A man wearing a tank top leaning on a piece of exercising equipment.
Jonathan Tatman, a biology major and safety ambassador, joined the Powerlifting Club at VCU as a junior. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2023: Jonathan Tatman, a safety ambassador, combines his interests in powerlifting and science

Tatman, who is a biology major, has won four statewide powerlifting competitions.

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Jonathan Tatman has found a way to merge his interests inside and outside the classroom this year. Tatman is graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences. He’s also a member of the Powerlifting Club at VCU, competing with his peers in events at the local, state and national levels.

His hobby and major have dovetailed through his work on a research thesis.

“I’ve been working on a senior capstone project that is about optimizing nutrition for muscle building for athletes,” Tatman said. “I have seen a correlation between my academic research and my current stance in lifting.”

Tatman, in the 165-pound weight class, has impressive personal bests for lifting. He can bench 303 pounds, squat 474 pounds and deadlift 551 pounds. He has thrived in competitions, placing first in four statewide competitions in 2022 and 2023.

Tatman had gravitated to biology as a major.

“I’ve always been into exercise and how the human body works and I’ve always been more science oriented,” Tatman said. “I hated math and social studies so science was always my jam.”

After graduating from Menchville High School in Newport News, Virginia, Tatman spent his freshman and sophomore years of college at what is now Virginia Peninsula Community College in Hampton. 

“I knew I wanted to study biology since I was in community college,” he said. “It was the only thing that piqued my interest.”

VCU drew him 70 miles northwest of Newport News to Richmond.

“It was the diversity that really attracted me and just switching lifestyles from a small suburban town to a city.”

Tatman’s parents are originally from Vietnam.

“At VCU, it’s the diversity, and seeing more cultures, especially … my own. It’s seeing Vietnamese people and other ethnic backgrounds. There’s something for everyone at the university and everyone is really friendly.”

At the encouragement of friends, Tatman started competitive powerlifting in his junior year at VCU. This led him to competitions with USA Powerlifting, which he describes as “the biggest powerlifting organization in America.”

A man lifting weights
Jonathan Tatman’s senior capstone project focuses on optimizing nutrition for muscle building for athletes. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

He has found his research particularly beneficial to his powerlifting pursuits this semester. 

“After my competition in January, I was no longer limited to weighing 75kg (165 pounds) for my weight class requirements and wanted to optimize my nutrition to build more muscle mass and to grow stronger,” he said. “And in regards to sharing information with my gym colleagues, I often find them looking to me for training or nutritional advice when I catch them in the gym or at practice.”

Tatman said he was pursuing jobs at VCU in 2022 when he came across an opening for a safety ambassador; getting out on campus and working with community members was more to his liking than a desk job. Safety ambassadors are unarmed, nonsworn, civilian employees who respond to calls for service for VCU Police in situations that do not require a sworn police officer. The six-member team was activated in early 2023.

Looking ahead, his interests and studies will guide his next steps.

“I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree in the future. There are other goals and aspirations I want to focus on for now,” Tatman said. “For a master’s, it would be in some form of exercise science or nutrition.”

When asked what advice he gives to his fellow biology students, he has a few key elements to pass on. He first encourages them to practice their time management skills, something that was important to his busy schedule. Next is focus and follow up.

“You really have to take the course material seriously and give it attention every day, instead of trying to cram it all in so you're overwhelmed,” Tatman said. “And ask for help from professors and TA’s because they’re very good at what they do.”