Hawks to Watch: Victoria Gunderson, brewer

Victoria Gunderson. Brewer. B.A. Chemistry (2016)

Why Victoria’s a Hawk to Watch

When combined correctly, grain, hops, yeast and water make a huge variety of delicious beers. But what four ingredients are needed to brew an exciting, successful and fulfilling career? College alum and brewer Victoria Gunderson’s story is unique to her, but also serves as a great recipe for all KU students:

  1. Find your passion – Victoria fermented an interest in craft beer while at KU and during a study abroad trip to Brazil.
  2. Explore, be open and persevere  – When Victoria graduated she applied to all sorts of jobs, struggled, and got frustrated. But that perseverance eventually led her to brewing at 23rd Street Brewery.
  3. A KU degree – A KU Chemistry degree gave Victoria the science needed to succeed in brewing, but also invaluable problem-solving skills for working in a brewery.
  4. Have fun – Finding a job you love is great, but Victoria keeps up other activities, like skateboarding, beer-tasting and napping – if Victoria hadn’t pursued her interest in beer while a college student, she would never have landed her current role.

Becoming a brewer was a journey for Victoria, but with the right mix of these four ingredients, and some serendipity, she is doing a job that she loves, even if it involves a lot of cleaning!

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

I am an assistant brewer at 23rd Street Brewery. Brewing is a lot of cleaning (like a lot) and a smaller percentage of actual brewing, but it’s great, and I love seeing and tasting the final product.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

I had no experience with brewing before getting this job, so I’ve had to learn a lot. I can’t wait to do more and keep growing.

“I got to make a batch of beer that was completely my own idea and recipe. That was pretty fun.”

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

When I first graduated and was looking for jobs, I felt like I was unqualified for a lot of the jobs that would let me use my chemistry degree. There were jobs that I was qualified for but that offered unappealing shifts, or I simply didn’t like the position. And when I was trying to just get a few part-time jobs, I got turned down for being overqualified because of my degree and I wouldn’t even get call backs on a lot of my applications. When I had my interview at a coffee shop, the manager said, “aren’t you going to be getting a big-kid job?” So I just got so frustrated and unhappy during that time. In the back of my mind was brewing, because my brother-in-law had mentioned it to me all the way back in my freshman year, but I had just brushed it off. By the time I graduated, I had grown an appreciation for craft beer, and had been looking into it and I loved the idea. "I applied to 23rd Street just as a host, and that’s when pieces started falling into place. Within months I became a brewer."I believe things happen for a reason, and I ended up finding a passion I didn’t know I had yet. I just had to keep grinding, sift past the crap, and search for something that excited me and would fulfill me. It’s out there for everyone, so don’t settle.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I want to own my own brewery that would also be a coffee shop and small music venue, somewhere in New England, because that’s where I’m from.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

You don’t have to have everything figured out. In fact, you may think you do have your future planned, but most likely it’ll change, and you should be open to that possibility. I also think it’s important for college kids to know that it’s okay to enjoy college. Yes, you should grind hard and get the grades, but don’t let that be it. Study abroad, go on road trips with friends, stay up late, take a day and do nothing. Time passes fast, enjoy it. Also, a career doesn’t just have to be a way to make money. You can enjoy it. There’s a saying that if you do what you love, then you’ll never work a day. This is kind of true. I’m working hard day to day; lots of days I leave sweaty and dirty. Some days suck, because things don’t go exactly right or you have to put in long days, and I go home just exhausted. But in the end I wouldn’t trade it, because I love the industry and what I do.

"Find the career that even through the tough days, you’d never trade it."

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Work hard, and never stop learning, because the moment you do, that means you’re falling behind. Be open to new ways of doing things, and wise words from people more experienced. But remember to make time to play hard too. Don’t forget about yourself, and your wellbeing. I have a tendency to overwork myself; I’ve got bills and loans to pay, but money should never come before your own wellbeing.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

My background in chemistry helps me with the science side of brewing. I am hoping to establish a more involved quality assurance program at the brewery before I’m done here. And my background helps a lot with problem solving around the brewery, which is very important.

“My background in chemistry helps me with the science side of brewing. And my background helps a lot with problem solving around the brewery, which is very important.”

What’s your best KU memory?

“My best KU memory is when I studied abroad in Brazil. I really learned to depend on myself, and I learned Portuguese, how to surf, and do capoeira, and I met some awesome people along the way.”

Also a random excursion with the group was to the first Latin American beer school, and I kind of took it as a sign that maybe I should think more about the beer industry.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

My biggest passion outside of work is music. You might see me playing my music around Lawrence and in Kansas City. Apart from that, I may go skateboarding, grab a beer, hang out with my roommates or sometimes I just go home and take a nap, haha.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I am a first generation American-born citizen.

Be like Victoria. Here’s more information on studying chemistry at the University of Kansas.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.