Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan Campbell
Jonathan Campbell traveled a long way from home to attend Iowa State University, but certainly made his mark on the meat science program while he was here. Originally from Camden, South Carolina, Jonathan worked full-time as an Iowa State Extension employee while obtaining his Ph.D. degree in meat science from 2007 until 2012.
His journey to meat science and Iowa State was not a straightforward one. Campbell attended Clemson University for animal science with the hopes of gaining admission to veterinary school. “Luckily, one of my first animal science courses was meat science. I fell in love with learning something new and being able to work with my hands. I really had fantastic mentors who put me in the right place at the right time,” reflected Campbell. After that, he changed his focus to meat science.
While obtaining his undergraduate degree, Jonathan worked in the meat science lab. Then, after graduation, he accepted the job of managing the meat laboratory at Clemson. At the same time, he started working on his master’s degree. “I really didn’t have a Ph.D. or Iowa State on my radar at all, but I met Dr. Joe Cordray and the meat science group from Iowa State at a conference in San Diego. He indicated there was a job opportunity for me in Ames, and the program seemed to be a good fit.”
While at Iowa State, Jonathan was involved in the Meat Science Club and served as the treasurer, vice president, and president. He also coached the meat judging team, was a part of the Gamma Sigma Delta honor society, and taught AN S 475C: Intercollegiate Judging Training and Competition: Meats.
Currently, Jonathan serves as an associate professor and meat extension specialist in the animal science department at The Pennsylvania State University. He works to build short course activities, does outreach to stakeholders and industry members, and performs research in applied food safety in meat products.
As the only meat extension specialist in the entire northeast region, Jonathan credits his past career and education as the things that prepared him for this role. “Working full-time while going to school and juggling lots of hats has helped me be successful.”
He also gave a nod to his time at Iowa State. “My time there was really invaluable. Although it took me a lot longer to get my degree, I quickly realized that wasn’t the only reason I was there. I worked with Matt Wenger, and we averaged 30 extension programs a year with the meat lab. Doing something for all levels of the meat industry was a fantastic experience. The challenges and questions we faced are what allowed me to hit the ground running wherever I was going to land when I left.”
Jonathan is most proud of getting to work behind the scenes to organize various short courses, which he spoke at and helped teach as well. “Matt, Dr. Cordray, and I worked closely with Smithfield Foods on that. Watching the progression of that program and the major impact it had on the industry was very meaningful to me.”
When asked what his favorite class was, Jonathan said it was a tie between AN S 570: Advanced Meat Science and Applied Muscle Biology and AN S 571: Advanced Meat Processing Principles and Technology. “Elisabeth Lonergan was the toughest teacher I ever had, but she and Joe Sebranek are the smartest people I’ve ever met. I still use things I learned from those classes today.”
Jonathan was also given the 2023 Distinguished Extension and Industry Service Award from the American Meat Science Institute. When asked, he said, “That was quite an honor. The list of extension folks had a lot of Iowa State grads. They all have key places within the industry and make great contributions.”
When asked if he had any advice for current students, Jonathan replied, “Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. It may seem scary to leave campus because you’ve been around the same people and in the same place. But, once you forge past those fears, that is when real growth and maturity happens.”