From farm to food science: CALS student marshal blooms both in the garden and in the lab

Alyssa RosenbaumBy Ethan Stoetzer

Preparing the annual Christmas lasagna with her grandfather was a staple Alyssa Rosenbaum came to look forward to every year. The annual tradition of learning the art of her family’s cooking from scratch not only reinforced her close-knit family, but also was the inspiration for her life’s passion: food.

“I don’t really know how it started, but it is something my siblings and parents really value,” said Rosenbaum, senior in culinary food science and horticulture. “It’s kind of the way we bond with each other.”

This love of food not only inspired a rigorous academic journey, but also a riveting story of adventure and self-discovery.

This May, Rosenbaum will leave Iowa State with a resume that can only be described as “ambitious.” Her tenacity in her curiosity is one that has yielded four internships, a study abroad service-learning experience, two executive club member positions, membership in a sorority, and two bachelor of science degrees. In recognition of her many accomplishments, Rosenbaum will serve as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Marshal, leading her fellow classmates in the procession of CALS graduates during Iowa State University’s commencement ceremony May 14.

Reflecting on her time at Iowa State, Rosenbaum said the outcomes have “really exceeded” her expectations of herself and her effort, considering when she first arrived on campus in fall 2017, she was in pursuit of not a career in food science, but in horticulture.

Following her passion for food through high school, Rosenbaum thought the only career she could have that involved food was as a chef. When a community garden opportunity opened in her neighborhood, she quickly got her hands dirty and became more invested in food at its source: the ground. While she doesn’t come from a family with an agricultural background, a farm, or a relatively green-thumb, Rosenbaum soon found herself swept up in how fruits and vegetables are cultivated and harvested. She decided to pursue her passion for horticulture at Iowa State.

It wasn’t until what she describes as a “random opportunity” on a golf course in Virginia that Rosenbaum considered wanting more. During a summer 2018 internship where she grew fruits and vegetables for the clubhouse kitchen, she realized she wanted to do something that would transcend “just cooking and preparing food.”

“Before I came to Iowa State, I had only heard about food science, but didn’t really know what that meant,” Rosenbaum said. “I felt like I was missing something. Food has always been stuck in my head, so I thought about how I could incorporate these two aspects. I knew from experience that I wanted to have a larger impact than just growing produce. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to have something else where I was combining other aspects together.”

In the fall of her sophomore year, Rosenbaum integrated culinary food science as her double major, satisfying her scientific curiosity in the overlap of concepts between the two. With a heavy background in cooking, she was now able to follow her ingredients from seed, to plant, to produce before they were processed into a cereal, a meal, a can, the freezer, or wherever else it was destined to become food. 

From there, Rosenbaum went on to earn an internship at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach as a Rising Star intern in northwest Iowa, educating youth about growing fresh produce. She then interned at an orchard in Nebraska City, Nebraska, working in retail and aiding in food safety rules and regulations. Finally, she landed a two-year stint with the culinary food science program in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, where she hosted and taught food workshops, demonstrations and other promotional activities. That’s not including her two-year executive stint in the Culinary Food Science Club the last two years as special events chair and then president of the club.

“I remember in high school, people thought it wouldn’t be feasible to do my double major, that it’d be extremely difficult,” Rosenbaum said. “People told me to choose one or the other. I decided to not listen to those people. If you set your mind to something, you can make it happen. Although it took me more time and scheduling, it was worth it. Just go ahead and do those things that you want to do.”

As she completes her final semester in the EARTH Program in U.S. Virgin Islands, Rosenbaum said she has achieved a level of balance in her passions. This fall she will continue her education at the Virginia Institute of Technology, studying food microbiology and agriculture in relation to food safety. Her desired final landing place is an educational position in a university, extension, or private setting, where she can embody the tenants of teaching her grandfather shared with her over lasagna every year.