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Kristin Hildebrandt
College of Human Ecology

Class of 2014

It all started with chickens—specifically, Kristin Hildebrandt’s brother’s chickens.

Hildebrandt ’14 loved holding the fluffy chicks and used to watch them for hours. Then, in the summer before sixth grade, Hildebrandt won the Wisconsin International Poultry Club’s Pullet Surprise Youth Contest with her poem, “Early Riser.”

Early Riser sits up high,
Crowing at the morning sky.
Roosting with their eyes closed tight,
Mother hens are quite a sight.
Early Riser’s still a crowing,
Now the sun is really glowing.
Old mother hens, stretching legs,
Soon they will be laying eggs.
Early riser’s wake up noise,
A peaceful farm he enjoys.
Patient mother ’roused by his racket,
Hatchlings peep ’neath her feather jacket.
Early Riser’s crowing alarm,
Wakes all the others on the farm.
Baby foals, mother nuzzled,
Piggy-breakfast, quickly guzzled.
Early Riser’s almost done,
Crowing at the morning sun.
Farmer Brown heard Riser’s call,
While milking Bess in her stall.
Early Riser’s struttin’ his stuff,
Loudly crowing, thinks he’s tough.
Farmer’s daughter, scatters seed,
Hens and chicks come ’round indeed.
Early Riser’s proud to say,
It’s time to start another day.

Her prize consisted of a pair of show-quality purebred fowl, a cage, feed, the latest edition of The American Standard of Perfection, and the all-important incubator.

Winning the contest only deepened Hildebrandt’s passion for chickens. “That’s what sparked my interest in learning a lot about chickens, not just the raising aspect, but also the showing and scientific aspect,” she says. And she became something of an amateur veterinarian and research scientist, too, observing their behavior, testing how different factors tended to affect their health and mood. “I saw a lot of similarities between health of chickens and human health, which opened up the door to human medicine,” she says.

Hildebrandt went on to expand her flock to several dozen, participate in the Avian Quiz Bowl, become a Poultry Master, and earn her license to judge show chickens at county fairs in her home state of Wisconsin. Today, she credits the chickens for piquing her interest in science—medical science, in particular, and the ways in which nutritional and environmental factors can determine the health of both the individual and the community. And, she continues to mentor youth in poultry and coach her county’s Avian Quiz Bowl teams.

On the fast track

This winter, when Hildebrandt returns home for the holidays, she hopes to pass the pre-apprentice written test that will put her on a fast track to becoming a fully licensed adult poultry judge, able to judge at state fairs and poultry shows around the country.

At Cornell, Hildebrandt is still involved with chickens on a weekly basis, through her research work in the lab of Patricia Johnson, a professor in the Department of Animal Science, where the group studies the effects of Anti-Mullerian Hormone on follicular development in hen ovaries, with a major grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Since her freshman year, Hildebrandt has lived in the Ecology House on North Campus, the only on-campus housing that allows pets. She had a Madagascar hissing cockroach for about a year, before, she says, he died “of natural causes; it was his time.”

Hildebrandt is also a musician—a flautist—and is pursuing a minor in music performance.

In her freshman year, she played with a flute chamber group and the Wind Symphony. In her sophomore year, she joined the Big Red Marching Band, which she loves. “It’s a nice way to get to meet other people and have a different experience with music, in addition to chamber music and classical music.”

Last year she was co-mentorship chair of PATCH, the Pre-professional Association Toward Careers in Health sponsored by the College of Human Ecology. “We partnered 97 freshman and transfer students with upperclassmen mentors,” she says. The group caters mostly to students who, like Hildebrandt, hope to attend medical school. This year she is the group’s communications director.

The best medicine

But the extracurricular activity through PATCH she is most excited about is one of her own invention, the Giggle Cart, a group of therapeutic clowns. Hildebrandt trains Cornell students (nine so far) in clowning. She began clowning through 4-H in high school and has performed at picnics, street fairs, and the county fair. Her Cornellian clowns visit local retirement and assisted living facilities to perform for residents.

“As a clown, you are a completely different person,” she explains. She is naturally shy, but the experience changed her. “It forced me to interact more with people, and as a result I was able to get other opportunities just by being more outgoing.” She has also noticed that many of the students she trained have also become more outgoing and embraced their inner clown.

When Hildebrandt interned this past summer at a Wisconsin county health department, she was struck again with the value of her Cornell education. “Most Human Ecology classes I have taken,” she explains, “stress the practical application of the science and research we are learning. For example, we learn not only about a disease, but also how a person's health is influenced by their living environment, education, mental health, and sense of community.”

Her supervisors were impressed, she says, with the understanding she already had about the connection between environmental factors and individual health. “They had a national work grant,” she says, “so I was working on some farm-to-school programs, promoting healthy recipes, working with fast food restaurants and the smart-meal program to label healthier options.”

Hildebrandt was successful. She convinced local grocery stores to place fruits and veggies in the checkout aisle, instead of the more usual candy and gum.

“As a future physician,” she says, “I hope to address social issues, whether in nutrition or policy, to empower people to improve their overall wellness.”

With her clowning background, she is sure to provide the best medicine, as well: laughter.