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UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences QuickStart student Bailey Lindner poses for a portrait near her alma mater, Iowa-Grant High School, in rural Iowa County, Wis., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Photos by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS

Being a Badger has always been a dream for Bailey Lindner. Hailing from Linden, Wisconsin – population 549 – she is quick to point out that her alma mater, Iowa-Grant High School, is surrounded on all sides by cornfields, and her graduating class had just 39 students. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she has joined a freshman class of 6,862.

As a “pre-med” biology major interested in radiology, Lindner wants to shorten her time to degree and keep her costs down. While a majority of students at UW–Madison graduate with little or no debt, and finish in about four years, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) is working to help even more students achieve those goals. Lindner enrolled in a brand new “early start” summer program for incoming first-year students called QuickStart.

After graduating from Iowa-Grant, Lindner balanced a handful of summer jobs – retail, lifeguarding, waitressing, and gymnastics camp coach – with some QuickStart online coursework. She earned two credits before the official start of the fall semester, received tailored academic and career planning, and participated in early networking opportunities to meet her future classmates, CALS faculty and researchers. The program is designed to help her make the most of her college experience, and begin her career – quicker.

“My road to becoming a doctor is lengthy, and any chance to get ahead is an opportunity I can’t turn down,” Lindner says. “The sooner I can get done, the better for me so I can start my life.”

The online course – “Foundations” – 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. QuickStarters can move into their residence halls early to beat the rush. That’s when “Connect2Campus” begins, providing students the opportunity to meet CALS researchers face-to-face in their laboratories, visit local businesses tied to the life sciences and agriculture, and learn to navigate the 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.”

Lindner and other College of Agricultural and Life Sciences QuickStart students experiment in the Department of Food Science’s Food Application Lab at Babcock Hall during lab and department visits on the UW-Madison campus in Madison, Wis., Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.

Lindner was one of 40 students to receive a scholarship for QuickStart from the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA). WALSAA contributed $25,000 in seed funding for the program, allowing CALS to award need-based scholarships, many to students who are the first in their families to attend college.

“We are excited to partner with CALS to financially support the new QuickStart program,” says Marjorie Stieve, WALSAA’s past president. “Our alumni members are dedicated to supporting CALS students, and based on initial feedback from participants, this program will have long-lasting effects on them and others to come.”

Feedback from the inaugural QuickStart class has been overwhelmingly positive. In a survey conducted by CALS earlier this fall, 99 percent of students reported feeling connected to their peers and the CALS community, and 100 percent said they understand the advising resources available to them. Several have already landed research jobs thanks to the program.