Growing up on Chicago’s west side, Kalyanna Williams had no idea how much she loved cows. The newest employee of UW–Madison’s Farm & Industry Short Course (FISC) discovered her fondness for the creatures during an internship at Iowa State.
“I loved working with the cows,” she says.
After the internship ended, Williams finished her bachelor’s degree at Tuskegee University. Then she came to UW–Madison, where she earned her master’s degree under the tutelage of Kent Weigel, dairy science professor and department chair. In grad school, she worked with many cows at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. She also worked with many kids, introducing them to agriculture careers. A college fair she organized drew nearly 400 high schoolers from across the state. It also featured historically black colleges and universities.
In her new role, Williams recruits students for FISC, a 16-week series of lectures and hands-on classes taught by agriculture industry experts. She is also a youth specialist for the dairy science department.
FISC has prepared current and future farmers for a wide range of agricultural jobs for more than 130 years. Alumni find work as farm technicians and managers, crop assistants, feeders, milkers, and more. Students can tailor the program their needs with courses in such areas as soils, crops, dairy, meat animals, agricultural engineering, agribusiness, farm business planning, and communications. The program runs from late fall through early spring, Wisconsin’s non-growing season.
In addition to studying, FISC students participate in university traditions. Whether attending Badger football games or relaxing at the Memorial Union, they make memories and form lasting connections to UW–Madison.
Making farming more inclusive
As both a recruiter and a youth specialist, Williams works to make farming, dairy science, and the university accessible to a broader range of people.
“When I interviewed for the job, I said that I’d like to expand our programming to ensure that we’re inclusive to everyone,” she says. “That includes engaging with communities of color. It’s important that we reach out to those students. There’s an interest there once they know about [farming].”
Traditionally, UW–Madison’s programs have attracted students who grew up around farming and were already interested in agricultural careers. But both FISC and the dairy science department see a need to expand their reach.
“We need to grow the Farm & Industry Short Course to include different audiences,” says director Jessie Potterton. “Kalyanna has done amazing things connecting with nontraditional audiences. She has a lot to offer us.”
Williams has already partnered with agriculture industry leaders to bring students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences to Badger Dairy Camp, a two-day workshop that teaches cattle-showing skills and other dairy knowledge.
Though this is impressive, Weigel isn’t surprised.
“She’s smart and fearless and creative and incredibly enthusiastic,” he says. “And she just gets things done.”
For more information on FISC, see here.