Bryan Rowntree knew when he was in eighth grade that he wanted to be an ag engineer.
"I was always very mechanical when I was growing up," he says. "I liked working on machinery. In high school I took drafting courses and I had a small engine repair business on the side."
After graduating from Waterford High School in 2009, he majored in biological systems engineering with a machinery systems emphasis at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He graduated from UW-Madison in May 2013 and now works as an engineer for Kuhn North America in Brodhead.
"I think without the farm, I would have had a lot tougher time knowing what I wanted to major in," Rowntree explains. "I see a lot of other kids who have undeclared majors and I think, 'You are paying a lot of money here, don't you know what you want to do?'"
Rowntree also credits 4-H with giving his interest in engineering a boost.
"I was in the small engines project, the tractor project, aerospace and rocketry and that helped solidify my interests in engineering."
The 23 year old says even though both of his parents, his brother and his grandmother are UW-Madison alumni, he never felt pressured to go to school there.
"There was never a doubt I wanted to attend UW-Madison," he says. "It was relatively close to home and it was important to me that I got in-state tuition and they had the program I was looking for."
He toured the campus during his junior year to get a better idea of what it looked like.
"I was pretty sure of my decision," he says. "I didn't apply anywhere else."
Rowntree is grateful he graduated without any student loans.
"I got a lot of scholarships when I was a senior in high school and I got quite a few in college through College of Ag and Life Sciences," he explains. "I lived at Babcock House all four years and that cost half of what the dorms would have cost. I was steward (in charge of the house) one year which gave me a scholarship of free room, board and parking that year."
Rowntree also had a lot of jobs and he worked on his family's 900-acre Racine County hog and grain farm.
"During school, I worked in a professor's research group in biological systems engineering," he says. "I had a summer internship at Kuhn North America in Brodhead after my sophomore year. The next year I worked for Case IH in Benson, Minn."
He contemplated grad school but decided he wanted a full-time job instead.
"I interviewed with a couple different companies and I chose Kuhn," Rowntree says. "I was familiar with them, they were close and I enjoyed interning for them."
In the end, Rowntree says he has no regrets about going to Madison and majoring in engineering.
"I wouldn't have done it any differently."
Rowntree has advice for prospective college students.
"One of the most important things for me was getting on campus and talking to faculty and professors," he explains. "The general campus tour is nice but doesn't give you a feel for what you are going to be studying. Reach out to a department you are interested in and see if you can talk to somebody or shadow a student for a day."