Campus Life

USU Inaugural Professor says 'Don't Believe You Can’t Save the World’

Utah State University professor Karen Beard believes every research project you pursue should have people asking, “You did what?!?”

“When someone says something can’t be done, I like to prove them wrong,” says Beard, who joined USU’s Department of Wildland Resources and the USU Ecology Center in 2002. “This has been a motivating theme in my research.”

She grew up in Venice Beach, Calif., but the hip town’s film, television and music scene wasn’t her primary focus. Instead, the budding scientist preferred seeking out insects in her parents’ backyard and mapping out fruit trees in her neighborhood.

“I guess I was a bit different from the other kids,” says Beard, who shared her professional journey in the talk “Oh! The Places You’ll Go” with family and friends Nov. 12 at the USU President’s Home. Her presentation was the 7th talk in the university’s 2014-15 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.

My parents encouraged me to follow my passions,” she says. “In high school, I started learning about environmental and conservation issues and volunteered as a marine protected areas steward for our local ‘Heal the Bay’ chapter.”

Following high school graduation, Beard headed to the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with honors in molecular and cell biology and environmental sciences. During her undergrad career, she participated in ecological field research in Costa Rica.

“That experience opened me up to the field of conservation ecology and new research possibilities,” she says.

She spent another summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

“From that experience I learned more about research, including collecting data and asking probing questions,” Beard says. “I also published by first research article.”

Her advisor encouraged her to pursue graduate study at the Yale School of Forestry, where Beard earned a master’s degree in ecosystem science and management in 1996 and a doctorate in forestry and environmental studies in 2001.

At USU, Beard is active in several ecological research projects, including a National Science Foundation-funded venture in Alaska, as well as projects in Brazil, Hawaii, Utah, South Africa and the Pacific Northwest.

She also guides her students in NSF-funded, multi-university research networks that allow them to explore large-scale ecological questions and contribute to important national studies.

“Team work and collaboration is the way to do science,” Beard says. “It’s so much more fun and enriching.  I tell students to ‘trust serendipity and take advantage of it. You never know where it will lead.’”

Appreciative of those who mentored her, she recognizes the importance of giving back. In addition to mentoring USU students, Beard serves on the board of Logan Canyon’s Stokes Nature Center, the Board of Governors for the Society for Society for Conservation Biology and as an editor for the journal Biological Conservation.

“I challenge those who say ‘You can’t change the world,’” she says. “Because you can.”

Related links:

Contact: Karen Beard, 435-797-8220, karen.beard@usu.edu

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

Karen Beard and USU administrators at Inaugural Professor event

Professor Karen Beard, second from left, with Chris Luecke, dean of the Quinney College of Natural Resources, USU First Lady Joyce Albrecht and Provost Noelle Cockett, was honored Nov. 12 during USU's 2014-15 Inaugural Professor Lecture Series.

USU professor Karen Beard with tundra swan nest in Alaska

USU ecologist Karen Beard kneels beside a tundra swan nest in Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwin Delta. 'Trust serendipity and take advantage of it,’ says the professor, whose research has taken her around the globe.

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