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Most motorcyclists love a winding road. In Rachel Hume’s case, her own road had plenty of dips and curves before it led her to the door of Harley-Davidson.

As senior IT project manager, Hume (BS ’80, agricultural economics) oversees development and assembly of products for the renowned company. She recently engineered the manufacturing line that produced the new Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle.

“I enjoy thinking strategically and creatively about problems, and I’ve always been able to focus on the bigger picture without losing sight of the details,” Hume says.

Hume credits her agricultural economics degree with helping her discover these interests and strengths. “One thing I learned through my course of study was how to take the different pieces of information offered to me by professors and coursework and make informed, independent conclusions,” she recalls.

Due to her interest in new ideas and strong work ethic, Hume found opportunities throughout the department and college, and she worked closely with several faculty members, including the late Robert Suter, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue from 1953 to 1992.

Hume worked as a teaching assistant for Suter and collaborated with him in other ways, including proofreading manuscripts on farm management and estate planning.

“Professor Suter approached everything very methodically and fairly, from coursework to grading papers, and that’s stuck with me over the years,” Hume says. “Also, he taught me a great deal about the financial aspects of farm management and estate planning for farms, which I think is what got me interested in the field of finance.”

Hume worked for many years trading commodities on the floor in Kansas City and, later, in Chicago. Her attention to finer details and ability to think on her feet, gained through her education at Purdue, armed Hume well for this career.

Another experience in the College of Agriculture roused a dormant interest in Hume. During her senior year, she took an agricultural engineering course, where she discovered her aptitude for technological and mechanical operations.

“We had the opportunity to work on what were, at the time, innovative and experimental machines,” Hume recalls. “And I just remember feeling amazing. I specifically remember a tomato picking machine, which had the ability to compare the colors of tomatoes and only pick those that fell within a certain range, indicating they were ripe. By the end of my time at Purdue, I’d found my two passions: finance and machines.”

While in Kansas City, Hume pursued and received a second degree in computer science and eventually transitioned into an IT role with a couple of companies before Harley-Davidson recruited her.

In her role there, Hume has fused her various passions and developed more skills, which, when she thinks about it, were also uncovered at Purdue.

“I think most jobs, especially ones in manufacturing or agriculture, are more about people than we realize,” Hume says. “At Purdue, which is such a great school with so many knowledgeable professors, I really learned that you don’t have to know the answer to everything; you just have to know who knows the answer. And then be willing to ask and to learn.”

Finally, Hume says, her degree gave her confidence to step into the male-dominated world of finance, to return to school and to change careers multiple times. That gift, she says, can’t be overstated.

“My time in Purdue Agriculture really instilled in me the feeling that I could accomplish anything — dive into whatever interested me, whether that was agriculture or motorcycles.”

Category Alumni, Winter 2021

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