Dairy Innovation Hub supports outstanding undergraduate student researchers

Since its inception, the Dairy Innovation Hub has created research opportunities for nearly 500 undergraduate students at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville, and UW–River Falls. These experiences engage students in Hub-related research and infrastructure that foster curiosity while encouraging future careers in Wisconsin’s diverse dairy community.

Student researchers take on various roles assisting with projects in the Hub’s four priority areas: stewarding land and water resources; enriching human health and nutrition; ensuring animal health and welfare; and growing farm business and community. These positions help students gain experience and training in a selected research area, while working alongside an experienced faculty member.

The following students from UW–Madison, UW–Platteville, and UW–River Falls represent some of the many outstanding undergraduate student researchers who have worked on Hub-funded research:

Carson Keisling

Carson Keisling, a senior majoring in industrial technology management at UW–Platteville, was a member of Hal Evensen’s lab. Keisling’s interest in industrial technology management began as a desire to merge his creativity and critical problem-solving abilities. In the future, Keisling hopes to gain more experience in robotics and automation while working towards the goal of starting his own company.

As a member of Evensen’s lab, Keisling assisted in the development of local virtual enclosures for livestock. The lab explored two approaches: moving physical fences; and moving a virtual fence using short-range wireless technologies. Additionally, beacons were utilized to monitor animals’ rough location to direct them towards “acceptable” predetermined locations.

This project aimed to provide farmers with a simple, cost-effective digital solution for livestock enclosures. He recalls working alongside one team member for fourteen consecutive hours as the semester neared an end to see the project come to life. Keisling regards this day as one of his most memorable experiences as an undergraduate because of the joy and excitement he felt seeing his hard work come to fruition.

Collin Klaubauf

Collin Klaubauf received his bachelor’s degree in biological systems engineering from UW–Madison in December 2022 and has since started a master’s program with the same focus. As an undergraduate, Klaubauf was a member of Francisco Arriaga’s lab. His interest in biological systems engineering began as a concern for the environment and his hope to contribute to sustainable practices. His research interests are primarily related to soil health and water quality. After completing his master’s degree, Klaubauf plans to pursue a career in water resources engineering.

As a member of Arriaga’s lab, Klaubauf assisted in analyzing the environmental impacts of corn silage production systems. Arriaga’s team hypothesized that the canopy structure and the amount of biomass produced by a cover crop influenced environmental impacts such as erosion and nutrient losses in runoff water. This project aimed to help famers make decisions that benefit both forage production and the environment. Klaubauf credits this experience with changing the way he framed concepts and how he asked questions, as well as improving his critical thinking abilities.

Emily Larsen

Emily Larsen, a junior majoring in horticulture at UW–River Falls, was a member of Sonja Maki’s Lab. Larsen’s interest in horticulture began in a high school plant science class which grew to become a passion for plant genetics at River Falls. Attending college cultivated her desire to understand how a plant’s genetics influence its growth, development, and use in the world. Larsen believes her experience working in Maki’s lab allowed her to stand out as a candidate when applying to professional internships. This summer, Larsen will complete a plant pathology internship at the Ball Helix lab in Chicago. Larsen hopes to establish a career in plant genetics.

As a member of Maki’s lab, Larsen assisted in carrying out experiments that required quantitative measurement of gene expression. Larsen recalls receiving the first round of experimental data from the Quantitative PCR machine as one of her most memorable experiences working on this project. Larsen appreciated seeing how the different expression levels of individual genes varied and how the readings could be combined into answers for the questions the group posed. Maki’s project aimed to increase UW—River Fall’s capacity to carry out quantitative gene expression experiments and provide undergraduate students with an opportunity to develop quantification skills.

Luke Geist

Luke Geist, a senior majoring in agriculture economics at UW–River Falls, was a member of Arquimides Reyes’s lab. Geist’s interest in agriculture economics is rooted in his desire to help the dairy industry open new avenues of profitability and to keep family farms, like his own, in business. After graduation Geist plans to become an integrated solution specialist at John Deere and to take over his family farm in Sheldon, Wis.

As a member of Reyes’s lab, Geist assisted in providing dairy and beef farmers with research related to dairy-beef feedlot performance and carcass composition that increase profitability. This information allows farmers to improve their genetic selection and nutrition management planning which results in increased profit margins. Geist recalls the joy he felt creating better environments for calves and watching as they expressed behavior such as diving and playing in fresh beds of straw.

The Dairy Innovation Hub, which launched in 2019, harnesses research and development at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls campuses to keep Wisconsin’s dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable manner. It is supported by a $7.8 million annual investment by the state of Wisconsin. Learn more at dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.

Contact: Maria Woldt, Dairy Innovation Hub program manager, (608) 265-4009, maria.woldt@wisc.edu