Winter 2023 grad: Kaitlin Buterbaugh explored array of opportunities as dairy science major

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Buterbaugh

Kaitlin Buterbaugh, who grew up in Hampshire, Illinois, will be graduating this December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science. In this Q&A, Buterbaugh describes her passion for calf and heifer management, her experience as one of the first student ambassadors for the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, the value of developing connections, and more.

Why did you choose your major, and what did you learn along the way?
I have always had an interest in health and science, later realizing a passion for caring for animals. I originally planned on attending veterinary school to become a mixed-animal practitioner, but decided later on that was no longer something that I wanted to pursue. Through my undergraduate research experiences focused on the reproductive physiology of dairy cattle, I became enthralled with working with dairy cattle. Shortly after, I changed my major to Dairy Science, and it stuck. As a dairy science major, I learned about the physiological processes associated with the functioning of the animal, how to practically apply this knowledge on commercial dairy farms, and how to critically evaluate farm management practices.

What other activities were you involved in?
From the moment that I stepped on campus, I made a point to get as much experience as possible and immerse myself in different things. I was the lead undergraduate teaching assistant for an introductory course in our department for two semesters, helping to facilitate student lab experiences and developing review materials for lecture exams. Myself and my co-ambassador, Natalie Roe, developed and executed a departmental recruitment strategy, acting as the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences’s first student ambassadors.

During my time at UW–Madison, I also participated in several research projects. I conducted my own laboratory analysis utilizing enzyme-linked immunoassays, as well as serving as a research assistant on two hands-on bovine reproduction studies. During my last summer of my undergraduate career, I began research in the longevity of dairy cattle, visiting 56 commercial dairy farms across the state of Wisconsin. Other activities I have been involved in at UW include assisting with spring lambing at our sheep unit, attending numerous conferences, and participating in experiential learning opportunities such as the Purina Animal Nutrition Experience and the National Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Academy.

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Buterbaugh

What are your future academic and/or career plans?
Following my graduation, I plan to pursue a master’s degree in dairy science here at UW–Madison to continue the research I started this past summer. Under the guidance of Dr. Nigel Cook, I will continue to investigate decision making patterns and factors impacting the longevity of dairy cattle. Upon completion of my master’s program, I hope to obtain a position in the dairy industry. My current interest lies in calf and heifer management.

What were the most valuable/meaningful college experiences you had?
When I reflect back on my most meaningful college experiences, it all stems back to the connections that I have made. Whether it be on a professional or personal level, I have met the most incredible people while studying at UW–Madison. I have developed professional connections with instructors who have challenged my frame of thought and pushed me to grow in new directions when the opportunity presented itself. I have made incredible, life-long friends that have encouraged me to enjoy my time here in Madison and with whom I have made the most amazing memories. Madison has given me so, so much, but I think it all pales in comparison to the people that I have met.

When you think about your time here as student, what are you proud of?
When I think about my time as a student at UW–Madison, I am most proud to have been a part of something greater than myself. I had the opportunity to work with an incredible group of faculty and students in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. I always aimed to make a lasting improvement on everything I touched, and I hope that the work I have done will benefit those who come after me. As much as I gave to the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, it gave back to me ten-fold. I am proud to soon call myself an alumna of the UW–Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. 

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
If I had any advice to give to CALS students, it would be to enjoy every moment and never lose sight of what an incredible privilege it is to study at UW–Madison. You never understand how quickly your college years fly by until you’re standing at the finish line, staring back at the course you just ran. I encourage you to enjoy every minute moment, for one day you will realize how big those moments really were. Say yes to new opportunities and take chances on yourself. Rejection does not equal failure, so please do not be afraid to put yourself out there. We are lucky to study at such an incredible university that offers so many unique opportunities to students — take advantage of that!