Kyle Sprecker grew up in Madison, just a few miles from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. When he was younger, the university felt distant and he rarely visited. “It always seemed like a mythical place,” he says.
Still, Sprecker aspired to one day attend UW-Madison. In 2021, after two years at Madison College, he got that chance, transferring to the College of Engineering to major in materials science and engineering. We asked Sprecker, who is on the cusp of graduation and the start of graduate school, to share his journey.
Why did you choose to major in materials science and engineering?
I was looking at a flow chart of majors in engineering at Madison College. I knew I was interested in chemistry and math, and that led to materials science. Once it was on my radar, I looked into it more and thought it was really cool, and I was genuinely interested in the research.
When I transferred, I found there are great people in MS&E. It’s a small program, so you get to know everyone and see them outside class. I think they’ve done a really great job of fostering a sense of community.
In fact, I kind of came full circle; when my mother was pregnant with me, she was a writing instructor and taught a class for engineers in the same room in the Materials Science building where I had my first class.
You were a Strategic Targeted Achievement Recognition (STAR) scholar; you now are this young scholarship program’s first graduate. What did that support mean to you during your education here?
I’m paying for college myself, so it took a lot of financial pressure off and allowed me to focus my time and effort on classes without getting a job during the school year. I was able to do pretty well. It’s been a constant I can rely on.
But it was more than just a scholarship; it was like an instant built-in community. I was really nervous about what it would be like to be a student here. But the STAR scholarship program felt welcoming and that eased my fears. Even though I came as a transfer student and didn’t know anyone here, I felt like I had somewhere to fall back on, and it helped the transition quite a lot.
What’s has been the most beneficial class or experience?
I’m doing research with Associate Professor Jason Kawasaki. He does a lot of molecular beam epitaxy, which is growing super thin materials. I’m looking at ways of growing graphene on copper. It’s the first time I actually got to do real research work in a lab, and it surrounded me with graduate students who could mentor me and help with the application process to graduate school.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’m going to graduate school in the PhD program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, working on photolithography. I see myself working in government research afterwards. I want to do something that makes an impact; if get a PhD, I can tackle those tough questions I want to ask.
Are you glad you transferred to UW-Madison?
I really enjoyed my time here. I came in unsure of what to expect. I wish I could do it over again. That’s the one thing I keep coming back to; two years seems like a long time until it’s over. I can’t believe I’m actually here and graduating, because it’s been my goal for as long as I can remember.
Featured image caption: Kyle Sprecker in a research lab. Credit: Joel Hallberg.