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AUSTIN EDITION McKnight honors go to leader of Hormel Institute

By Roxana Orellana

rorellana@postbulletin.com

In the midst of an event celebrating the growth of his institute, a local scientist was surprised with a prestigious personal award.

Dr. Zigang Dong, executive director of the Hormel Institute, was named a McKnight presidential professor in cancer research and prevention Monday.

The news came as a surprise to Dong, who already was celebrating the groundbreaking for a $20 million expansion of the institute.

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Robert Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota, presented the news to Dong.

"One of the reasons we're here is the extraordinary leadership of Dr. Dong and his colleagues," Bruininks said. "He really has moved this institute forward not only in our state and in our country. This is a place that works across disciplines and embraces very important partnerships."

The professorships are made possible by a $15 million gift from the McKnight Foundation.

The gift was to establish professorships at the University of Minnesota that recognize path-breaking, world-class research. Bruininks said the funds are dedicated to keeping the faculty the university has and recruiting world-class leaders in science technology and other fields.

"This is a total surprise," Dong said after hearing the news. "I am very excited and proud. It's a big honor."

Dong became the executive director of the institute in 2001. Under his leadership, research funding to the institute has tripled and staff has doubled, according to institute staff.

Dong is a professor and leader of the institute's cellular and molecular biology section. His section was awarded a grant through the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics.

To receive the award, candidates have to run the gauntlet, Bruininks said. However, Dong was unaware he was in the running. His friends and colleagues submitted his records. Faculty and a senior academic vice president of the university review the application and recommendation.

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"We wanted to show you how deeply proud we are of your work at the University of Minnesota, and this is a fitting way to honor you," Bruininks told Dong

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