Lianna Etchberger: A Legacy of Community Engagement, Research Excellence, Educational Stewardship
By Marcus Jensen |
MOAB, Utah — A biologist, researcher, educator and campus administrator, Lianna Etchberger has announced her retirement at the end of June 2023. After 28 years at Utah State University and six years as the associate vice president of USU Moab, Etchberger leaves behind a legacy of community engagement, educational stewardship and research excellence.
“This is definitely a bittersweet decision,” Etchberger said. “I love Utah State University and our land-grant mission. And it has been an absolute privilege to lead the most amazing faculty and staff at USU Moab these past six years. They all put students first and enjoy working together to get the job done. They have taught me so many life lessons that I am forever grateful for.”
A career celebration event will be held in Etchberger’s honor from 4-6 p.m. June 8 at the USU Moab campus. All staff, faculty and community members are welcome to attend. Refreshments will be served.
“When Lianna was brought in to lead USU Moab, I said she would excel in this role and would be an asset to the local community, and she has done all of that and more,” said Laurens H. Smith, USU provost and former vice president for Statewide Campuses. “Lianna leaves behind a legacy of selfless service to Utah State University and to the region of Moab that won’t soon be forgotten. We wish her all the best as she moves to this exciting new chapter with her husband Rich.”
Etchberger joined the USU Uintah Basin faculty in 1995 as an adjunct lecturer in the department of biology. She earned a bachelor’s in microbiology from the University of California at Los Angeles and a doctorate in molecular biology from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. She would work as a doctoral research associate at the University of Arizona before joining USU.
Early in her teaching career, Etchberger came to realize the importance of thinking like an educator, not just like a scientist. She began viewing learning from a student’s perspective and recognizing that every student has a different way of absorbing information. Etchberger continually studied how to best help students succeed and adapted her philosophies accordingly.
“I initially viewed learning very narrowly as a student’s ability to understand content,” Etchberger said. “As I developed my teaching philosophy, I began focusing on what my students were doing and on what skills they were developing as they learned new material and integrated it into their conceptual framework of biology. I strive to create an equitable and inclusive learning environment to support learning by all of my students.”
Because of this intentional focus on her own teaching development, Etchberger gained recognition as an educator that could provide insights for others. She worked as a mentor for biology faculty from R1 institutions across the country as a National Academies teaching fellow and later as a National Academies teaching mentor. This experience helped Etchberger better understand how unconscious biases can create barriers to students’ learning and ways to be more inclusive. Etchberger would go on to become a tenured professor in 2015.
“Dr. Etchberger has been a valued colleague," said Michelle Baker, dean of USU’s College of Science. "She is an outstanding scientist, mentor and administrator, and has been a pivotal leader for USU’s Statewide Campuses throughout eastern Utah. She’s not only led with innovation and intelligence, but with compassion and generosity, creating outstanding learning experiences and opportunities for students and the communities in which she’s served.”
In 2017, Etchberger had the opportunity to apply for the campus leadership position at USU Moab. Having seen her husband, Rich, make the successful transition from faculty to administration as vice provost for Statewide Campuses, Lianna decided to do the same and she became the AVP for USU Moab. Etchberger has loved working with USU’s first female president, Noelle E. Cockett, who Etchberger admires and thanks for the support she has shown for Statewide Campuses and technical education.
Under Etchberger’s instrumental leadership, the Moab campus has seen many successes and a literal groundbreaking. Etchberger was an influential voice and collaborator in the conception, construction and opening of USU Moab’s net-zero campus building, which opened its doors to students beginning in the summer 2022 semester. The building is one of many examples that Etchberger sees of how post-secondary education has a profound impact on communities.
“It has been amazing to work with the Moab community and to build a beautiful new building from the groundwork that Steve Hawks laid before me,” Etchberger said. “Seeing the impact that post-secondary education has on a community is astounding. So many people at USU collaborate to make that happen on a daily basis.”
Lianna and Rich now are looking forward to returning to Tucson, Arizona, to be near their daughter.
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