It’s a cool Sunday morning in early September, and over a dozen UW students are meeting at a farm plot in Eagle Heights Community Garden. They quickly get to work, gathering everything from pumpkins to Swiss chard. The day’s harvest is bountiful. With more than 400 pounds of produce, the students make their way to East Campus Mall to hand out every single ounce for free.
Bringing fresh produce to the campus community is just one of the many activities in which nearly 40 CALS-affiliated student organizations engage — activities that benefit both the students and those around them.
“These organizations allow students the opportunity to build skills and gain experiences they may not have even considered when starting college,” says LauraLee Berrey Norton, academic advising manager in CALS, who oversees the student orgs. “They participate in service projects, competition teams, industry exploration, and community engagement — all while gaining invaluable leadership skills.”
Joining a student org is just one aspect of a CALS education. CALS students explore their interests through First-Year Seminars, gain global perspective in courses with an international focus, and customize their paths of study by pursuing certificates, second majors, elective courses, and honors programs. Many students also complete independent research experiences or participate in internships.
“Along with their strong academic education, participation in student organizations is a main way for students to grow both personally and professionally,” says Berrey Norton. “I have seen students start as members, join projects or committees, take on leadership roles, and, after four years, be launched directly into successful careers.”
The organizations highlighted here are just a sample of the communities in which students can grow during their time at CALS.
Planting seeds, taking care of plots, harvesting produce, general farm maintenance — it’s a ton of work. But undergraduates Lucy Merkel and Connor Reilly BSx’24 willingly — and frequently — lace up their work boots and jump into the thick of it. Merkel and Reilly are farm co-directors for F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture*, a student-run agricultural collective that aims to connect people with locally sourced and organic quality food. They also promote sustainable and regenerative agricultural techniques.
F.H. King’s activities center around their organic farm plot at Eagle Heights Community Garden on the northern edge of UW’s campus. There, the group grows produce such as garlic, kale, zucchini, radishes, spinach, carrots, and lettuce. This produce, once ready to harvest, is given away during weekly “Harvest Handouts” during the summer and fall.
As farm co-directors, Merkel and Reilly manage the planting and harvesting efforts, but running a farm needs some additional help. Luckily, volunteers are abundant.
“F.H. King is pretty accessible for anyone who wants to volunteer for it,” says Reilly. “It’s also fun and low pressure for a student organization, especially if you’re just volunteering. The expectation is that you come to the farm, you help us out a little bit, learn something, talk to people, and just enjoy yourself.”
Volunteering during the growing season is a large part of F.H. King, but the group also hosts many fun activities throughout the year. Past events include workshops on propagating plants, pickling produce, and decorating shirts with natural dyes, as well as guided tours of local farms. They’re enjoyable social events, but they also educate attendees on sustainable practices and how to connect with the land.
“There’s also an emphasis at F.H. King on community and inclusivity,” says Merkel. “Whenever we give out produce, it’s free for anyone. Things like that bring together a community that’s focused on organic agriculture and sustainability and welcoming everyone into it.”
Harvest Handouts, which sets up shop at the centrally located East Campus Mall, is the group’s main way of serving the community during the summer and fall semesters. Students, faculty, staff, and even passersby are welcome to take fresh, local produce grown by F.H. King’s volunteers.
For Reilly, who is majoring in community and environmental sociology, F.H. King is the perfect opportunity to apply what he’s learned in class. “Through my major, I had been studying everything from afar — especially from a theoretical perspective,” says Reilly. “But here, I get to apply the same values I’ve been studying in a real-life setting. F.H. King is also at the scale where you can really see the benefits of what you’re doing.”
F.H. King’s farm is a modest half-acre, but it has a profound impact on the students who take care of it. Merkel, a senior majoring in international studies, is glad she found a student organization that allows her to explore her passions. “Everything involving F.H. King is something that I care about, whether it’s organic agriculture or community-based agriculture,” she says.
Merkel is unsure where her career will take her, but wherever she goes, she hopes to keep making food systems more accessible for everyone.
*The organization announced a name change on Oct. 1, 2023.
For a student-managed Tik Tok account, reaching 1 million views for a single post generates some excitement. The Food Science Club reached that milestone with a video of new club members attempting to catch small dollops of whipped cream in their mouths. Most students were unsuccessful and had to walk off screen with disappointed expressions, careful to avoid splats of whipped cream on the floor.
Posting short, humorous videos like this one has proven to be an innovative way for the Food Science Club to connect with students, club members, and the public. The club is for students interested in anything and everything about food. Hosted by the Department of Food Science (which is housed in Babcock Hall, home to UW’s famous Babcock ice cream), the club is a food lover’s dream.
While open to all undergraduates at UW, the club tends to attract many students majoring in food science — especially those who are campus novices. “If you’re a new undergrad in food science, you’re taking a lot of gen eds and not food science–specific classes,” says Connor Mills BSx’25, a food science student and communications chair for the club. “It’s nice to see other students in your major in a different environment.”
Mills oversees the club’s social media accounts — Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The TikTok account highlights the sillier side of club activities (e.g., playing with whipped cream), but it also promotes social events, such as ice cream and chocolate socials, and more educational (but fun) content, such as making homemade lozenges.
Monthly club meetings are the ideal place for students to learn about career options in food science. At most meetings, different company’s representatives share information about their roles and their organizations. They also promote internship opportunities. Denali Ingredients and Organic Valley are just two examples of Wisconsin-based companies that have visited with club members recently.
In summer 2022, Mills worked as an intern at Good Foods Group, a Wisconsin-based manufacturing company, and returned in summer 2023. “In the future, I would like to do research and development for new flavors and products,” says Mills. “On my first day [as an intern], I got to see the raw ingredients and how they get processed down the line and turn into a finished product. It was really cool.”
Getting the inside track on internships is one benefit to joining the club, but just engaging with its community makes membership worthwhile. “You meet a lot of people,” says Mills. “Seeing all the other food science people really makes me want to continue pursuing it — even when I’m going to a four-hour organic chemistry lab.” He has found inspiration in the perseverance and success of his fellow club members.
The club wrapped up the spring 2023 semester with its annual social, cohosted with the Department of Food Science. The event, which included tastings of cheese and wine (for those of age), gave club members an opportunity to mingle with peers, engage with faculty, and enjoy what brought everyone together in the first place — food.
Just before graduating last May, Jackson Krull BS’23 accepted a position as a consultant for Optum, a health technology firm. A big topic of conversation during his job interview was the Science Communication Club. “They asked me a lot about it,” says Krull. “Being a part of Science Communication Club is something that employers are interested in. That’s just another thing that this club enhances — your versatility.”
The Science Communication Club aims to connect undergraduate and graduate students who share a common fascination: communications focused on science and all its spheres. Whether its health, the environment, or agriculture, all students are pursuing skills that will help them communicate effectively.
“Our mission is to form a community of people who are interested in communication regarding scientific and technological topics,” says Krull. “We can connect them with science communication–related opportunities, faculty members, and research opportunities.”
Krull served as the club vice president for the 2021–22 academic year and then as the president in 2022–23. He earned his bachelor’s degree in life sciences communication. The Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) hosts the Science Communication Club, but the group encourages students from all majors to join.
A main goal of the club is to connect students with academic- and career-oriented opportunities. Each club meeting usually has a speaker or a panel of speakers that give insight on their careers and advice on how to succeed in a professional environment. Previous meetings have included a panel of LSC faculty members, presentations by industry professionals (such as employees from the pharmaceutical health and wellness advertising agency AbelsonTaylor), and UW alumni who went into science communication careers.
The club also hosts professional development workshops on topics such as effective resume building. “Taking it a step further from the classroom is something that we really try to focus on,” says Krull. “You can take what you learn in class and apply it more practically.”
Krull also found that his leadership positions and overall participation in the Science Communication Club prepared him professionally, which helped him land his position post-graduation. Krull’s success is possible for other members — and the club has plans to expand with more leadership and volunteering opportunities in the future.
For Sabeel Abuhakmeh BSx’25, a major in agronomy wasn’t his original plan. “I chose agronomy pretty much on accident. I didn’t know what it was going into it,” he says. He joined an introductory class, Agronomy 100, unsure of his path, but he finished the course set on a future in the field — and as a member of Badger Crops Club.
“Every field is different, especially agriculture,” says Abuhakmeh. “The Badger Crops Club, and talking to people who’ve either gone to or started grad school, has given me insight about my career.”
Badger Crops Club is the place to be for undergraduates who are interested in agriculture, specifically the crops side of things. Students who take an introductory agronomy class become familiar with the name — its members are committed to recruitment and to developing interest among students who are just starting their college experience.
“Our main goal is to get people ready and interested in the future, hopefully in agronomy or other types of agriculture,” says Abuhakmeh. “We’re here to provide information and prepare students.”
The club is unusual in its approach. At the start of each academic year, the faculty advisor (currently Calli Anibas MS’20, a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences) surveys the club about their interests. Responses are then used to plan events, field trips, and speakers tailored to those interests.
Each monthly meeting features a presenter from research or industry who shares the latest updates in their field, provides career advice, and even recruits members for internships. A past club meeting included a visit from Bayer Crop Science (part of the multinational pharmaceutical and biotech company, Bayer AG), which focuses on innovation in plant traits, pest and pathogen control, and predictive analytics for growing conditions. In addition to monthly meetings, the club frequently hosts fun events, such as trips to watch the Milwaukee Brewers and visits to local farms and businesses, such as dairy operations and cranberry marshes.
Members end up spending a good amount of time with each other, an advantage of a well-developed club. “I think it’s very important to have a community that’s interested in the same things as you,” says Abuhakmeh. “I think that indirectly helps support higher education.”
Abuhakmeh’s involvement in the club also led him to other opportunities. He joined Alpha Gamma Rho — the CALS-affiliated agricultural fraternity on campus — and the Badger Crops Judging team. Badger Crops Judging is a component of the Badger Crops Club and usually has 12 active members, up to 10 of whom travel for competitions. Every year, the team competes in the national North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Crops Judging Competition, which involves four sub-competitions that test the team’s knowledge on agronomy concepts and plant identification.
In the latest NACTA competition in April 2023, the Badger Crops Judging team took fourth place out of their division’s 13 teams in the NACTA Crops Contest. Other team competition are held throughout the year. In July 2023, the team took first place in the North Central Weed Science Society Division at the National Weed Science Contest. They’re looking forward to the next round of competitions in 2024.
Biology student Sophia Schoenfeld BSx’24 is already an experienced researcher. In the labs of Laura Hernandez and Milo Wiltbank (both professors of animal and dairy sciences), she helps conduct studies on reproductive endocrinology and lactation physiology. But she doesn’t stop at generating findings — she also helps make them known to the world. In April 2023, Schoenfeld presented her research at the CALS Undergraduate Research Symposium.
“[The symposium] was lovely,” says Schoenfeld, “People in the audience asked me questions. Not only could I demonstrate my research and explain it, but I could also answer questions to help facilitate audience understanding.”
The CALS Undergraduate Research Symposium is hosted every year by the CALS Health and Research Society (CHARS), a student organization for research-focused undergraduates — especially those who are looking to pursue careers in research or health fields.
“CHARS is open to all students,” says Ravi Jain BSx’24, symposium director for the club, “and we’re a great resource on campus that provides a community setting for undergraduates who are interested in gaining some pre-professional guidance.”
The club meets biweekly and offers a wide variety of resources throughout the academic year. They discuss recommended courses, look over resumes, assist students in finding research opportunities, and give insight into career options. “The community setting really provides academic support and enhances social interactions — like networking — between students and faculty on campus,” Jain says.
CHARS frequently invites UW faculty and staff who are principal investigators (PIs) on research projects to speak to the group. PIs provide perspectives and knowledge from first-hand experience and highlight the different kinds of research happening on campus. Each semester, the group tries to showcase a variety of research programs; they have hosted speakers representing fields from entomology to integrative biology.
CHARS hosts one large event each semester — a Research@UW Seminar in the fall and the CALS Undergraduate Research Symposium in the spring. The seminar provides an additional opportunity for students to gain insight from PIs in a panel discussion setting. The symposium, on the other hand, is for students like Schoenfeld who are already participating in research on campus. It offers them a chance to highlight their research — either through a poster session or a 15-minute presentation — and develop some professional skills. And it’s an excellent opportunity to network with faculty, staff, and peers.
Schoenfeld is also a part of the CALS Honor Program, on the “Honors in Research” track. Many of her program peers participate in the research symposium because CHARS and the Honors in Research program share the goal of providing more research opportunities for students.
CALS Honors in Research, usually a four-year program, connects students with a faculty member and a cohort of fellow students. These students carry out an independent research project, attend interactive seminars, complete a senior honors thesis, and develop a close connection within and between cohorts.
“The best part about the Honors Program is that it is so wonderful for CALS students who already plan to do research,” says Schoenfeld. “It’s enhancing my journey as a student researcher, not only through that connection with my peers — which is an aspect that sets the CALS Honors Program apart from other university honors programs— but also through the seminars, which are led by researchers and PIs who have lot of expertise to share.”
These five groups only touch upon the diverse array of opportunities and benefits that students can find with CALS-affiliated student organizations.
Still-life photos above by iStock.com/coprid, jazzirt, t_kimura, homeworks255, christianjung, floortje, johngollop. This article was posted in Basic Science, Beyond classroom experiences, Economic and Community Development, Fall 2023, Features, Food Systems, Health and Wellness, Healthy Ecosystems and tagged Badger Crops Club, Badger Crops Judging, Calli Anibas, CALS Health and Research Society, CALS Undergraduate Research Symposium, Eagle Heights Community Garden, F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, Food science, Harvest Handouts, Life Sciences Communication, plant and agroecosystem sciences, Science Communication Club, student organizations, UW Food Science Club.