CALS student combines nutrition and science
An early interest in nutrition and science led Zoe Kemeys-McDonald to pursue a degree in food science from the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“I was initially interested in nutrition, but through my dad I discovered food science,” Kemeys-McDonald said. “It’s a bit broader than nutrition and more focused on science. You learn more about the matrix of food, food packaging, food safety, food sensory and storage rather than just the nutrition aspects.”
Kemeys-McDonald’s father, Armando McDonald, is a professor in UI’s College of Natural Resources and mentioned the food science program as an alternative with more options for careers in food and food processing.
The combination of nutrition and science was the perfect fit for Kemeys-McDonald.
“I’ve always liked science, especially biology and chemistry,” Kemeys-McDonald said. “Both my parents were interested in science and my teachers were great, which helped with my interest.”
Kemeys-McDonald grew up in Rotorua, New Zealand, and moved to Moscow prior to her senior year of high school to join her father who was teaching at UI.
“It was difficult at first because it was so different,” she said. “I had to do a year of American government and American history. Learning all the presidents and how America came into independence was quite challenging at first. Most people had learned that in elementary school and had a general understanding before they got to those classes.”
After only being in the U.S. for a year, Kemeys-McDonald decided that she wanted to stay close to her father and sister, who was still in high school. She enrolled at UI and will finish her bachelor’s degree this May.
“I just wanted to be close to family since it was still a new country to me,” she said. “The food science program at UI was rated very highly in the region, so it made sense to stay here.”
The food science degree has given Kemeys-McDonald plenty of hands on experience. She participated in an undergraduate research project with Amy Lin, an associate professor in the UI/WSU School of Food Science. The project is focused on how alpha-glucosidase, a digestive enzyme, affects our ability to digest starch. Kemeys-McDonald collected preliminary data for the project that is still on-going.
“I learned a lot of analytical lab techniques in that project, which a lot of employers are looking for,” she said. “Dr. Lin broadened my knowledge a lot, which I really appreciate. The professors in food science are really lovely and they are always willing to help you with questions, class or industry related.”
The product development capstone course is also providing Kemeys-McDonald with hands-on research and development experience, an area that she is hoping to pursue in her career. The semester long course involves creating a completely new product for the market, including designing the actual product, developing a safety plan for producing the product, conducting focus groups and creating packaging.
Kemeys-McDonald’s group chose to focus on developing a new product using chickpeas. They have a prototype for chickpea pasta that would provide a gluten-free pasta option for consumers.
“You get to develop and make the product in class,” she said. “The pasta prototype is going well so far and throughout the semester we are able to adjust ingredients and quantities to improve the products texture, taste and appearance.”
At the end of the course, the group will present their product to a panel of judges along with a research paper and samples of the product for judges to taste.
Kemeys-McDonald said that she is most excited about branching out of her comfort zone once her time at UI is complete. Her ultimate goal is to one day have a position where she can help the public.
“Developing foods that are nutritious and making things more accessible to low income people would be nice,” she said. “Making food more accessible to more people would be the big picture.”
Story by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences