New ‘QuickStart’ program for UW freshmen

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Program allows incoming freshman to earn credits before start of semester

The cows plod into a barn for milking around 4:30 a.m., where Austin Vandertie, his mom, and dad – all slightly bleary-eyed – start cleaning teats and attaching cups, claws and tubes. There’s no time to waste and no shortage of chores to be done on this early August day in Brussels, Wisconsin. There are calves to feed, forage crops to harvest, and – yes – manure to spread. As the sun rises over this 40-cow dairy farm in rural Door County, Vandertie can see the expanse of land farmed by three generations of his family before him.

“I’ve developed a love and passion for dairy animals, the farm, and taking care of the land,” Vandertie says. “It’s kind of hard to put into words. On a small farm like this you know every cow individually; in the local community, you know every person. You make a special connection to the land that not everyone else gets to make.”

At home, in his final weeks of summer after graduating from high school, Vandertie has been “burning the midnight oil,” doing online coursework at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Intending to pursue a bachelor’s degree in dairy science, he enrolled in QuickStart – a brand new “early start” program at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) for incoming first-year students. It provided him the opportunity to start his coursework early and earn two credits before the official start of the fall semester. He received tailored academic and career planning, and early networking opportunities to meet his future classmates, CALS faculty and researchers. It can all help him earn his degree on time and on budget, make the most of his college experience, and begin his career – quicker.

The program involves an online course, called “Foundations,” where students examine their strengths, values, and social identities, considering how those shape their academic and career interests. They also get a guided preview of advising, wellness, and academic resources on campus. QuickStarters can move into their residence halls early, beating the rush. That’s when “Connect2Campus” begins. Students meet CALS researchers face-to-face in their laboratories, visit local businesses tied to agriculture and the life sciences, and learn to navigate the Madison campus.

“Our QuickStart students are highly motivated, but many were nervous about what college would be like,” says Tanya Cutsforth, CALS QuickStart program manager. “The eight-week online summer course allows them the flexibility to begin their college transition from home. When they arrive for the weeklong on-campus portion of our program, they immediately start making connections – not only with each other, but with all of the people, programs, and places they learned about throughout the summer.”

FROM 39 TO 6,862

Bailey Lindner is from Linden, Wisconsin – population 549. She’s quick to point out that her high school, Iowa-Grant, is surrounded on all sides by cornfields, and her graduating class had just 39 students. At UW–Madison, she joins a QuickStart class of 103, and a freshman class of 6,862. A “pre-med” biology major interested in radiology, Lindner was attracted to QuickStart because she wants to shorten her time to degree and keep her costs down.

QuickStart student Bailey Lindner poses for a portrait near her alma mater, Iowa-Grant High School, in rural Iowa County, Wis.

“My road to becoming a doctor is lengthy, and any chance to get ahead is an opportunity I can’t turn down,” she says. “The sooner I can get done, the better for me so I can start my life.”

Lindner was one of 40 students to receive a scholarship for QuickStart from the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA). WALSAA contributed $25,000 in seed funding for the program, allowing CALS to award need-based scholarships, many to students who are the first in their families to attend college.

“We are excited to partner with CALS to financially support the new QuickStart program,” says Marjorie Stieve, WALSAA’s past president. “Our alumni members are dedicated to supporting CALS students, and based on initial feedback from participants, this program will have long-lasting effects on them and others to come.”


One first-generation college student taking advantage of QuickStart is Skyler Finucane of Algonquin, Illinois. The oldest of three children, she plans to study entomology, a topic near and dear to her heart: back at home is her beloved pet tarantula, Dominick. Finucane says she has never been afraid of insects or spiders, and that the coolest thing she has ever seen is a dragonfly migration.

QuickStart student Skyler Finucane poses for a portrait with Dominick, her pet tarantula, at her home in Algonquin, Ill. Finucane is interested in entomology.

“My mom’s told me stories about when I was a little kid,” Finucane recalls. “There was this time I was playing out on the back deck, and I told [my mom] to come look at my new friend. I had a wasp on my finger.”

Finucane is excited to dive head first into science studies. She was a frequent participant in science fairs in middle school and high school, and two successful CALS alumni in her extended family inspired her college decision: her aunt Jacquelyn Riley who has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and master’s degree in medical genetics, and her uncle Aaron Mertens who has a bachelor’s degree in genetics.

“It’s just so cool to see what they were able to accomplish from going to Madison, and all the opportunities they had,” Finucane says. “I just love the town. I love the school, and I like the Big Ten feel. I know there’s so much research. You can’t always get that at every college.”


Academic rigor was exactly what Aaron Esker of Appleton, Wisconsin, was looking for. Pursuing degrees in genetics and microbiology, he hopes to build on his experiences in high school, where he was able to try his hand at fragmenting DNA in an applied genetics course.

QuickStart student Aaron Esker poses for a portrait in his backyard in Appleton, Wis.

“I’ve always been interested in the amazement that is life,” says Esker. “Running around I used to pick up frogs and little snakes and things. Every time my teachers would bring a microscope out, I was really fascinated.”

Esker says genetics and microbiology research appeals to his organized nature, but he feels just as comfortable immersed in nature – he’s an Eagle Scout, avid hiker, and outdoorsman. In high school, he also helped cultivate fresh produce for the St. Joseph’s Food Program’s “Grow a Row” project to benefit his local food pantry. Through QuickStart, he became more familiar with extracurriculars that are tailored to his interests, like the Wisconsin Hoofers outdoors clubs.

“It’s just a great way to relieve some stress and get back to where I need to be,” he says.


Sarah Akakpo of Racine, Wisconsin, knows UW–Madison is exactly where she needs to be. Born in Togo, West Africa, she moved to the United States with her parents at the age of three. Her father joined the military, and (as military families often do) they traveled a lot. After eight different schools, she is now in Madison, planning to study biology and earn a certificate in studio art. She wants to go to medical school and become a dermatologist or public health official. A WALSAA scholarship helped make QuickStart a possibility for Akakpo.

QuickStart student Sarah Akakpo poses for a portrait at her alma mater, Washington Park High School in Racine, Wis.

“It’s a class; it costs money,” she says. “I had to ask my parents, my grandparents [for help], because this was something I wanted to do. Being able to get that scholarship really helped me out a lot, because it not only enabled me to do QuickStart, but it enabled me to jumpstart my future.”

Akakpo has found QuickStart to be helpful in preparing her for her freshman year, directing her to on-campus assistance she wasn’t aware of.

“As a freshman I’m nervous for college. I’m nervous for all these things that are coming in my future,” Akakpo says. “QuickStart really showed me that I don’t have to be nervous, because I have tons of resources on campus. The Center for Pre-Health Advising – that’s a resource that I could use, because I’m going into the pre-med field.”

“Because I have all these resources and opportunities, I feel like I can succeed a lot more in my future, which will probably, in turn, help me financial-wise, career-wise. I can look back at it and be like, ‘You know what, I’m here because of QuickStart.’ I think that’s great.”

For more information about QuickStart, including application materials and deadlines, visit:

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