Hunter Campbell

Chemistry and Honors College graduate Hunter Campbell starts at UMKC Medical School next spring with an acceptance into its Medical Scholars Program, which offers early and guaranteed admission for second- or third-year undergraduates. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Hunter Campbell went about his home of Taylor Springs, Illinois, there was always a possibility that he wouldn’t run across one other person throughout the course of a day.

The village, a suburb of Hillsboro, is that small.

For anyone who has met Campbell, the thought of him growing up in an area without many people surrounding him might seem a bit unexpected. That’s because he’s a self-proclaimed talker.

“I really love people,” he said. “I love different people. I love talking to people. I could talk for hours. Some people say I talk too much.”

Attending school at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and having the chance to be around so many was a perk for Campbell, who graduated last weekend with a BA in chemistry and a Pierre Laclede Honors College certificate. But returning to rural life in the future is integral to Campbell’s plan.

He’s heading to the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Medicine next spring and hopes to return home to provide care afterward.

“One of my biggest goals is to be a hometown doctor,” he said. “I just love small towns. I love talking to people in small towns, there’s that, ‘Oh, hey, there’s Dr. Hunter Campbell. He’s the local doctor and everybody knows him.’ There’s just something special about rural medicine and practicing in underserved places like Hillsboro.”

He became interested in medicine through an experience with his own hometown physician, Dr. Benjamin Cady, the son of the doctor who’d delivered and cared for Campbell throughout his life.

Campbell had gone in with a concern and was struck by Cady’s upbeat attitude and enthusiasm.

“It hit me while I was in there that maybe medicine is something I should look into because he took something that I was worried about and was enthusiastic about it,” Campbell said. “He took so much time to explain everything to me. I thought, using science, you’re able to help people understand their own bodies and help them relax.”

To get some firsthand experience, Campbell worked as a scribe, a paraprofessional who helps chart patients’ visits, for Cady and found himself even more convinced after days of interacting with patients and coworkers.

“I would leave the clinic with my cheeks were hurting because I was smiling all day,” he said.

When he was trying to figure out what college to attend, Campbell decided to go to UMSL Day, the university’s open house. He met faculty, reviewed class offerings, got introduced to the Honors College and fell in love.

In a flash, he decided on UMSL. Landing on UMKC for medical school turned out to be a similar experience.

Campbell applied for the school’s Medical Scholars Program, which grants early and guaranteed admission for second- or third-year undergraduates. He spent a summer applying, messaging people such as Honors College Director of Student Services and Alumni Relations and Associate Teaching Professor Dan Gerth for guidance.

Getting accepted took the stress off for Campbell, and the more he looked into the program, the more he realized he’d found a good fit and decided to not apply to other schools.

“I was just hooked,” he said. “After going there to interview and then looking into their program – they do office rotations and stuff very early – it just seemed like such an interesting, cool program.

“I think that it’s going to be really interesting to see the principles that I’ve learned translate over to the human body and the biology side of medicine. I’m very excited to start.”

Campbell has earned minors in Spanish and biology, but his major – chemistry – has been his favorite academic experience. That’s included studying organic chemistry with Professor George Gokel, who Campbell says “has done just about everything,” and meeting Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic and Community Development Chris Spilling, a phosphorous chemist.

The two met during the second half of Campbell’s first year at an UMSL orientation, and he quickly noted his interest in getting into research, offering to wash glassware to get his foot in the door.

“‘I think we can do a little bit better,’” Campell recalled Spilling saying before connecting him with Associate Teaching Professor Bruce Hamper.

Campbell joined Hamper in researching isomerized isohumulones, the chemical compounds that give beer its bitter flavor. He also had a chance to assist Hamper with students in the Student and Teachers as Research Scientists program.

Through that work, Campbell developed an interest in homebrewing beer and wine but mostly kombucha, using a scoby – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – from Hamper.

“When you’re working a lab, there’s definitely elements you translate to home,” Campbell said. “It’s definitely influenced by my interest in chemistry.”

Campbell also revived the UMSL Chemistry Club, serving as president, re-writing bylaws and recruiting fellow officers and members.

That’s not to say that Campbell’s UMSL life was entirely in the sciences. For example, he could be regularly seen juggling with Math Academic Center Supervisor and Assistant Teaching Professor Al Stanger and others.

Then there was his Honors College experience. Campbell enjoyed the contrast of the varied and sometimes eccentric courses, stacking learning about war criminals next to the psychology of Harry Potter and storytelling.

“I love math, I love chemistry, I love finding out about things,” he said. “But it’s also fun to think more philosophically – there are multiple answers. My Honors College experiences were also great. I love the professors. I love the courses.”

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens
Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.