UW-Madison scholarship honors former dairy science professor

Wisconsin State Farmer
The late Dave Wieckert is being honored with a memorial scholarship for dairy science students at UW-Madison. He passed away in May 2020 at age 88.

A new memorial scholarship at University of Wisconsin-Madison is honoring former dairy science professor Dave Wieckert, who died in May 2020 at age 88.

A press release said Wieckert was not only masterful at teaching inside the classroom for 33 years, but also remembered for what he did to take it beyond the classroom. His tendency to take his students on field trips around Wisconsin, California and Canada, coach the dairy judging team and advise the Saddle and Sirloin Club are just a few of the many reasons why his legacy is being honored.

Mike Hutjens, an extension specialist and professor emeritus of animal sciences at University of Illinois, is a former student of Wieckert. He said Wieckert had a profound impact on his life that ultimately led him to choosing a career in dairy science – Hutjens scored a job at a mastitis research lab because of him.

"He hooked me into the dairy sector," Hutjens said. "You could say that Dave Wieckert got me my first job in dairy science."

Hutjens is also a former president of the American Dairy Science Association and currently works as a columnist and webinar host for Hoard's Dairyman magazine. He said at first he was considering a career in being a county extension agent or ag teacher, but Wieckert helped him realize what he wanted to do, and he switched to a dairy science major as a junior in college.

"He was a tremendous teacher. I really enjoyed it," Hutjens said. "It was a great experience. I worked for a grad student in the lab, collecting milk samples in the barn, doing some metering and counting leucocytes, and got to know people who went on to faculty jobs all over the country. I thought it was really cool."

Wieckert had also started up his own dairy operation with partners Charlie and George Crave, whose family owns a 2,100-cow dairy near Waterloo, Wis. The Crave brothers met Wieckert while attending the UW-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course. Soon after, they had a business plan drawn up, a farm rented and 72 cows to milk. 

Wieckert was still a partner of the farm until he retired from teaching at UW-Madison in 1996. He continued to visit the operation regularly until his death.

"Dave was there every weekend and pitched in with any job there was to do," Charlie Crave said. "Having a vested interest in the farm was a great way for Dave to get practical experience in dairy management. He was able to bring the reality of commercial agriculture to the classroom. And of course, he brought students to the farm many, many times."

Kent Weigel, chair of the UW-Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, said the scholarship honors the hands-on methods Wieckert took to his classroom. The scholarship is reserved for dairy science students interested in independent research projects, where they identify a scientist they'd like to work with and draft a research proposal for what they would like to investigate.

Those students are usually brought onto larger projects ongoing in the dairy research lab and given a stipend. This kind of animal-based research helps students with non-farm backgrounds get acclimated to working with animals and make career decisions. Right now, two-thirds of students in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences don't have any farming background.

"Dave spent 33 years trying to maximize the impact for students, not just through his teaching, but also by encouraging them to get involved in additional educational experiences," Weigel said. "So we think it’s fitting to memorialize Dave by giving students an opportunity to do independent research under the supervision of a faculty mentor."

Benefactors can make a contribution to the David Wieckert Undergraduate Research Scholarship Fund on the UW-Madison website or by calling Henry Lagrimini at the University of Wisconsin Foundation at 608-308-5375.