Senior Abagail Catania BSx’19 couldn’t wait until graduation to make a difference in the lives of students like herself. So she didn’t. Instead, she established a scholarship for her peers before even having her diploma in hand.
Catania, who is studying agricultural business management, says she is one of a few students of color in her major. She felt a void in her academic community, so she decided to help fill it by establishing the Abagail Catania Agricultural and Applied Economics/Agricultural Business Management Diversity Scholarship. Her original goal was to set up the scholarship after graduation, but she decided she could start promoting diversity in her field right away.
“I have never experienced a student wanting to give back while they are still on campus,” CALS scholarship director Karen Martin says. “She has this need that she wants to fulfill in terms of growing the major.”
Before coming to UW–Madison, Catania became accustomed to a racially diverse student body at the Chicago High School for the Agricultural Sciences. But her experience at UW, especially within her major, has been quite different, something she noticed as early as the recruitment stage.
“If I go up to a table and I’m talking to someone, and every student that I see in every department that I see is white, I’m not going to feel like I belong,” Catania says.
Guided by her enthusiasm for expanding opportunities, Catania says she wants students of color to feel there is a place for them in agricultural studies. She aims to do this by growing recognition of the assets of her major and increasing diverse representation within it.
The recipients of her scholarship will be persons of color of at least sophomore standing who are focused on advancing the agricultural and applied economics and agricultural business management majors through involvement with student organizations. They will be asked to promote the two fields by writing for the CALS student e-newsletter and working at the annual campus Majors Fair. The first recipient of the scholarship, senior Mfonobong Ufot, was selected in summer 2018.
Catania says she didn’t limit her scholarship to someone from a low-income background because she doesn’t believe that true need is restricted to definitions established by the university or the federal government. As a student, she understands the difference any amount of money can make. For now, the scholarship awards $500 annually; but Catania plans on increasing it to $1,000 when she begins working full-time, following the completion of a master’s degree in cultural and critical studies at the University of Westminster in London.
Catania’s scholarship is one of 600 that CALS awarded to 456 students in 2018–19. The scholarships provided just over $1 million.
According to Martin, all recipients write a thank-you note to their donor to express their gratitude. “These letters tell so many stories about students and the impact of these scholarships,” she says. “I would say the greatest impact on students, and what they are most grateful for, is just relieving the stress or pressure of financing 100 percent of their education. Students are then able to focus more on their studies and on extracurricular experiences, such as internships and research, which are related to their majors and careers.”
CALS Scholarship Support
Make a gift to the CALS Scholarship Fund.
To donate to the Abagail Catania Agricultural and Applied Economics/Agricultural Business Management Diversity Scholarship Fund, contact Brooke Mulvaney by email or at 608-308-5330.