Student trades early graduation for international experience


Courtesy photo: Gretchen Zdorkowski

Emily Zimmerman, far left, senior in biology and global resource systems, spent six weeks in Rome interning with Biodiversity International. With her are peers (from left) Vivian Bernau, Ernesto Ranucci, Emma Flemming and Sam Bird.

Whitney Sager

Becoming a veterinarian and rushing through the four-year college experience were not on her to-do list.

Emily Zimmerman, senior in biology and global resource systems, came to Iowa State intending to become a veterinarian. A change of heart led to her current double major and the chance to gain international experience in the agricultural field.

“I was going to graduate early, but I didn’t really want to,” Zimmerman said. “I have no desire to rush my four-year experience.”

That is where her global resource systems major came in. Considering Zimmerman’s love for travel and international culture, the GRS major fit her personality perfectly.

This past summer, Zimmerman participated in the Dean’s Leadership Program Summer Travel Course in Rome, a program that focuses on agriculture and food policies.

“It’s a great opportunity because they send you to Rome ,and you can either work with one of two different organizations — The Green Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or Bioversity International,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman chose to work with Bioversity International because of her interest in plants. She had the opportunity to work on a project that examined the Mediterranean diet and the way it uses leafy vegetables.

Gretchen Zdorkowski, senior lecturer of agronomy, was one of the faculty members who went on the trip to Rome. Zdorkowski said she did not know Zimmerman very well prior to the study abroad trip and wondered how Zimmerman’s quiet but earnest personality would impact her study abroad experience.

It did not take long for Zdorkowski’s concern to be addressed. Zimmerman quickly became immersed in the project the study abroad group was conducting.

“She’s an information digger,” Zdorkowski said. “She’s relentless about taking on a task and seeing it to the finish.”

In addition to her commitments to the study abroad trip, Zimmerman also interned with Bioversity International, which she is continuing this semester. The internship allowed her to stay an additional two weeks in Rome and fulfill the GRS major’s requirement of completing an internship outside the U.S.

Zimmerman is working with Dr. Stefano Padulosi during the internship and assists in his studies of agrobiodiversity and the prevention of crop diversity losses.

As part of the internship, Zimmerman read more than 50 research papers that dealt with the conservation of plant genes on the farm versus in gene banks.

Zimmerman said it is important to preserve plant genes in their natural environment because it will allow them to evolve with time.

“One of the reasons on the forefront is that, as climate changes, we want our plants to be able to evolve with the climate changes, and if you put them in the gene bank, there’s not a lot of evolution going on in there,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman had the opportunity to present her findings at the Managing Biodiversity for Sustainable Development Conference at Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming, China, earlier this month.

The poster she created, “A Review of the Current Status of Agrobiodiversity Monitoring Systems,” was displayed during the literature review session.

Zimmerman is currently working with Padulosi on writing a paper they hope to publish to make the scientific community more aware of agrobiodiversity.

In the future, Zimmerman plans to travel to other countries and expand her international experience. She also wants to go to graduate school and work with someone who has an international emphasis.

Zimmerman encourages other students to take advantage of the study abroad office and gain international experience.

“Great opportunities are available, and I think people, especially students, should totally take advantage of the study abroad office and their advisers and their professors and just really reach out and try to find things that fit their interest,” Zimmerman said. “Things are really available if you look.”