Crossley started working in labs as a freshman - but that's not all he does. In his free time he plays flute, banjo and whistle for West Wind, an Irish band that performs in various public venues around the state. Photo by Wolfgang Hoffmann BS'75 MS'79

Michael Crossley BS’11 remembers the experience that sealed the deal for his career choice. A local organic farmer’s spinach crops were under attack from a centipede that feeds on plant roots. Crossley—although “only” a sophomore—was tapped to help via an independent research project under the mentorship of CALS entomology professor Eileen Cullen.

“I spent a semester visiting the farm’s hoop houses and doing lab experiments,” says Crossley. “I came up with a simple and novel approach—heating the infested beds with solar radiation. The essentially zero-cost strategy was implemented with great success and, two years later, the farmer told me there’s still no infestation.”

For that work Crossley just won a national prize from the Entomological Society of America—but it wasn’t his only big score. Another research project he helped with resulted in an article for Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Crossley’s co-authors: CALS entomology professor Richard Lindroth and researcher Tim Meehan.

In addition to those projects, Crossley as a freshman began working as a student hourly in Lindroth’s lab. There he not only completed “countless chemical assays” but also participated in lab meetings, attended seminars and learned a lot about the realities of a science career, he notes.

Indeed, Crossley serves as a case study in the benefits of hands-on science. And he’s not alone. Half of CALS graduating seniors report having worked on a research project with a faculty member outside of a course requirement—a rate higher than at any other college at UW–Madison.

Crossley recommends the experience. In addition to helping him identify his desired career, applying science to the real world helped motivate him in his academic work.

“Because of my early experiences in research, I’ve known from the beginning the value of fundamental courses like chemistry, biology and statistics, and have excelled where I otherwise may have floundered aimlessly,” says Crossley.

This semester Crossley starts work on a master’s degree in entomology under professor David Hogg, where he’ll focus on genetically modified soybean resistance to soybean aphid.