Barry Jesse, associate professor in the Department of Animal Science, will retire on January 1, 2024, after close to four decades of teaching and research at Rutgers.
Jesse earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree for the University of Illinois in 1975 and 1977, respectively, and a doctoral degree from the Institute of Nutrition and the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University in 1984. He came to Rutgers in September 1986 as an assistant professor, right after he completed his postdoc at the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
He’s often remarked that when he read the position announcement for the open faculty position at Rutgers, it felt as though the search committee had read his CV before composing the requirements for the job. Applicants were required to have a background in Animal Science, including practical hands-on experience with domestic livestock, along with experience using molecular biological and gene cloning techniques. Jesse was a perfect fit, for at the time that the search to fill this faculty line was underway, very few candidates for the position possessed that combination of qualifications.
Jesse’s research program at Rutgers, in his Cook campus lab in Bartlett Hall, has been built on his broad-based background in animal science and molecular biology. Using the sheep as a model, his lab has been focused on understanding the mechanisms responsible for the development of the rumen, one of the fore-stomach compartments of a ruminant. Microbes in the rumen ferment dietary carbohydrate to produce short-chain fatty acids known as volatile fatty acids, which are absorbed and used as an energy source by the animal.
At birth, the rumen epithelium—the thin tissue forming the outer layer of a body’s surface and lining the alimentary canal—is non-functional. However, as the neonatal lamb begins to nibble on solid feed, by about two weeks of age, the microbes begin to colonize the ruminal fluid and commence fermenting the solid feed. Jesse’s lab was the first to use molecular biological techniques to identify which genes undergo differential expression during development of neonatal rumen epithelium in response to the short-chain fatty acids.
Teaching and interaction with students during advising sessions have long been passions of Jesse, as reflected in the wide range of courses he taught to students. These include Perspectives on Agriculture and the Environment, Animal Science, Animal Evaluation and Selection, Animal Genetics; Animal Nutrition, Animal Nutrition Lab, and Animal Microtechniques and Tissue Culture.
Jesse has had the privilege of advising thousands of students over his long career at Rutgers, averaging more than 30 first-year students and more than 50 upper class students each year. His students have seen the humorous side of him, as he’s often used funny anecdotes during his lectures to better connect class material to concepts familiar to the students. While generally reserved in nature, Jesse was also the consummate teacher, often defaulting to this approach to help students better recall and understand new concepts. He was adept at recognizing and using “teachable moments” to convey new observations to his students.
He’s also not afraid to “get his hands dirty” while teaching, as he did for a visiting class of high school FFA students during a demonstration of sampling rumen fluid through a rumen fistula for the NPR Radio Labs episode on digestion, titled “Into the Abyss.”
Jesse has received many awards for his teaching and advising over the years, but those given to him by the students, like “Alpha Zeta Teacher of the Year” and the invitation to be a Baccalaureate speaker, have been have been the most meaningful.