Teaching & Learning

Bridging the Gap in USU Distance Education

When it comes to teaching, Rich Etchberger, associate professor at Utah State University Uintah Basin Regional Campus, will not settle for wooden boats.

"There are 'wooden boat' people who accept the first working solution that comes to them," Etchberger said. "I am not a 'wooden boat' person. Instead, I focus on finding new and better ways to reach a goal or overcome a problem."

Etchberger is just one example of the professors and researchers at Utah State and at the USU Uintah Basin campus. The Uintah Basin campus is the largest of the three regional campuses with more than 2,350 students enrolled in fall 2006.

USU Uintah Basin currently offers three associate's degrees, 12 bachelor's and seven master's degrees. In addition, minors, endorsements and certificates are available as well as a Doctorate of Education. Campus facilities in Roosevelt and Vernal include classroom and administration buildings and a student center.

Etchberger was a non-traditional student and his experiences fuel his excitement about the opportunity to teach distance learning students. According to Etchberger, distance learning provides a challenge to find more than a 'wooden boat' solution.

"These students are really place and time bound, but they are determined to get an education," Etchberger said. "I am happy to help remove some of the road blocks that are standing in their way. With the new technology becoming available, it is possible to take education all over the world. Distance education is really about taking the courses to the students."

Etchberger feels that a quality education is more than technology and must include real-life, hands-on learning experiences. He makes an effort to involve students in research projects, field trips and tracking.

"From owl calling to bird identification to stream sampling, there was always something to see, touch or hear," Stephanie Tomkinson, a former student of Etchberger's said. "Every class I had with Rich involved field trips. He knows that is where the real learning takes place, that's when it sticks."

Dave Evans recently graduated with a bachelor's degree and worked closely with Etchberger. Evans was impressed with how quickly Etchberger developed a personal interest in his students. "All through my undergraduate program, I always felt good when I left his office or his classroom because I knew I had learned something valuable that I could use immediately," Evans said.

Evans worked with Etchberger on field projects as a wildlife intern in the Pariette Wetlands. The internship program is a one-year assignment in which current wildlife students get opportunities to work and earn money, as well as gain experience in the field before graduation.

From hands-on learning opportunities to internships and alumni networking, Etchberger collaborates with government and private agencies to create internship and job opportunities for his students.

"Rich seems to love his job and helping students succeed," Tomkinson said. "When I graduated and got a job, he told me to keep the USU program in mind if I ever needed interns."

"My company will be using summer interns and Rich will be the first person I call," he said. "Dr. E is not just a professor, he is a mentor for many people. Most professors I had will become faded memories, but Dr. E will always be part of my network. I look forward to working with him for many, many years."

Etchberger enjoys staying in contact with his former students and living and working in the Uintah Basin.

"It is great to live in the basin and have graduates out there that you see every day," Etchberger said. "They run businesses. Their kids go to school with my kids. We are part of a community, and that is what I was looking for when I started teaching. I wanted to be part of a university community, but also a good neighbor."

Contact: Rich Etchberger, 435-789-6100.

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