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Summer 2019

On Henry Mall

CALS QuickStart student Skyler Finucane poses for a portrait with her pet tarantula at her home in Algonquin, Ill., in August 2018. Finucane is interested in entomology. Photos by Michael P. King

On a typical morning at Doorco Holsteins in Brussels, Wisconsin, Austin Vandertie BSx’22 would be helping his parents milk the 40-cow herd, feed calves, spread manure, or harvest crops on an expanse of land farmed by three generations of his family before him.

“On a small farm like this, you know every cow individually,” Vandertie says. “In the local community, you know every person. You make a special connection to the land that not everyone else gets to make.”

But now he’s heading into his sophomore year at UW–Madison. His interest in agriculture guided his decision to temporarily step away from his role on the farm to pursue a bachelor’s degree in dairy science at CALS.

With the hope of earning his degree on time and on budget, Vandertie enrolled in the inaugural class of QuickStart — a new “early start” program for incoming first-year students at CALS. Over the summer of 2018, after graduating from Southern Door High School, he says he “burned the midnight oil,” balancing online coursework for QuickStart with his usual farm chores and duties as a volunteer firefighter with the Brussels-Union-Gardner Fire Department.

QuickStart gave Vandertie the opportunity to earn two credits before the official start of the fall semester, receive tailored academic and career planning, and participate in early networking QuickStart’opportunities to meet his classmates and faculty. The program is designed to help Vandertie and students like him make the most of his college experience and begin his career — quicker.

The online “Foundations” course guides students in examining their strengths, values, social identities, and academic and career interests. They also get a preview of advising, health, and academic resources on campus.

CALS QuickStart student Austin Vandertie poses for a portrait at his family’s dairy farm in Brussels, Wis., in August 2018.

QuickStarters can also beat the move-in rush by getting into their residence halls early. That’s when “Connect2Campus” begins. Students meet CALS researchers face-to-face in their laboratories, visit local businesses tied to agriculture and the life sciences, and learn to navigate the UW–Madison campus.

“Our QuickStart students are highly motivated, but many were nervous about what college would be like,” says Tanya Cutsforth, CALS QuickStart program manager. “The eight-week online summer course allows them the flexibility to begin their college transition from home. When they arrive for the weeklong on-campus portion of our program, they immediately start making connections — not only with each other but with all of the people, programs, and places they learned about throughout the summer.”

Feedback from the inaugural QuickStart class was overwhelmingly positive. In a survey conducted by CALS in the fall, 99% of students reported feeling connected to their peers and the CALS community, and 100% said they understand the advising resources available to them. Several landed on-campus research jobs thanks to the program.

The first QuickStart class in summer 2018 included 103 students, one-fifth of whom are first-generation college students. Forty QuickStarters, including Vandertie, received need-based scholarships to help cover program costs thanks to a $25,000 contribution from the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA). The summer 2019 class has expanded enrollment numbers, and a spring fundraising effort, Day of the Badger, garnered more than $50,000 for scholarships through donations from alumni and friends of the college and matching dollars from the CALS Board of Visitors and WALSAA.

Skyler Finucane BSx’22 of Algonquin, Illinois, also leveraged one of those scholarships for her own QuickStart experience last year.

Finucane is majoring in entomology. It’s a topic near and dear to her heart: Back at home is her beloved pet tarantula, Dominick. She’s never been afraid of insects or spiders, and the coolest thing she has ever seen is a dragonfly migration.

“My mom has told me stories about when I was a little kid,” recalls Finucane, who is also pursuing certificates in environmental studies and global health. “There was this time I was playing out on the back deck, and I told [my mom] to come look at my new friend. I had a wasp on my finger.”

A first-generation college student and the oldest of three children, Finucane chose QuickStart because she wants to shorten her time to degree and keep her costs down. After graduating from Dundee- Crown High School, she balanced a job at Marco’s Pizza with QuickStart online coursework to earn her two credits before the start of the fall semester.

Finucane is excited to dive headfirst into science studies. She was a frequent participant in science fairs in middle school and high school, and two successful CALS alumni in her extended family inspired her college decision: her aunt Jacquelyn Riley BS’99, who has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and master’s degree in medical genetics, and her uncle Aaron Mertens BS’99, who has a bachelor’s degree in genetics.

“It’s just so cool to see what they were able to accomplish from going to Madison and all the opportunities they had,” she says. “I just love the town. I love the school, and I like the Big Ten feel. I know there’s so much research. You can’t always get that at every college.”

Read profiles of other QuickStart students or support the program by making a gift.