Young alumna career takes off at Goldman Sachs
What began as a struggle in her original major led Rachel Thornton ‘20 to find her passion in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.
“I struggled in the major I had originally picked at Virginia Tech. The advice from my advisor led me to pick applied economic management,” said Thornton. “And I am glad she did.”
From the beginning, the department felt like a home away from home and Thornton quickly saw how the professors cared and wanted every student to succeed. “Jeffrey Alwang and George Norton had a big influence on me,” said Thornton. “They pushed me to think creatively and gave me the confidence to pursue projects in the field that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
During the summer of 2019, she went with six other students along with Alwang and Norton as part of an experiential learning journey to Ecuador. The project was funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture workforce development grant to examine sustainable farming practices in the Chimborazo province. The project aimed to help farmers in the region by analyzing the feasibility of bringing more sustainable farming practices regarding food security and economics. Thornton says the internship provided invaluable tools that she uses today. “To be able to take math and writing skills and connect the two to analyze and communicate project findings has been instrumental in my career journey. Beginning my professional experience in Ecuador's rural mountains has helped me adapt to diverse work environments and challenges.”
In addition to her study abroad, she was very active in research projects. One of her semester-long projects was with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Kohl Centre where she developed marketing campaigns to promote the sustainable development of Virginia farmer’s markets.
Thornton also worked with the Floyd Economic Development Authority to develop solutions to yield long-term economic growth and population in the county.
Today, Thornton enjoys a career as a senior analyst at Goldman Sachs where she is responsible for connecting front-to-back trade processes analyzing financial data, developing financial models, and improving operational workflow across systems and teams. Thornton also communicates core trade economics with clients to enhance their post-trade process and help them meet their goals.
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is a leading global financial institution that delivers a broad range of financial services to a large and diversified client base, including corporations, financial institutions, governments, and individuals.
“A lot of applied economics is connecting data with words, which has helped me in my role with Goldman Sachs. My classes in data analytics and my experience coding accounts in Ecuador have given me a platform to succeed,” said Thornton. “The department excels in making graduates experts in qualitative and quantitative approaches.”
She wants students today to understand that if they are experiencing the same struggles with a major as she did. “Use this time to learn about yourself – if something isn’t working, reflect on why that is and use it to propel you in the right direction. You are much more likely to succeed when you turn your mistakes into lessons." She further said, “If you are looking for guidance, the professors in this department have implemented the class material all over the world – go into their offices and talk to them about their unique experiences.”
Her sister, Teresa, also has a passion for applied economics and is a rising junior in the department majoring in environmental economics, management, and policy and is an ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Applied Economics.
By Melissa Vidmar