t realize it when they were choosing their majors, there is a history of engineering in the Peterson family. Their great grandfather Leonard Hillis earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UW-Madison in 1929 and went on to be a professor of civil and structural engineering at UW-Madison. Hillis organized UW-Madison’s first Surveyors Institute in 1949.

But an engineering family history is not a key factor in choosing an engineering educational trajectory. Neither the Hellenbrands nor the Geisslers have engineers of note in their families.

The Hellenbrand twins, Ashley and Kylie, are both majoring in industrial engineering, but they are generally less similar than the Peterson twins. Since they share the same major, they have all of their classes together, but they do not work as closely as the Peterson sisters.

“We’re a little more independent than most identical twins,” says Ashley. “We don’t really collaborate and have our own ways of studying. We do our own thing, but if we are stuck we ask questions.”

Geissler triplets Rob (left), Joe (center), and Tom (right).
Geissler triplets Rob (left), Joe (center), and Tom (right).

And unlike the Peterson sisters, the Hellenbrand sisters live in different dorms and they appreciate time apart. They agree that If one of them hadn’t been accepted to study at UW-Madison the other would still have chosen to study engineering here.

“We’ve always wanted to go to Madison—it hasn’t really been a question,” Kylie says without hesitation while Ashley nods in agreement. “Plus, the engineering programs are highly ranked and both of our parents went here.”

Which brings us to the Geissler triplets from Hudson, Wisconsin. Two of the Geissler triplets, Joe and Tom, are identical, while their brother Rob is fraternal. Joe studies chemical engineering; Tom, biomedical engineering; Rob, mechanical engineering.

Like the Hellenbrand sisters, the Geisslers are quite freewheeling and they arrived at engineering majors separately, simply by following their own interests.

“We’ve always really enjoyed tinkering,” says Rob. “Yeah, we’ve always liked to build stuff,” Joe agrees. “But our parents always pushed us to do our own thing,” Tom adds.

The Geissler triplets admit that they may have subconsciously influenced one another’s decisions to study engineering at UW-Madison, but on campus they are pursuing their own interests. They live in separate dorms and have separate friend groups. They say that they study together sometimes, but don’t feel like they have to.

The renowned engineering programs and legacy as a Big 10 school with a dynamic sporting scene put UW-Madison at the top of the Geissler triplets’ list of potential universities. And they have no regrets about their decisions.

“There is so much to do here,” says Joe. “It’s impossible to be bored.”

Despite being twins or triplets, the Peterson, Hellenbrand and Geissler siblings are not so different from any other engineering student at UW-Madison. They’ve sought out Madison because its robust engineering programs support their academic interests, and they have ensconced themselves in the nurturing communities of the College of Engineering and UW-Madison. With this support, they are laying the foundations for successful futures.

“As a freshman, I still am discovering myself, and I feel that UW-Madison is the perfect school to be the best version of yourself,” says Sydney.

“I think my education at Madison will provide a strong foundation for any career in engineering I chose to pursue,” Tom agrees.