Growing up in a multicultural home, Rose Huenemann may have been destined for international work, but that destiny hit her quickly and unexpectedly last summer.

The junior, who is majoring in applied economic management with a focus on international trade in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and a minor in global food security and health, split her summer last year doing undergraduate research in Virginia and studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

“I came back to campus feeling like a new person, said Huenemann. “I gained so much clarity in realizing and honing in on what I wanted to do. It was a breakthrough moment for me in my academic career.”

Inspired by the knowledge she gained researching Virginia food systems and recognizing her love for other cultures while in Barcelona, Huenemann returned to Blacksburg knowing that she wants to work for a global food business in an international capacity after she graduates in 2020.

“Some people associate large, international corporations with harmful environmental outputs just because they’re creating things at such a large scale,” said Huenemann. “But I want to help the company be a more sustainable company and to aid in helping the environment rather than harming it. There are two ways of looking at it – you can be someone who’s not involved in the company and write letters to them or protest, but you can also create change internally.”

In addition to her love for other cultures, Huenemann, who began her college career in environmental science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, has always been interested in the environment and sustainability. But after transferring universities and taking Mike Ellerbrock’s microeconomics course during her first semester at Virginia Tech, she also unearthed a love for economics.

Her newly discovered career aspiration combines both loves.

“Doing undergraduate research on food systems and then studying abroad helped me to realize what I want to do with my life,” said Huenemann. “I learned so, so much about my interests – it was the most empowering thing. Now that I know what I want to do, I can use that to my advantage.”

Huenemann’s research on Virginia food systems was part of the Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute, a collaborative program with four Virginia universities – Virginia Tech, James Madison University, George Mason University, and the University of Virginia – that seeks to train and empower leaders in sustainable food systems. The first two weeks of the program are held at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and focus on educating students about food systems, while the latter half of the program involves students working with faculty members to develop and conduct a research project.

As the youngest member in the program, Huenemann was “challenged to develop innovative thought and think outside the box” by her cohort, which was composed of junior and senior undergraduates as well as graduate students and professionals. She was also especially motivated by a guest speaker from Nestle who discussed ways to bring about internal sustainability change within a company.

That speaker sparked Huenemann’s initial interest in working for a food company. But it was not until Barcelona that she developed a complete vision for her career.

Rose Huenemann stands at a lookout in Barcelona, Spain.
Rose Huenemann in Barcelona, Spain.

After working with Ellerbrock, a professor of agricultural and applied economicswho was one of the faculty leading the food systems institute, to research ways to provide five local food products for all four Virginia universities involved in the program, Huenemann spent the rest of her summer studying international marketing abroad.

“When you go somewhere not knowing anyone, you have full free will to be whoever you want to be because no one knows anything about you,” said Huenemann. “Having that experience, I learned that I do well when there are cultural differences.”

After recognizing her abilities in communicating with people from different cultures and working with them to come to a common understanding, Huenemann realized that she could combine her knowledge of food systems and economics with her multicultural skills by pursuing a career at a global food company, likely doing international affairs.

Armed with that knowledge and a clear career ambition, Huenemann spent her junior year diving into her major courses and getting to know her professors, while also learning more about business, trade, and how other countries operate and interact.

“I feel grateful to be in a major I can fully appreciate and that will allow me to go into a career that I am so interested in,” Huenemann said.

In addition to coursework, Huenemann is a member of the professional agricultural fraternity Alpha Zeta and a leader of the Virginia Tech AWARE foundation, which seeks to educate people on how to detect and prevent dangerous situations from occurring through informational and self-defense training. 

Huenemann is spending 10 days this summer studying entrepreneurship in Ireland with agricultural and applied economist instructor Megan Dickhans and then plans to intern before returning to campus in the fall for her senior year.

The research on sourcing and providing local food products (ground beef, milk, eggs, apples, and tomatoes) for four public Virginia universities that Huenemann began with her cohort last summer will also continue with the second institute cohort this summer. Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute leadership will continue this research with plans to implement the students’ findings in the future. Other projects the institute will focus on include research into farmers markets, food waste remedies, and community gardens. Interested students should contact their advisor to register for the program.

Written by Jillian Broadwell