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Unveiling Success: Owen McDougal’s Journey in Research

Owen McDougal and his team stand on the stairs together as a group
Owen McDougal, Director of the Food and Dairy Innovation Center; Principal Investigator for National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator Phase 2, Track J, Food and Nutrition Security; and advisory Board Member for the Western Dairy Center, stands with one of his many winning Boise State teams.

In the dynamic landscape of academic research, Professor Owen McDougal stands out as a trailblazer, weaving together a compelling narrative of success through dedication, collaboration and a commitment to addressing real-world challenges. As a recipient of multiple research grants and awards, McDougal has not only embraced the ethos of his role but has also created his own formula for winning these awards for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Boise State University.

Building Trust through Small Wins

McDougal’s journey began with a deliberate focus on earning trust through what he calls “tedious and painful grants.”

“We work on a series of time-consuming grants that provide a foundation of trust with industry partners. Establishing a good working relationship first leverages those partnerships for bigger dollar grants,” McDougal said. This approach of starting small, gaining trust, and progressively tackling more significant challenges has been a cornerstone of McDougal’s success.

Guidance from COAS and DRED Collaborators

McDougal’s success is aided by collaborating with the COAS Dean’s Office, the Chemistry Department, and the Division of Research and Economic Development at Boise State, particularly with key figures like Leslie Durham, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Chad Watson, the Director of CRCA’s Research Development, and Brett Adkins, the Director of the Office of Technology Transfer. When asked about writing proposals, McDougal stated, “You get Chad Watson on it, and then the team puts together a winning proposal.” Such collaborations are indicative of a supportive ecosystem within Boise State, where expertise comes together to shape groundbreaking research.

From Onerous Grants to Million-Dollar Awards

Reflecting on his formula of enduring small grants to pave the way for more ambitious projects, he emphasizes that this allows him to make proposals that say, “We don’t just think this will work; we know it does.” He credits Nancy Glenn, Brett Adkins, and the IGEM program as the catalyst for his journey, acknowledging the State of Idaho’s investment in food and dairy research at Boise State University.

Owen McDougal and team
The Dairy NutriSols team in DC at the National Science Foundation meeting with Program Officer Michael Reksulak and Coach Marcia X Chong

From Million-Dollar awards to Moonshots

McDougal’s journey reached new heights in January with the ten-million-dollar award from The Schmidt Foundation Virtual Institute on Feedstocks of the Future (VIFF). This substantial five-year contract will support McDougal’s vision for his project “Separations Technologies that Enable Production and Use of High-Value Biomass Streams from Agricultural and Food Processing Wastes.” The project, in collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory researchers Luke Williams, Bill Smith and Aaron Wilson, aims to revolutionize waste conversion, potentially saving millions for the major processors of potatoes, sugar beets, barley, onions and dairy.

Dairy, Potatoes, and Beyond: Transformative Solutions

A key highlight of McDougal’s success lies in his innovative solutions for industry challenges. He listens to industry partners and assembles a team that can tackle them. His involvement in the Build Dairy program exemplifies this commitment. By engaging students in research relevant to the dairy industry, McDougal not only supports student development but also opens avenues for massive research proposals. His multifaceted approach, in part, addresses challenges in waste conversions for multinational companies with food and dairy operations in Idaho. His key to success has been possible by fostering partnerships and collaborations, serving as the catalyst that brings colleagues with the right expertise together, addressing challenging problems with convergent science solutions.

Professor Owen McDougal
A portrait of Professor Owen McDougal

Looking Forward: Labs, Expenditures, and Continued Growth

As McDougal anticipates moving into new labs at the Micron Center for Materials Research, he reflects on the fruitful collaborations, mentorships and opportunities that have shaped his journey. McDougal, Jenny Weaver, Program Director of the Food and Dairy Innovation Center, and Kristi Spence, SVP of Marketing and Communications at Dairy West, leveraged their expertise to lead the team to success. This success extends beyond awards and influencing students. He hopes to inspire other faculty members to seek leadership positions, as he knows having those positions helped with his personal and professional growth and networking for grants.

A Tapestry of Success

Owen McDougal’s journey is not just a series of achievements but a tapestry woven with threads of collaboration, resilience and a relentless pursuit of solutions. His formula for success can guide new researchers, urging them to embrace challenges, cultivate partnerships and take on a journey that extends beyond individual accomplishments to benefit communities, industries and the academic realm.

Owen McDougal, Jenny Weaver, and their graduate student Mia van Rheede van Oudtshoorn stand in front of the Challis National Forest Sign while participating at the IMPA (Idaho Milk Processors Association) conference in Sun Valley