Military background keeps students grounded

By Jim Massey, Freelancer for UW-Madison Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences ( or (608) 574-8011 )

UW-Madison students Brooke Stibbe and Cosmic “Fox” Nekuda brought some impressive military credentials with them when they arrived on campus, but it didn’t take the animal sciences majors long to get back to basics as they began their college careers.

Both are what might be considered nontraditional students, entering college with military training and a few years removed from high school. But both are ready to change directions and begin a new phase of their lives.

Brooke Stibbe ’26

Brooke Stibbe
Stibbe, 21, was born in Janesville but moved with her family to Montello shortly after she was born. She wasn’t raised on a farm but became interested in a career involving animals when she worked at a small-animal veterinary office for about nine months.

But before embarking on her college career, Stibbe enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves, with a goal of working in the area of surgical technology. She is stationed at Fort Sheridan in Deerfield, Ill., in the 801st field hospital, where she continues her military service one weekend a month and for two weeks in the summer.

Stibbe graduated from high school in 2020 after doing college-level work for two years, and left for basic training in August of 2020. She has an associate degree in surgical technology through Madison College, so has sophomore standing at UW-Madison, even though she has only completed one semester.

As a surgical technologist, she works alongside nurses in prepping patients for surgery at the Fort Sheridan field hospital. The work is somewhat similar to what Stibbe might do someday as a large animal veterinarian.

“That’s what attracted me to Madison – I was really interested in the pre-vet program, and Madison has the largest dairy sciences program,” she says. “There are a lot of opportunities here.”

At UW, Stibbe is working at the Dairy Cattle Center and in a research lab with graduate students, where they are conducting dairy lactation studies. She is balancing her work and 16-credit schedule with life in the Alpha Omega Epsilon sorority and is also a member of the Pre-Vet Club.

“I’m constantly busy, but I don’t feel overwhelmed,” she says. “Once I got adjusted it has become pretty easy to balance my life. Some days are better than others.”

It takes some extra effort on the once-monthly reserve weekends to complete her studies in advance or to catch up when she returns, she says.

Stibbe receives financial aid through the military, which she says is extremely helpful. She is eligible for those benefits as long as she stays active in the reserves.

“(The financial aid) is a nice bonus of my military service,” she says. “I have also been able to make a lot of connections in the Army. There are a lot of resources there that will help me in the future.”

Her favorite thing about UW-Madison during her first semester was the diversity of things she could do.

“I really love what Madison has to offer, whether it’s research or clubs or sports,” she says. “Pretty much everything.”

Cosmic “Fox” Nekuda ’24 working at the MSABD Building

Cosmic “Fox” Nekuda
Nekuda, 33, grew up in rural northeast Kansas with access to agriculture but not much interest. But things have changed in the 15 years since he graduated from high school.

He earned a degree in chemistry and physics education and taught for five years in western Kansas before deciding he wanted to change directions. Nekuda enjoyed teaching but didn’t see doing it for the rest of his career, so he enlisted in the U.S. Marines in January of 2018.

His job in the Marines was as a chemical biological radiological nuclear defense specialist.

“That’s definitely a mouthful, but the operative word there is defense,” Nekuda says. “I
taught people how to put on chemical protective clothing and also worked in command
centers monitoring chemical threats.”

He spent three years in the Marines before deciding to switch gears again, this time to go back to college. UW-Madison was on a short list of schools that allow people to seek out a second bachelor’s degree, Nekuda says.

“I was looking originally at zoology and Madison was at the top of the list when it came to zoology programs,” he says. “But there was an administrative decision that the degree I was seeking had to be different enough from the degree I already have, so I enrolled in animal sciences. Animal sciences is still working with animals, but just in a different context.”

Because Nekuda was full-time in the military, most of the cost of his college education is covered. He is also the recipient of a Demeter diversity scholarship, a grant provided to a number of College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students each year by the Daughters of Demeter, an organization founded more than 100 years ago by wives of CALS faculty members.

At UW-Madison, Nekuda has begun working at the state-of-the-art Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery building, doing everything from harvesting live animals to turning the primal cuts into sausage.

“It’s actually my favorite part of the week,” Nekuda says. “My goal is to become a food inspector, so my work there is definitely applicable to what I want to do. I’m (hazard analysis critical control point) trained, which is a huge deal in regards to food safety. As a food inspector my work will be to make sure that food, specifically meat, going out to consumers is healthy and safe to eat.”

Nekuda says he likes the culture of the classes that he has been taking during his early tenure at UW-Madison.

“Every class I’ve had so far has had a discussion section,” he says. “There are maybe 20 or 30 students at most, and we all have the ability to talk to each other with guidance. It is much less intimidating than sitting in a lecture hall with 300 people listening to a doctorate give a speech.”