UWRF & Ag Industry Asks State To Continue ‘Fast Forward’

Pictured: Brandt Berghuis, assistant professor of crop science at UWRF speaks about the Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant program. Listening are, left to right, Ryan Edwards from WinField United, Dave Juen of MAC Contractors, and UWRF students Ethan Meissner, August Roach and Megan Culpitt. Photo by Michael Mosher.

UW-River Falls faculty and students partnered up with agriculture industry members this week, asking the state to continue Fast Forward funding. This is a state-funded program that gives internships to benefit students and businesses.

Brandt Berghuis is an assistant professor of crop science at UW-River Falls. He helps oversee the Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant program. He says the program provided students and regional businesses with multiple opportunities.

In April, Gov. Tony Evers announced that the UW System had been awarded $1.1 million in Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant funding. This included $244,426 to UW-River Falls. UW-Stout and UW-Milwaukee also got program funding. However, funding for the program was discontinued when it was not included as part of the 2023-25 state budget.

“We really do have some of the best students, and it is amazing to see what they can do with opportunities like this,” Berghuis said. “We have had great success working with our students and industry partners. If funding allows, I hope we can continue to create these impactful experiences for our students.”

Others speaking on behalf of the internships provided by Fast Forward Grant funding: UWRF Crop Science Professor Veronica Justen; Dave Juen with Menomonie-based MAC Contractors; UWRF students August Roach, a sophomore agriculture business major from Faribault, Minn.; Megan Culpitt, a junior crop and soil science major from Norwalk; and Ethan Meissner, a junior engineering technology major from Marshfield; and others.

Students spoke about how the internships help them learn effectively while linking them to future job opportunities.

WinField United also spoke at Tuesday’s event about the importance of continuing funding for the Fast Forward program. WinField United has a history of partnering with UW-River Falls. Earlier this month it got a UW System Regents Business Partnership Award.

Fast Forward grants at UWRF enabled 15 students to participate in internships at eight businesses during the summer and fall. Students typically do internships during their junior or senior years. These Fast Forward-funded internships were focused on internships for first- and second-year students. The allowed them to get hands-on experience early in their academic careers.

Fast Forward grants also help develop links with businesses leading to future job opportunities for students, Berghuis said.

Holly Dolliver, soil science and geology professor, headed the Fast Forward Grant program at UWRF. She said the grants provided not only high-level student internships but created opportunities for participating businesses to conduct valuable research that can improve their products. Program funding also enabled UW-River Falls to expand its connections with regional companies, she said. She praised businesses, particularly WinField United, for their work with students.

“This funding provided an opportunity to expand opportunities and create unique internship experiences in areas [Winfield United] has not previously focused on, including business development and new technologies,” she said. “In addition, the funding encouraged them to hire students in program areas outside of what has been typical, increasing the potential pipeline of students.”