an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

From Rhodes Scholar to Food Science
By Mark Tarnacki, staff writer

Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of the Saint Michael's College Magazine.

Michael Koziol’s energy and enthusiasm for science sizzled like the two pans of frying buttered onions that he’d set up on lab burner-plates in a Cheray lecture hall to dramatize a key point about food chemistry, drafting four student “cooks” from the audience to help. The free-wheeling interactive guest lecture came a day before Koziol ’73, the college’s first Rhodes Scholar, was inducted into the Saint Michael’s College Academic Hall of Fame at Academic Convocation last fall.                                       

Enjoying rapid-fire, smart and fun repartee with science faculty, students and a few former professors, Koziol, now an internationally prominent educator and researcher, made the most of his first visit back to campus since sailing for England and the University of Oxford nearly 35 years ago. He also represented Oxford at the inauguration of President John Neuhauser and spent time among students and faculty for formal and informal occasions over three days.

Among the world’s experts in food science, Koziol is founding dean of the College of Agriculture, Foods and Nutrition at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador after 13 years heading the Scientific Support Laboratories for the Nestle in Quito. Following his Rhodes studies, he stayed at Oxford doing post-doctoral research funded by the British government for several years, then decided he would like to live in Ecuador based on beautiful photos he’d seen. Knowing no Spanish at the time, he was glad to have always been a fast learner. Now he delivers complex lectures in the language.

Koziol has vivid recollections of the day he went to Boston to be interviewed by a panel of eminent former Rhodes Scholars from all fields who would choose just four men from 12 candidates to represent the Northeast region among the 32 scholars selected annually nationwide.

Before he went, he was told that nobody from a Vermont college had ever won a Rhodes and surely never would, so he should just relax and enjoy the experience. Koziol, though very nervous, had other ideas. “We had questions from politics to molecular genetics – they could ask you anything at all – and it was frightening,” he remembered. Other state’s finalists who had survived grueling preliminary interview rounds represented the nation’s most elite institutions.

“My way of dealing with anxiety is to fall asleep,” Koziol said. “So I’m sitting with these other guys in the fancy gentleman’s club in Boston waiting to be interviewed and I fell asleep in my chair. I think it psyched the other guys right out, since they thought I was super-confident,” he said with a laugh. “When they announced four winners out of 12, they had to shake me to wake me up.”

Koziol’s Oxford thesis was “Effects of prolonged exposure to SO2 on the growth and carbohydrate metabolism of soyabean and ryegrass.” When funding dried up for his Oxford research after many years of post-doctoral work, he looked to the private sector.

During his R&D work at Nestle in Ecuador, Koziol discovered “how fascinating food chemistry could be.” He loved the challenges of trouble-shooting and problem-solving in the manufacturing process of different products. “When working with food, there’s such a complex matrix — everything from biochemistry to physiology of taste and aroma, and it’s just incredibly fascinating,” he explained.

Koziol’s move to full-time work at the university coincided with the closing of the Nestle facility in Ecuador, and he became immersed in every aspect of starting the new nutrition school from scratch, helping design the facilities and curriculum. “That was an all-encompassing job and I was only recently able to get back into research,” he said, noting he’s been nine years “getting everything organized according to an international standard of quality,” which is his top priority. He insists his students learn by doing practical, quality work.

Among fun facts Koziol shared in his guest lecture were that MSG (monosodium glutamate) is not what makes people feel funny after they eat Asian food as is commonly believed – rather, it’s the soy. He thinks MSG is a great product, and showed how onions will brown much faster when MSG is mixed in since it changes the cooking chemistry. He also shared how, chemically speaking, the perfect protein for humans to ingest would be other humans since it has everything the body needs in just the right proportions.

His work has taken him to all corners of the globe, and he has become an able chef, connoisseur and expert in various cuisines. He participated in developing products such as Jungle Chili banana chips for The Exotic Blends Company of Quito, for which he has created a cookbook and Web site, and has developed four Exotic Blends spicy sauces with names like Ginger Zinger and Andean Delight.

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