Madison College’s STEM Academy: Building Futures and Creating Connections


“It’s an offer you can’t refuse.”

That's how Madison College STEM Academy student Caleb Hudson describes the opportunity to earn his associate degree while also finishing high school.

The Sun Prairie West High School senior is in his second year at Madison College’s STEM Academy and will graduate with his high school diploma and an associate degree in electrical engineering technology.

For Hudson, the decision was easy. He'd always planned to get a college degree. He jumped at the chance to get two years of college credits under his belt—for free—while finishing his high school.

high school STEM academy students studying
The STEM Academy started with 26 students in its 2018 pilot. Today, nearly 100 new students enroll each fall.

“I’ve always been very into technology and electronics, building my first computer when I was in the sixth grade” he said. So, when he learned of the program and its focus on STEM, he was sold.

“I knew I was going to go to college at some point, so why not do it now.” He plans to attend Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) after receiving his associate degree.

Hudson knows that many of his high school-aged peers worry that they will lose connections with their friends by leaving to take classes at Madison College. He’s found the opposite is true.

He has stayed in touch with his closest friends in Sun Prairie and formed close bonds with the cohort of about 18 Sun Prairie students in the STEM Academy. He is still on the varsity swim team at Sun Prairie West, which keeps him connected to the school.

Average GPA
of STEM Academy graduates, Cohorts 1-7

An Alternative To Traditional High School

Smeera Zaveri came to the STEM Academy through Vel Phillips Memorial High School in Madison. She saw the program as an opportunity to challenge herself and to explore a new route. She didn’t feel the traditional high school format matched her learning style.

The STEM Academy at Madison College started in 2018 with a pilot cohort of 26 students. Today, the STEM Academy enrolls about 100 new students each fall. The average retention rate for the program over the past four cohorts is 91%. The class of 2023 is expected to have a retention rate of more than 95%.

Providing Focus and Opportunity

Zaveri feels that STEM Academy has set her up for success. It taught her to manage her time and ask for help when needed. She also developed interpersonal and critical thinking skills she feels she may have missed in a standard high school setting.

While Hudson entered the program very focused on electrical engineering, Zaveri didn’t have a clear idea of where she wanted to go with her education and career. Through her coursework, consultation with advisors and projects for the college's Honors Program, she now plans to earn a degree in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies at UW-Madison.

Both students have on-campus jobs which have been a key contributor to their success.

STEM academy student in cap and gown at graduation
STEM Academy students can earn an associate degree while finishing high school.
STEM Academy Students
completed their degree at Madison College, Average, Cohorts 1-3

Hudson works in the STEM Center where he is grateful for the opportunity to work directly with so many faculty members, researchers and fellow students. The job has exposed him to interesting STEM research and he's been able to help professors with research projects.

Zaveri works in the Student Life department at Madison College and was recently named to the Student Activities Board. That board is responsible for making decisions regarding funding distribution for student activities and has given her an appreciation for financial management.

Both students say that their jobs have been great avenues for networking and making connections with faculty, mentors and other students.

Resources To Ease the Transition

While taking college courses and being among the youngest students on campus can be intimidating, both Zaveri and Hudson remarked that the STEM Academy and other resources at Madison College are designed to make the transition as easy as possible.

Zaveri noted that the advisors have helped her “every step of the way.” While Hudson discussed how the Student Achievement Center is designed to support all students and one only needs to ask for help.

“The STEM Academy advisors are a key component of the program," says Schauna Rasmusen, Dean of Early College and Workforce Strategy at Madison College.

"They are there to support students’ academic success inside the classroom and ensure they leverage other college resources available outside the classroom. The goal is to build academic confidence and social capital so students graduate high school transfer ready.”

For both of these learners, the STEM Academy has been a positive experience that has shaped their education and futures in ways they hadn’t imagined prior to learning about the opportunity.

As Hudson remarked, “It’s neither high school nor college. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“I’ve always been very into technology and electronics, building my first computer when I was in the sixth grade. I knew I was going to go to college at some point, so why not do it now.”
Caleb Hudson
Madison College STEM Academy student

Madison College President's Annual Report