Caring Connections, Award Winning Teaching
In a large lecture hall in Lagomarcino, Steven Lonergan returns assignments to students in his sophomore meat science class. There are 60 students in the class. The professor of animal science calls each by name before handing back their graded work.
“I work hard to get to know their names and I make sure I grade and give feedback on their work. That helps me keep track of what they are understanding,” Lonergan says. “I care. It’s how I was raised. I think a lot of faculty care, and they work hard to make sure our students learn the material and are prepared to apply it in their chosen work.”
According to Lonergan (‘88 animal science, ‘91 MS), there’s no secret sauce to building rapport with students. He explains that it’s about building a good learning environment, which starts with trust.
This morning’s lecture includes a wrap up of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, HACCP, rules and kicks off the unit on muscle development. Lonergan paces back and forth in front of the lecture hall sharing information, asking questions and inserting a joke every now and then.
Although teaching is only 25 percent of his position, Lonergan was awarded one of two 2018 national United States Department of Agriculture Food and Agriculture Sciences Excellence in Teaching Awards.
Aubry Grimm and Karla Kubesh, who are both seniors in animal science, describe Lonergan as one of the best professors they’ve had at Iowa State. They say he makes class interesting and his sense of humor makes him approachable.
“Even though some of the concepts he teaches are difficult to comprehend, he understands his students and teaches in a manner that doesn’t insult the class’s intelligence,” Grimm says.
“He genuinely cares about students and about making connections with all of us,” Kubesh says.
Lonergan teaches about 100 undergraduate students in two classes per year in meat science and muscle biology. He also mentors several graduate students and serves as Director of Graduate Education for the Department of Animal Science.
One of his favorite classes is the Dean’s Global Agriculture and Food Leadership Program (see story on page 32) – a study abroad experience with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome.
LONERGAN’S IOWA STATE LEGACY
Lonergan, who grew up in West Liberty, Iowa, and his twin sister are the youngest of seven children – all graduated from Iowa State.
“My oldest sister started at Iowa State when I was in kindergarten, so there has been a Lonergan at Iowa State since 1971,” he says.
Lonergan’s mom was a preschool teacher and his father’s love of livestock, gardening and fruit trees introduced him to agriculture. He was drawn to animal science by his brother-in-law, John Carlson (’74 animal science, ‘78MS, ‘80Ph.D.) who was a professor in animal science at Western Illinois University.
“The application of science to real problems caught my attention as an undergraduate,” he says.
Lonergan received his bachelor’s and master’s at Iowa State and then earned his Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Nebraska in 1995.
MEAT SCIENCE MENTORS
Lonergan says he learned from the best.
“I found meat science while I was on the meat judging team at Iowa State with Dr. F.C. Parish,” Lonergan says. “My interest was also piqued by several meat science classes with Dr. Joe Sebranek. I still consider Dr. Joe as a mentor and example of an amazingly impactful teacher.”
Lonergan contributed to the first textbook for the beginning meat science class with Dennis Marple, Iowa State University animal science professor and former department chair, and David Topel, former dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“We just published the second edition of our textbook,” Lonergan says. “Working on that project with those two was fun.”
Topel says Lonergan provided the students’ perspective and he described Lonergan as an outstanding educator and meat scientist.
“He excels in teaching, research and advising, which is exceptional,” Topel says. “He’s also a cordial cooperator who works well with faculty and staff. He’s just a special person.”
Lonergan says scientists are collaborating more to share escalating amounts of data and find interdisciplinary solutions to problems. That’s something that works well at Iowa State.
“We are very interested in the connection between how muscle grows and how muscle in livestock responds to its environment. This has implications for producers and consumers, and research serves both groups, Lonergan says. “We have good colleagues to collaborate with and great students. There’s a synergy here and that’s important.”
One of his colleagues is his wife, Elisabeth Huff-Lonergan. The two met while they were working on their master’s degrees at Iowa State, and they married in 1993. Today they share a lab in Kildee Hall and an interest in meat science research.
“We are both very passionate about research and teaching. We have a shared curiosity and love of learning,” says Huff-Lonergan. “It is such a privilege to share that with your best friend.”