Haley Trecker found identity, confidence at UW–Madison with QuickStart

Haley Trecker, shown with a saw-whet owl during a research opportunity, will graduate early this spring and was a member of the inaugural class of QuickStart, an early start program for incoming first-year students. Photo courtesy of Haley Trecker

Haley Trecker admits she was pretty nervous back in 2018 about coming to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As the first person in her family to go to college, she was largely on her own to figure out the application process, choose a field of study, and prepare for life on campus. In Bristol, Wisconsin, Trecker had grown accustomed to small class sizes and the quiet atmosphere of rural Kenosha County. The thought of being two hours away from her family almost made her not want to go.

Now, after just three years at UW–Madison, Trecker will graduate early with a degree in biology focused on oncology and virology, and already has a job lined-up with the biopharmaceutical company AbbVie. She credits QuickStart — an early-start program in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences — with making her shorter-than-average time in Madison packed with purpose, fulfillment and fun.

“I honestly don’t think I would have done as well in school if it wasn’t for QuickStart,” says Trecker, who was part of the program’s inaugural class. “There’s a chance I would have even tried to back out of attending college right after high school — I was so terrified of going to such a large school. QuickStart prepared me in so many ways.”

First, the online portion of QuickStart called “Foundations” acclimated Trecker to Canvas, UW–Madison’s online learning management system. It may seem elementary, especially for digital natives, but the one-credit course was vital. Trecker didn’t have prior experience turning in assignments online in high school. And little did she know that in a few years a huge portion of her course-load would be online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secondly, the in-person portion of QuickStart that involved early move-in, tours and orientations, put Trecker at ease on the sprawling Madison campus.

“I had only been to UW–Madison for a single hour my entire life before QuickStart,” she says. “Walking around and getting to see where my classes were was probably the most beneficial aspect for me. And getting to meet influential people who work on campus helped so much, realizing everyone is there to help and guide you.”

Even though Trecker will graduate early, she had plenty of time to find her academic path and have fun along the way. She initially declared a wildlife ecology major based on her strong interests in hunting, fishing and ecosystem preservation. But she soon felt pulled in a different direction, fondly remembering a tour of the Madison location of clinical research firm Covance during QuickStart.

“It became the reason I wanted to pursue a degree in pharmaceuticals,” says Trecker of the tour. “It was so beneficial to really see where a college education could take you.”

Trecker is shown fishing on the chain of lakes around Madison with the Wisconsin Fishing Team. Photo courtesy of Haley Trecker

So, she switched to biology her sophomore year, and satisfied her hankering for the outdoors by joining the Wisconsin Fishing Team. On the team, she developed a number of deep friendships, and was able to connect with older students who helped her navigate some of the difficult academic decisions she faced. They also exposed her to the joy of QQ Express, a Chinese restaurant that became a weekly meal tradition for her group of friends.

Trecker’s short timeline to graduation was due in large part to the many Advanced Placement (AP) courses that she took in high school. One of her motivations to take AP courses at the time was the promise they’d save her money someday. That day has come. They allowed her to fulfill several general education requirements before setting foot on campus. In the end, she’ll have saved a full year’s worth of tuition, and started her career by the age of 21.

While QuickStart may have been instrumental in efficiently navigating her academic path, Trecker credits the program for really making the past three years dense with relationships and personal growth. Seeing the familiar faces of fellow QuickStarters around campus and in her classes made UW–Madison feel smaller. And as a QuickStart and Badger alumna, she finds herself poised to succeed.

“I am proud that I was able to overcome my fears and finish my degree in three years,” Trecker says. “I am especially proud of being able to find my identity while attending this school. By attending UW–Madison, I really developed a sense of confidence in myself which I had never had before.”