Freshmen students Kaylie Williams, Ella Villeneuve and Chloe LaCrosse all chose the UW-Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences for different reasons, and so far, all three are pleased with their decisions.
All of the students enrolled in the Animal and Dairy Sciences program have different backgrounds and interesting stories to tell, and the three young women from across eastern Wisconsin are no exception.
Williams grew up in Evansville, about 30 miles from the UW-Madison campus; Villeneuve hails from a suburb of Milwaukee; and LaCrosse grew up on a dairy farm just outside Forestville, a tiny community in Door County. They all arrived on campus in August of 2022.
Here are their stories.
Williams, 18, is majoring in animal sciences and has a goal of becoming a large-animal veterinarian.
She became involved in 4-H at a young age and developed an interest in horses and riding equestrian style. While boarding her horses at a nearby farm, she met three high-school age girls who were honing their skills for the Orfordville Parkview High School equestrian team, a high school sport she didn’t know existed in Wisconsin.
“I asked my mom, ‘Why doesn’t Evansville have a team?’ No one had ever expressed an interest in having a team and the school didn’t have one, so we decided to start one,” Williams says.
Williams and her mother approached the school board about the concept of sponsoring a team and after some investigation, the school board approved sanctioning a team, with Williams the only team member and her mother the coach. Her best friend and one other girl eventually joined the team, and they competed against other teams under the auspices of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association.
During her freshman and sophomore years, the team earned the right to represent the school at the state equestrian competition in the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
“It was a really big accomplishment for us as a team,” she says. “We went from not even having a team to showing at the state competition. That was so cool.”
She says she did a lot of explaining to people about what equestrian was all about, even touting the accomplishments of the team at school pep rallies where other sports were emphasized.
The experience of helping create the equestrian team and competing at a high level helped give Williams confidence as she went through high school, she says.
“You stand for what you’re passionate about, no matter how difficult and scary it is,” she says. “It’s OK to be passionate about different things than others.”
Her experience with horses convinced Williams to begin her college education at UW-Madison and pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
“I’m very comfortable around large animals and I really enjoy being around them,” she says. “With the veterinary piece, it’s like a new puzzle every day. We need more people who are willing to work with animals to solve difficult issues.”
Williams says she is “in awe” of her early hands-on experience in her animal sciences classes and is looking forward to continuing in the program.
She knows it will be a difficult road to gain entry to the veterinary school and reach her end goal, but she is up to the challenge.
“I know it will be a lot of work but I look at it as one semester, one year at a time, doing what I love,” she says.
Villeneuve, 19, conceived her interest in animal sciences with a job at the Washington County Humane Society while in high school. It was her first job and she admits she really didn’t know what she was getting into.
“I had volunteered at the humane society with my mom when I was like 12, doing laundry and cleaning, and I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I knew I loved animals. So when I decided to get a job, my parents said, ‘If you’re going to get a job, you might as well do something that is meaningful to you.’ ”
The humane society staff immersed Villeneuve in all sorts of tasks that she didn’t know she would be doing, such as assisting in surgeries, administering medicines, and intaking sick and angry animals.
“It was pretty cool for a high schooler to be given those opportunities,” she says.
Villeneuve also had the opportunity to participate in musical productions while a student at the University School of Milwaukee Upper School. She was Fruma-Sarah in “Fiddler on the Roof” as a sophomore and as a senior, she was cast as Morticia, one of the lead roles, in “The Addams Family.”
From this role, Villeneuve was nominated for a Jerry Award, which recognizes excellence in high school musical theatre. The awards are presented at the Overture Center in Madison, where awardees perform snippets of their award-winning acts.
While Villeneuve says she loves to sing and dance, she decided pursuing a career working with animals would be a more stable path for her future. Still, she hopes to take music classes during her sophomore year and perhaps get involved in a musical production.
Villeneuve, who grew up in the Brown Deer/River Hills area near Milwaukee, originally thought of attending college somewhere at the other end of the continent but ended up in Madison, less than 90 miles from home.
“Now that I’m here I honestly couldn’t be happier,” she says. “It took me a while to find myself and my routine at Madison, just because it is so different for me. But for someone coming from a really small high school and going to a Big 10 university, I’m doing really, really well.”
Villeneuve is on a pre-vet track but is leaning toward a career at a humane society or in animal welfare.
“I will take the next year or two to explore more career options,” she says. “Who knows what can happen in the next three or four years? I’m really open to anything.”
LaCrosse, 19, grew up on a Door County dairy farm and hopes to return there to become a fifth generation farmer after earning a degree in dairy sciences.
Her parents and grandparents operate an 83-cow registered Holstein farm near Forestville. They also have a small beef operation and Chloe owns a horse.
Her passion for farming began at a young age, when she began showing dairy animals at the local county fair at age 3. She showed her first show heifer at a local district show at age 9.
“My passion for the show industry has continued to evolve,” she says. “My goal has been to get to the World Dairy Expo someday, and hopefully this year we will get there.”
LaCrosse was surprised to learn after applying for admission to UW-Madison that she was accepted into the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program, a program that provides a full academic scholarship to participants. The program was established to attract, support and develop the abilities and potential of academically talented and outstanding individuals from underrepresented groups.
“When I read my letter the day I got accepted into Madison, is stated that the committee chose me,” she says. “I hadn’t even applied. It was hard to believe at first.” She believes she was selected because of her rigorous academic work in high school along with her involvement in community activities.
As part of the scholars program, students participate in service and volunteer events and benefit from individualized advising.
“It’s kind of nice to meet people from across the campus, not just in the dairy sciences major,” she says of the scholarship program.
During her first semester, LaCrosse also became involved in the Association of Women in Agriculture, the Badger Dairy Club, the Collegiate Farm Bureau and the Saddle and Sirloin Club. She says it has been a balancing act to fit all of these activities into her schedule – along with her classes – but so far she is doing well.
“I have a lot of connections with people who went to Madison and they persuaded me to come here,” she says. “I’m really enjoying my time here and making a connection with people in the industry. I love learning about the new technologies and the new research information coming out because the industry is always evolving.”
LaCrosse says her favorite part of the Wisconsin experience so far has been “hearing other people’s stories.”
“Hearing what other people want to do in the future is always very intriguing to me,” she says.
As for her future, LaCrosse says the knowledge she obtains at the UW should help her when she becomes the next generation on the family farm.
“I want to learn how to run a business and learn the new technology to be as efficient as possible,” she says. “The younger generation has to replace the older generation.”
The family is currently using a tie-stall barn but LaCrosse says she hopes to install a milking parlor or robotic milking system when she returns to the farm.
During the semester break LaCrosse was back on the family farm, waking up at 2:45 every morning to milk the cows and help with the chores.
“I have to get up that early to beat my grandpa to the barn,” she says.