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UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences QuickStart student Austin Vandertie poses for a portrait at his family’s dairy farm in Brussels, Wis., Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS

On a typical morning at Doorco Holsteins in Brussels, Austin Vandertie would be helping his parents – Dan and Julie – 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. But now he’s in Madison, his interest in agriculture guiding his decision to temporarily step away from his role at the farm in order to pursue a bachelor’s degree in dairy science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“I’ve developed a love and passion for dairy animals, the farm, and taking care of the land,” Vandertie says. “It’s kind of hard to put into words. On a small farm like this you know every cow individually; in the local community, you know every person. You make a special connection to the land that not everyone else gets to make.”

With the hopes of earning his degree on time and on budget,Vandertieenrolled in QuickStart – a brand new “early start” program at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) for incoming first-year students. Over the summer, after graduating from Southern Door High School, 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 provided him 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 opportunities to meet his future classmates, CALS faculty and researchers. The program is designed to help Vandertie make the most of his college experience, and begin his career – quicker.

UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences QuickStart student Austin Vandertie waits to transfer milking equipment to another cow during morning milking at his family’s dairy farm in Brussels, Wis., Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.

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 agriculture and the life sciences, 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.”

Vandertie 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.