Finding a passion for research

April 25, 2023

By Logan Jackson | MU Honors College

Emma McDougal, a Goldwater Scholar
Emma McDougal

As a participant of the Missouri Scholars Academy, Emma McDougal learned about the numerous opportunities that would be available to her as a student at the University of Missouri. Once she officially arrived on campus as a Tiger, she has made sure to take advantage of those learning experiences.

Among many interests, McDougal, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Cape Girardeau, Mo., has found a passion for research during her time at MU. McDougal, who chose the biochemical emphasis area within the chemical engineering degree and is also minoring in chemistry and math, is a member of the Biomodulatory Materials Engineering Laboratory, led by Bret Ulery, an associate professor of chemical engineering. Her work has led to several accolades, including her most recent honor – being named a Goldwater Scholar. She was one of four Mizzou students to earn the honor.

“What I love about research is that is allows me to take what I learn in the classroom and apply it to real-life problems,” McDougal said. “Finding those connections between my classes and my projects is neat and very rewarding. It’s motivating, too, as it shows why it’s vital to take your coursework seriously.

“We just have so many great resources at Mizzou, especially if you’re interested in research. No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a world-class faculty member here studying it. As a student who is interested in several things, it’s perfect for me.”

Ulery’s laboratory has a handful of projects, and McDougal is part of one focused on targeted peptide delivery. The group is creating biomodulatory materials capable of therapeutically targeting the immune response to prevent or treat infectious diseases and cancer. McDougal said the project is incredibly interdisciplinary.

“We are making the vehicles or packages that transport those medicines to where they need to go,” McDougal said. “Peptide drugs injected directly into the patient’s blood are not targeted directly to the site of the malignancy, which decreases the efficacy of the treatment. We are working on taking those drugs and putting it in a package that can latch onto the disease and release the drug at the specific disease site. The goal is to improve quality of life and help alleviate some of those tough side effects.”

As a Goldwater Scholar, McDougal is part of one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. A total of 413 scholars were named this year, from an estimated pool of 5,000 college sophomores and juniors. McDougal worked with the Office of Global and National Fellowships throughout the application process. 

“It was very exciting to be named a Goldwater Scholar,” McDougal said. “I was at the Stamps Scholar National Convention when I saw the news, and I honestly didn’t believe it. It was a lot of work, and I’m thankful for the support I received. It’s incredible that all four of us were able secure the award.”

McDougal, who is pursuing the Honors certificate at MU, was part of the 2021 Stamps Scholars cohort. One of Mizzou’s premier scholarships, the program helps guide exceptional students as they become meaningful leaders throughout society. 

“There is so much support within the Honors College,” McDougal said. “Through the College, I was encouraged to take advantage of all the resources available to me, especially those related to research. The entire Honors community has been supportive and helped me build an experience that has been beyond valuable.”

McDougal said the chemical engineering degree program has been a perfect fit for her as well. When McDougal chose Mizzou, she knew she wanted to find a degree that would allow her to combine her interest areas. She has been able to do that and develop leadership skills, too.

“What I love about chemical engineering is that I get to accumulate these technical skills and put them to use to solve problems,” McDougal said. “I really enjoy problem solving, and this degree, as well as my research, has allowed me to do just that. I have also found that I have a passion and talent for sharing the knowledge I’ve gathered. I like mentoring younger students and helping them on their journeys.”

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This story originally appeared on the MU Honors College website.