When it comes to summertime in the Midwest, days are filled with tubing, sitting on a beach, boating on the countless lakes and for many, working. Yes, for two student athletes who play for the Wisconsin Badgers, their summers to this day are spent working and hanging out on their family farms.
UW softball junior outfielder Gabby Scherle has fond memories of spending weekends on her grandpa Gary’s farm, helping him with the daily errands and tasks. Meanwhile football’s senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel uses his summers to help out on his older brother’s farm in Iowa.
While both have had unique ways of spending their summers past and present, they both have some shared experiences. Both hail from the agricultural Mecca of Iowa, and both are majoring in agricultural business management.
Linda Davis, the academic advisor for the agricultural business management department, says it’s not uncommon to see people like Scherle and Van Ginkel gravitate toward the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“I think it’s not so much the athlete side of them, as it’s if they are from a Wisconsin or an Iowa small town,” Davis said. “It’s more that they are familiar with the agro-business sector, so that’s why they are interested in the CALS majors.”
Van Ginkel said that almost everyone in his family owns a farm or is involved in the agriculture business in one way or another. That tie to farming is the reason why he wanted to pursue an agriculture business management degree.
“There’s so much you can do with it,” Van Ginkel said. “My brother got an ag-business degree, so it was something I looked into. There is just a lot of things I can do back home if I ever end up moving back home or even if I end up in a city or something. There are plenty of options for me.”
However, for Scherle, who comes from a community with less than 1,500 people, when she first came to the UW-Madison, she had other academic plans that did not include agriculture.
“I don’t think I came into the school wanting to do agriculture, but after being here for a few years and doing my business courses, I found what I was passionate about and that gave me the opportunity to take a look at what I was good at and what I knew,” she said. “So those two just fell together.”
While both of them discovered their majors in different ways, the amount of work that they have had to put in to balance their athletic and academic lives is nothing to scoff at.
“The degree is actually strenuous, you have to take calculus, you have to take statistics, and you have to take four semesters of economics too,” Davis said. “So it’s not an easy degree, so they have to work at it and they want to do it, because after the econ classes you have to follow a sequence, so it’s actually a lot of hard work.”
While the work is strenuous, there is plenty of support given to agricultural business majors.
“The class sizes do tend to be smaller; we are a smaller major. There are only 80 to 100 students doing ABM and then 60 or so doing ag and applied econ,” Davis said.
“Our faculty, and this is true of CALS faculty as a whole … pride themselves on smaller class sizes and the ability for the students to work more closely with faculty instead of TAs.”
For a football player who has a busy schedule from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to bed, that little bit of extra help does not go unnoticed.
“Yeah of course, the better the student-to-teacher ratio is, the better you can communicate with them or be there with them,” Van Ginkel said. “You can ask them anything you want, and you go and reach out to them by hitting them up during their office hours or you just give them a quick simple email and they will talk about anything with you.”
Besides the amount of support that the professors give to the students, ABM schedules along with the diverse amount of classes give the department one of the most balanced degrees at UW-Madison.
“You can go the business direction, you can go the economic direction, or you can go back to the family farm and use a little of both,” Davis said.
Van Ginkel said he might want to own a farm or help out around a farm one day, though the NFL might come calling if he continues to improve his play. Scherle said she too hopes to be involved in farming, whether that is in marketing or business operations. Her degree will be integral.
“I think the majority of people come from the cities and the surrounding areas, so that might not be there in their interest,” Scherle said. “But kudos to the people who did grow up around it and are passionate about it.”