Campus Life

Accidental Professor' Shares Journey at USU Inaugural Prof Lecture

Professor Nancy Mesner, center, with Provost Noelle Cockett, QCNR Dean Chris Luecke, Watershed Sciences Department Head Peter Wilcock and USU First Lady Joyce Albrecht, was honored Oct. 12, during USU's 2015-16 Inaugural Professor Lecture Series.

Utah State University scholar Nancy Mesner took a road less traveled to her current posts as professor and Extension specialist, as well as a recent post as associate dean. It’s a journey, she says, that’s yielded surprises, learning, some challenges and, frankly, a lot of fun.

“My kids still tease me about ‘Mom’s Lost Years,’” says Mesner, who recounted her professional journey with family and friends Oct. 13 at the USU President’s Home. Her presentation, “The Accidental Professor,” was the second talk in the university’s 2015-16 Inaugural Professor Lecture Series. Coordinated by the Provost’s Office, the series highlights the accomplishments of faculty who have been promoted to full professor in the past year.

“When I say ‘accidental,’ I don’t mean catastrophic,” says Mesner, professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and the USU Ecology Center and director of USU Water Quality Extension. “Rather, I mean serendipitous happenings, where I saw an opportunity and took a chance.”

Unlike many of her colleagues, Mesner didn’t initially aspire to an academic career. After completing a bachelor’s degree in marine ecology at Oregon State University, the Michigan-born scholar earned dual master’s degrees in limnology and environmental engineering from the University of Washington. Following graduation, she worked as a water quality planner for Seattle Metro and as a natural resources specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Mesner arrived in Utah in 1989, and went to work as a research technician at USU’s Utah Water Research Laboratory. She subsequently joined an environmental consulting firm, where she spent eight years as a project manager on water quality projects throughout Utah and Idaho.

“During that time, I was offered the opportunity to teach an oceanography course at USU,” she says. “It was a last-minute request that came about because another instructor cancelled. I thought ‘Why not?’”

Additional teaching assignments followed and Mesner was eventually offered a tenured position and her current Extension appointment.

“I discovered a joy of teaching and realized how much you can learn from your students,” she says. “At the same time, I saw the need for water quality education in public schools and in the community.”

In her Extension role, Mesner leads statewide educational efforts in water quality assessment and monitoring. She initiated Extension’s successful Utah Water Watch citizen volunteer monitoring program and leads workshops for public school teachers. In collaboration with the Utah State Office of Education, she led development of the state’s 9th grade Earth Systems Science core curriculum called “Stream Side Science.” In 2004, former Gov. Olene Walker presented Mesner with a Utah Watershed Improvement Award in recognition of these efforts.

Mesner and her Extension team continue to develop outreach tools, including interactive displays at statewide visitors’ centers and a website of Utah’s watersheds, as well as a series of Youtube videos.

Mesner has also been a major contributor to two long-running educational outreach programs: September’s Natural Resource Field Days, which, for more than 30 years, have welcomed some 1,500 4th graders each season to outdoor learning activities in Logan Canyon and June’s Bear River Celebration, a community-wide, family friendly outreach event at Logan’s Willow Park held in conjunction with the state’s Free Fishing Day.

“I never tire of working with young people and watching them discover nature,” she says. “It never gets old.”

In addition to her teaching and outreach roles, Mesner serves on the Utah Water Quality Task Force, which affords her the opportunity to work with state, federal and private partners. In cooperation with the group, she recently completed the Utah Clean Water Partnership website, a “one-stop” resource featuring interactive maps, videos and success stories highlighting statewide water quality protection efforts.

“We’re applying science to how we monitor our rivers, streams and lakes and using technology to monitor them in a more effective and thorough way,” she says. “Together, we’re really having an impact on how our rivers work, understanding the impact of our human activities and learning whether or not our mitigation efforts are successful.”

Related links:

Contact: Nancy Mesner, 435-797-7541,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

Professor Nancy Mesner, right, teaches a group of citizen scientists about watersheds. Mesner fills teaching, research, outreach and Extension roles and serves on the Utah Water Quality Task Force.


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