Where Are They Now: University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Katie Brendecke

Katie Brendecke, a proud participant of all five years of FutureTruck, was recruited during a freshman student organization fair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Jenny Topinka, aka ‘Pinky,’ the team leader for the 1999-2000 competition, recruited me,” Katie said. “She was very passionate about the team after having been a part of the FutureCar competitions, and her excitement and enthusiasm were contagious. I went to a few team meetings and was hooked.”

Katie went on to join team “radar” for the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 competitions, serving as Team Leader in 2002-2003.

“Being on the Wisconsin FutureTruck team was the highlight of my college career, and the team became like a family to me,” she said. “Many of us still keep in touch.”

Among Katie’s favorite memories of FutureTruck were meeting with politicians to promote the program and hybrid technologies. “It was exciting to meet Theresa Heinz when part of John Kerry’s campaign trail went through Madison,” she said. Katie also visited Washington, D.C., and met U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. After graduation, she attended the 2002-2004 competitions. “Those were a lot of fun – it was great to meet the other teams and see other approaches to modifying the Explorer.”

Katie credits FutureTruck with helping to develop her leadership skills in many ways and honing her communication, presentation and motivational skills.

“It taught me about team dynamics, dedication and determination, and how to tackle a large project in incremental steps,” she said. Those leadership skills were invaluable at her first job as a shift supervisor and project engineer at the Nestle Coffeemate factory in Illinois, where she worked for nearly four years.

In 2008, she joined Rockwell Collins in Iowa as a mechanical engineer, responsible for the environmental testing of a variety of commercial and military electronics and avionics products. She recently moved into a new position at Rockwell Collins, focusing on the development of heads-down displays for military and commercial aircraft.

“I’m happy to see there are still wonderful opportunities available for students to develop skills to take into the ‘real world’, and that the focus is still on improving vehicle technology,” Katie said. “The recent announcement that the U.S. will increase the fleet fuel economy average to 54.5 mpg by 2025 is a clear indication that more technological breakthroughs are needed, along with a steady stream of engineers capable of tackling such a feat.”

Katie is actively involved in the Cedar Rapids Jaycees, currently serving as the chapter’s State Director. She also enjoys volunteering for a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach events through Rockwell Collins, including the Introduce a Girl to Engineering program.

“I feel very fortunate that Pinky approached me and persuaded me to come to a FutureTruck meeting that day my freshman year,” she said. “The experience definitely helped me become a better engineer and leader.”