By Alex Kohut
One glance at Dave Swenson’s office reveals he’s not one to adhere to strict form. A nine-point buck’s head adorns a wall. Around the corner on the adjacent wall is the buck’s mounted backside.
The University’s H.H. Dow Endowed Chair has used a similar twist on the conventional his entire life, dabbling in a myriad of scientific endeavors during his career.
Swenson will close out his tenure at the University this week and embark on yet another endeavor.
“There comes a time in your life when you begin to realize it’s time to move on,” Swenson says.
His 12-year stay at the University is the longest stop Swenson’s made during his nearly 40-year career.
A string of health issues left Swenson with an energy level he says he thinks is too low for his current position, which aided his decision to move on.
Swenson isn’t ready to sit idly by in retirement, however. He hopes to embark on a team project in the Bahamas some time next year. Funding is the only thing holding up his team’s departure.
“In my mind, I’m already there,” he says.
The potential project is a cyclical operation that would involve Swenson’s team extracting vegetable oil from algae. Approximately 10,000 gallons of the oil can be extracted from every acre of algae. The oil is then converted to bio diesel fuel.
That number is a considerably higher figure than the amount possible to extract from other sources such as canola and soy.
A dry protein feed is left behind following the extraction of the oil, which Swenson says will go to feed animals such as pigs and chickens.
The process ensures nothing is wasted. Swenson has adhered to a similar philosophy throughout his life.
“You can’t solve complex issues with simple thinking,” he says. “But you can’t solve complex issues without simplifying.”
Though Swenson accomplished a great deal during his time at the University, he says he doesn’t believe in sticking with the same thing for too long.
“When you start to fade, the only way to rejuvenate yourself is to move on,” he says.
Some people respond to such scenarios by taking a sabbatical. Swenson, however, considers such action a “poor man’s job change.”
“People take sabbaticals with the intention of recharging, but they return and it’s not long before they’re in the same rut again,” he says.
Despite Swenson’s believe in periodic relocation, he says he has respect for those who are able to remain at the same job for a lengthy period of time.
“If you find someone who’s been at the same job for a long time, congratulate them,” he says. “Because that means they’ve got an inner fiber they can continue to draw from.”
During his time at the University, Swenson worked on several initiatives, such as the Greenhouse Project and a handful of Down syndrome collaborations.
Instructor of Chemistry Edward Meisel met Swenson while working on the Greenhouse Project upon Meisel’s arrival at the University in 2005.
“Some people as they age get stuck in their ways,” Meisel says. “But I found Dave to be very moldable and open to new ideas.”
Meisel says this openness to new concepts helped make Swenson popular with his students, staff and faculty.
Meisel recalls Swenson getting a standing ovation for a commencement speech, an occurrence later found was a rarity.
Like his professional life, Swenson’s academic career was also eclectic.
He studied at the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and did his post-doctrine work in England.
Swenson’s resume includes a list of locations scattered across the country.
He worked as a research chemist in 1977 at the National Center for Toxicology Research in Jefferson, AK.
Swenson later moved to moved to Kalamazoo, where he worked for The Upjohn Company’s genetic toxicology unit. The company is well-known for developing and manufacturing Motrin.
Swenson says he grew tired of corporate life and by 1987, decided to head out west. He relocated to Phoenix, AZ and developed Karkinos Biochem Inc., where he designed and tested anti-cancer agents.
Never one to get too comfortable, Swenson again relocated in 1990, this time to Louisiana, where he worked at Louisiana State University’s veterinary school.
Swenson arrived at the University in 1996, taking on a role in the chemistry department.
Though the laundry list of significant changes Swenson’s made in his life could intimidate some, he says taking such risks are a necessity.
“If you’re afraid to take a chance, chances are you’ll miss out on something really good.”