By Jim Massey, Freelance writer
Christina So-hyun Yu can attest to the fact that undergraduate research scholarships can be a lifeline to UW-Madison Animal and Dairy Sciences Department students working their way toward a four-year degree.
So-hyun Yu earned a Farrington Award during her sophomore year at the UW, helping her begin a research project that propelled her toward her degree in Animal Sciences. She will graduate in May of 2022.
“The scholarship helped me a lot,” So-hyun Yu says. “At the time I was working two jobs, so having the $2,000 helped ease the whole process, especially since I was from out of state.”
Increasing the number of undergraduate research scholarships rose to the top of the list of development priorities for the department’s External Relations and Recruiting Committee. The committee created a development priority list for the first time since the Animal and Dairy Sciences merger in the summer of 2020.
Ted Halbach, dairy management instructor and committee chairman, says the committee queried the entire department faculty for development ideas they felt should come before the committee, and then dug into the list to set their priorities.
“We came up with a list of eight development priorities and had the faculty weigh in on those proposals,” Halbach says. “Scholarships for undergraduate Animal and Dairy Science majors emerged as a clear-cut top priority among the identified development opportunities.”
Halbach says many students come to the UW armed with scholarships they received as high school seniors but then have to go it alone once they become sophomores and juniors. An array of undergraduate scholarship opportunities can sometimes attract students to the department when they are considering which school to attend.
The vast majority of students who enroll in the Animal Sciences program as freshmen are doing so as a path for admission into a school of veterinary medicine, Halbach says. Less than 25 percent of those realistically end up in vet school, but department officials want to keep those students pursuing an Animal Sciences degree.
“We believe that the animal agriculture industry is best served with students graduating with an Animal and Dairy Sciences degree,” he says. “Providing these undergraduate research opportunities is a good way to engage a broader pool of students within the major and help them understand why this is a good major to be in.”
Jodi Wickham, senior director of development at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, works full-time on raising money for about half of the 16 departments in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She says increasing scholarship opportunities makes sense as a way to entice and help students thrive within the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.
“As a university as a whole, there are a lot of scholarships for freshmen, but after they’re here, we want to support them then, too,” she says.
As part of the priority, the committee set a goal of raising $200,000, which would support four or five ongoing scholarships. The more that can be raised, the more scholarships can be offered.
A minimum of $25,000 would be needed to create an endowment fund, which would in turn provide guaranteed revenue toward a scholarship.
“With all (CALS) departments, we put options out there and find out what donors are interested in supporting,” Wickham says. “While we share needs and priorities with prospects, it really is up to them how they want us to use their gift.”
Some donors are moved to donate based on the program they enjoyed in college or a great experience that helped propel them to success in their careers. If a donor creates a permanent endowment, the donor is offered an opportunity to follow the student’s progress and/or meet with the student along the way.
“As an undergrad I participated in dairy cattle judging and it was a very influential experience for me, so today I donate to the department’s fund that supports student involvement on intercollegiate competitive teams such as dairy judging and Dairy Challenge,” Halbach says. “We have a menu of items for potential donors to consider.”
Gifts to the university are more important than ever, Wickham says, with state support declining over the years from 43 percent of total revenue in 1976 to about 17 percent in 2022. Federal grants generally can’t be used for undergraduate scholarships, so gifts and non-federal grants have to fill in some of the funding gap.
“Philanthropy is more and more important to the success of our programs, our research and our students,” Wickham says.
Gaelan Combs completed his undergraduate research in Dr. Heather White’s lab. Dr. White is an assistant professor of nutritional physiology within the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.
Combs, 22, says he was attracted to the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department because of his personal connection through his extended family. Both of his parents have worked at the UW in a research capacity.
“The Farrington award allows students to take some research being done by a graduate student and really apply your own interest into a specific topic,” Combs says. “Heather and I looked into whether an animal’s temperature changes as she eats. Even if the research is not groundbreaking or revolutionary, this type of scholarship gives an undergrad the flexibility to pursue their interests that might be outside a normal research project.”
Undergraduate scholarships “allow students to pursue their passions through research” that they might not be able to do without the extra funding, he says.
Combs plans to pursue a graduate degree in nutritional physiology at Iowa State University after earning his dairy science degree in May. After finishing graduate school, he hopes to become a dairy nutrition consultant.
So-hyun Yu, a native of Dallas, Texas, says coming out of high school, the UW Animal Sciences program interested her as a possible stepping stone to vet school.
“As a freshman, I didn’t really know where to start, other than I knew I wanted to go to a college that had a vet school,” So-hyun Yu says. “But then in my Animal Sciences 101 course, the professor brought in guest professors, and one of them was Jennifer Van Os.” Dr. Van Os is an assistant professor and Extension specialist in animal welfare in the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department.
“I ended up talking to her and eventually getting a scholarship to do animal welfare research in the Van Os lab. That helped me gain confidence and confirm that what I’m doing is my passion. Now I know 100 percent that I’ll be going to vet school or grad school.”
She has worked on a research project studying the social behavior of calves and the feeding behaviors of cows during her tenure at the UW.
So-Hyun Yu, 21, says she would “love to stay in Madison” and attend vet school, but gaining admittance isn’t as easy as just saying you want to go there. The admittance standards are rigorous and competitive.
“I just love Madison – the campus is so beautiful and the community is so welcoming,” she says. “It has been a really good fit for me.”
For more information about ways to support undergraduate research scholarships within the UW-Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, please contact Jodi Wickham at Jodi.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 608-308-5315.
For a full listing of the department’s development priorities go HERE.