2015 - Rich Etchberger
Rich Etchberger, a wildlife science professor at Utah State University’s Uintah Basin campus (UBC) in Vernal, has been named the 2015 Carnegie Professor of the Year for the state of Utah by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Etchberger, who created the wildlife science program at UBC when he arrived in 1995, was presented the award during a ceremony Nov. 19 in Washington D.C.
“I motivate my students to grasp the opportunities to change their lives, to earn a degree and to contribute to their community,” Etchberger said. “I have been extremely fortunate to work with an amazing bunch of undergraduate students over the past 20 years.”
That dedication and focus on his students’ successes is one of the many reasons Etchberger took home the award that salutes the most outstanding undergraduate educators in the country. As one of only 35 to take home the award, Etchberger is the 14th honoree from USU.
Etchberger’s passion for mentoring undergraduates, particularly non-traditional students, led him to begin his career in the Department of Wildland Resources in the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources at the UBC in the mid-1990s. It was here that he dedicated himself to inspiring his students to make an impact on natural resources and the economy at the small, rural campus located in the heart of Utah’s energy development corridor in northeastern Utah.
“Dr. Etchberger pioneered a very hands-on wildlife science bachelor’s degree at the USU Uintah Basin campus,” said USU President Stan L. Albrecht. “His vision has given local, often non-traditional students a route to professional careers they would never have been able to achieve otherwise. Graduates from his program now dominate the Bureau of Land Management activities and policies in the Basin area, and he is responsible for balancing the Basin’s environmental health with its newfound economic growth.”
Etchberger encourages student enthusiasm by having them try their hands at fieldwork during their first semester in the wildlife science program. Every class he teaches draws upon his research and students joining him on field projects learn to solve authentic questions, such as how to successfully reintroduce the black-footed ferret into the Pariette Wetlands located in the Basin.
“Part of Rich’s advantageous teaching style is his integration of using classroom teachings combined with in-the-field, hands-on instruction, often working side-by-side with a professional organization such as the Bureau of Land Management,” said Darren Williams, Pariette Wetlands manager for the Bureau of Land Management and USU wildlife science graduate.
Etchberger has received 65 grants with more than $2.4 million in funding to help support more than 300 undergraduate research and internship students during his time with the university. His undergraduate researchers have published in peer reviewed journals and presented at 26 professional meetings.
“Rich takes being an excellent teacher beyond the classroom by ensuring that the wildlife students in the Basin get experience through internships, where he eventually helps many of them get career jobs with agencies and businesses through his contacts,” said Michael Kuhns, professor and head of USU’s Wildland Resources department.
In addition to his teaching load, Etchberger also serves as the faculty mentor for all undergraduate students in the Wildland Resources introductory and advanced internship courses and the undergraduate research courses at the Uintah Basin campus of USU. This includes summer internship programs with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, both of which are funded and provide students with paid internships working with natural resource professionals.
“I am delighted that 100 percent of the alumni of my program have started successful careers, have gone on to graduate school, or both,” Etchberger said.
As a pioneer of eLearning at USU, Etchberger’s online courses have helped bridge the divide between traditional pedagogy and innovative instructional design. He is most famous among students for his online course, USU 1350 Integrated Life Science, which was one of the first online courses offered in support of the USU general education program in 2002.
“Rich continually revises and refines this popular multimedia-rich general education science course, which is consistently rated among the highest in student evaluations, not just for online, but for all courses,” said Dave Woolstenhulme, vice provost at USU.
Etchberger believes science should be accessible to everyone and he produced the 1350 integrated life science class with that in mind. To make it relevant, accessible and engaging to students in all areas of study, Etchberger traveled the world and created videos and other multimedia materials to help students realize how science fits into their lives.
As a committed member of the USU community, Etchberger also contributes to the scholarship of learning by sharing the success of his teaching, undergraduate internship programs and research programs with his USU peers through a series of symposiums and workshops. His success of using the flipped learning model, where students watch and read content before class and then apply it to an in-class discussion, is of particular interest.
However, it is Etchberger’s love of students and the Uintah Basin area he is most known for.
“My passion for teaching is a direct result of the relationships that I have built with my students, and, because of strong backing from the Wildland Resources department and the administration in Logan, I am able to focus on my students,” Etchberger said.
Lisa Boyd, a current USU master’s candidate in natural resources, said that if you mention Dr. Etchberger’s name, or “Dr. E” as he is affectionately known, that you will see a big smile followed by stories of learning and gratitude, both from former students with fond memories and from employers who are grateful for the volunteer work from Etchberger and also for his group of well-trained students.
“I am most proud that the Vernal community is a better place because of my research contributions and achievements, as well as those of my students,” Etchberger said. “I remain deeply dedicated to the legacy of learning that I have created at the Uintah Basin campus of Utah State University.”
Etchberger’s teaching has given him many accolades over the years, including most recently being named the 2014 Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year for the College of Natural Resources at USU. In 2011, Etchberger was named as the Professor of the Year for USU-Uintah Basin. He received a bachelor’s in ecology from Unity College in Maine followed by both a master’s and doctorate in wildlife ecology from the University of Arizona. In 2014, his student, David Baird, was selected as the top undergraduate researcher at the USU Robins Awards.
“I am thrilled to receive the Carnegie Award, yet I am also humbled because I would have achieved little without the support of others,” Etchberger said. “This is a tremendous honor not only for me, but also for the wildlife science program at USU Uintah Basin.”
“When Rich visits the main campus in Logan, he is often stopped by students who want to introduce themselves to the teacher they have only seen on video. His contribution to undergraduate education exemplifies the utmost in extraordinary dedication.” — Dave Woolstenhulme, vice provost, Utah State University
“The experience I gained helping to manage the Pariette Wetlands for one season under Rich’s guidance as a USU undergraduate cemented my passion and desire to work as a professional wildlife biologist for the rest of my career. As fate would have it, I had the amazing opportunity and good fortune to be selected as the Pariette Wetlands Manager for the Bureau of Land Management in 2008. Subsequently, I now work with Rich on a professional level, in part, keeping an 18 year internship agreement in place in order to continue to provide students with the best opportunities available.” — Darren Williams, Pariette Wetlands Manager, Bureau of Land Management and USU graduate
“Dr. Etchberger’s purpose is obvious — to bring world-class education to undergraduates in the Uintah Basin and to send them to productive careers. He provided inspiration and guidance throughout my education and by the time I graduated, I had presented at three different professional conferences, I was awarded honorable mention at a national level for my research and had garnered three prestigious awards.” — David Baird, Natural Resources Specialist, Bureau of Land Management and USU graduate
“Dr. Etchberger works long and hard behind the scenes to obtain funding, internships and establish working relationships with the wildlife community. Through his hard work, he is able to provide his students with internships and activities that provide essential hands-on experience so many employers look for.” — Lisa Boyd, master’s candidate, USU Natural Resources