The first time the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA) awarded undergraduate scholarships, back in 1974, it dispersed $1,800 to six CALS students. In 2022, that amount had reached $25,000, and the number of students had grown to 18.
“WALSAA has a long history of raising funds from alumni and others to support student scholarships,” says Taylor Fritsch BS’14, the organization’s immediate past president and a 2012 scholarship recipient. “Growing those opportunities is an area of focus for us.”
WALSAA is a charitable organization, founded in 1972, that connects students, faculty, alumni, and friends of CALS. Having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the organization continues to grow, now boasting more than 1,600 members. It’s led by a 20-person board of directors. WALSAA’s board and its members have created a community that gives back continuously to support the educational goals of CALS students, Fritsch says. Scholarships are a big part of that effort.
Most recently, in 2021, WALSAA created the Senior Impact Award. The recipients of the award aren’t selected based on academic achievement alone, explains David Cooper BS’89, chair of the WALSAA scholarship committee. “Instead, it’s about what they have given back to the CALS program, and what they’ve offered to the community, relative to their time in Madison,” he says.
WALSAA introduced its Outstanding Sophomore Award in 1994. The scholarship helps students as they approach their third year, when the financial support they carried over from high school tends to dwindle. Stipends are $2,000, and they’re typically given to 10 students each year. Recipients of this award demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and involvement in CALS.
Gabi Conidi BSx’24 is a junior studying animal sciences on a pre-veterinary medicine track. She received the sophomore award in 2022 and says the financial assistance is greatly appreciated.
“And it’s nice to feel like my hard work is being recognized,” says Conidi, who also serves as a CALS Ambassador, a student mentor, and an assistant researcher at the Comparative Orthopedics and Genetics Laboratory at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.
In a typical year, WALSAA also offers $2,500 in scholarships for Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC) students who excel in academics, activities, and leadership. However, those awards are on hold until FISC completes a restructuring process.
Besides scholarships, WALSAA supports students through several other programs. This includes “Impact Grants,” which have provided more than $40,000 to student organizations and student life programs over the last five years. WALSAA also runs a speaker’s bureau and a mentorship program.
Conidi says the scholarship she received offers more than monetary value. Through WALSAA events, she’s met alumni in the animal sciences and other related fields who have provided her with guidance and support.
“They have been very valuable to me,” Conidi says, “and they’ve reminded me that it will all be worth it in the end.”
Conidi is also an example of how WALSAA brings students into the fold and creates long-time proponents of CALS. She now serves as a WALSAA student representative and plans on continuing with the organization post-graduation.
She explains, “I found my place in CALS, so I will continue to be involved in CALS.”
Invest in CALS Students
To celebrate 50 years and continue its gift-giving legacy, WALSAA is hosting a 50/50 campaign. The money raised will be evenly distributed between the Senior Impact Award and a fund to support future scholarship opportunities. WALSAA’s goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of the year. Learn how to contribute or become a member on the WALSAA website.
This article was posted in Economic and Community Development, High Yield, Spring 2023, Undergraduate student scholarships and tagged Animal sciences, CALS Ambassadors, David Cooper, Farm and Industry Short Course, Gabi Conidi, Scholarships, Taylor Fritsch, WALSAA, Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association.