The dual-degree honors student from Boulder, Colo., attended classes in Blacksburg on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, but still managed to commute to intern for the Senate Committee on Agriculture during the conference of the 2008 Farm Bill.
It’s just one example of the energy Lamb has brought to her studies. The rising senior’s drive and intelligence have impressed numerous professors on campus, as well as a selection panel of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which in spring 2009 named her winner for her home state of Colorado.
In a joint letter recommending Lamb for the scholarship, Professor Leon Geyer and Associate Professor Dixie Watts Reaves, both of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, wrote: “Among the 11,000 students we have had in our classes, Jeni ranks in the top ten in academics and perhaps number one in hustle.”
Lamb said she expects to complete a bachelor’s degree in political science in December 2009 and a bachelor’s in agricultural and applied economics in spring 2010.She wants to earn a law degree and a Ph.D. in resource or development economics. Her career goal is to get more effective policies in place to support rural communities.
As one of 60 Truman Scholarship winners from a pool of 601 students nominated by 289 institutions, Lamb will receive up to $30,000 for graduate study.
“The scholarship has made a lot of the dreams I once had about graduate school and thought unattainable — because of finances or the sheer competitiveness of the programs — a definite possibility,” she said.
Lamb already has co-authored two research papers with Virginia Tech faculty members, and since April 2008 has been a research assistant at the university’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program.
In a project supported by the Austin Michelle Cloyd University Honors Scholarship for Social Justice, Lamb flew to Africa for her first field-research project in June 2009. She spent two months in western Kenya working with a group called Community Action for Rural Development, local farmers, and support groups for people with HIV/AIDS, to see how soybeans can be better used.
Soybeans offer a unique opportunity to farmers in East Africa because they can be grown in rotation with a staple, such as maize, to fix nitrogen in the soil. Soybeans are also an affordable and complete source of protein. And for people with HIV/AIDS, Lamb said, soy is easier to digest than meat and can help with the absorption of anti-retroviral drugs.
Because of those factors, she said, expanding soybeans’ role in the western Kenyan diet may benefit public health.
Along with “some really good mentors,” Lamb said she credits her lifelong passion for horses, and the lessons she has learned caring for them, with helping her become the person she is today.
While Lamb was in high school, her mother passed away. Lamb said that owning and training her first young horse was an important part of her being able to move past this difficult period.
“Horses are highly emotionally intelligent, so they pick up on exactly how you are feeling,” she explained. “In order to be effective in training a young horse, I got very good at turning my stress and sadness into patience and positive energy.”
That ability to zero-in on the task at hand is a skill she still uses. While juggling a heavy load of courses and activities, Lamb continues to pursue her passion for horses by serving as captain for the university’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Western Performance Team and training her own quarter-horse gelding, Denver.
Lamb also credits horses with teaching her the compassion that motivates her to work in public service.
“The thing about horses, and when you have that passion and you start caring for them at an early age, is that it wakes you up to something beyond yourself,” she said.
In an edited interview, Lamb discusses her Kenyan research project, her reaction on learning she was a Truman Scholar, and the importance of other scholarships she has received.
Jeni Lamb is Virginia Tech’s third Truman Scholar. Michael Geruso (pictured) won the award in 2002, Phallisha Newsome-Horton in 1992.
Geruso, now a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Princeton, said that, more than the money, it was the opportunity to network with other Truman Scholars that proved valuable to him. “It just expanded the set of things that I thought it was possible to do with my life and professionally.”
Students in Virginia Tech's University Honors Program have a strong history of setting goals and reaching them. Since 1990, they have won more than 150 prestigious national scholarships, including the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall. In that period, Virginia Tech honors students also have been named to USA today's All-USA College Academic Team six times, including 2008 and in both 2006 and 2005.
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