Science & Technology

Aggie Women Lead: Lisa Berreau, VP of Research, on Using Every Day to Learn Something New

"Use every day to learn something new."

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

Editor’s Note: As part of a series, Utah State Today is publishing profiles on a variety of leaders. This interview with Vice President of Research Lisa Berreau is in observation of March as Women’s History Month.

Utah State Today: Tell me, at what age did you know you wanted to enter your current field and leadership role? What sparked your initial interest in your field?

Lisa Berreau: My passion for research really emerged during my graduate studies at Iowa State University. It was there that I found out how exciting it could be to study beautifully colored metal complexes and chemical reactions that had not previously been investigated.

My postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota focused on investigations of the roles of metals in biology. Inorganic chemistry at the interface of biology is where I’ve focused much of my independent research.

My interest in leadership developed in part through sports (primarily basketball) during high school. I have always admired athletes and coaches who could inspire their teams to achieve new levels of success.

I think of research similarly, because leading researchers strive to inspire and support those around them to push the boundaries of knowledge and possibilities. Sports also teaches you how to handle defeat and how to pick yourself up when things didn’t go as planned. Many have likely heard me say the Minnesota Vikings have taught me resilience.

UST: Were there specific individuals or events that inspired and influenced your career choices?

LB: I went to a very small high school in Minnesota where I was positively influenced by numerous dedicated teachers and coaches. I am especially grateful to my high school English and chemistry teachers, and my coaches, who provided me with a solid foundation on which to pursue college and life.

I owe my work ethic to my dad, who showed me the importance of putting in hard work to produce high-quality outcomes. I don’t think any of these people would have predicted that I would become a Ph.D. scientist involved in research. However, the fundamentals they helped me develop have helped immensely throughout my career.”

UST: Was there a major influence that got you down the path you are currently on?

LB: During my freshman year in college, I thought that I might become an engineer. However, it was my freshman chemistry courses and additional undergraduate courses in inorganic chemistry that solidified my future. There is a beauty in the chemistry of metals that I will always find fascinating.

In terms of administrative leadership, I was hired to serve as associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science soon after I received tenure. I saw very different approaches to leadership working for more than a decade under four different deans (as well as with a terrific associate dean colleague).

I appreciate the lessons in strategic thinking and patience that I learned during that time. I can’t imagine serving as vice president for research without having been deeply involved in research from both a personal and administrative perspective for many years.

UST: What is some advice you have been given that helped you on your journey? What advice would you give to other young people who are aspiring to follow their passion?

LB: Use every day to learn something new. Network with people and seek out the perspectives of others. Work smart and don’t be afraid to fail. Forge your own path. I think these approaches to leadership have greatly contributed to my personal success.

I also think they form the basis of creative leadership — something needed now, especially, in every work environment. We are living through rapidly changing times, where the ways of the past need to be reconsidered in the context of current demands and opportunities. These approaches can set you apart by showcasing both the knowledge you bring to the table and the creative ways you can contribute.

UST: What is a major project or initiative you are currently working on in your current field and leadership role?

LB: As vice president for research, my focus is on facilitating USU’s strategic growth as an R1 research university. Now more than ever, our research efforts must positively impact the daily lives of our neighbors, the state and the nation.

I work every day to facilitate opportunities and training for faculty and students that advance their research efforts while also working to sustain the team of outstanding professionals who staff our research infrastructure for campus.

Currently, for example, we are developing new approaches that bring together cross-cutting teams of researchers to address societal challenges. This semester, the Office of Research launched the “Research Summits” series. In this, groups of researchers meet at the Maverik Stadium Champions Club to discuss research in societally important areas and to discover related funding opportunities. This is all done in an environment that promotes professional networking and socializing.

My research is inspired by the fact that we still have much to learn about the roles of small molecules in biology. Over the past 10 years, my laboratory has developed molecular tools to examine the life-supporting roles of carbon monoxide (CO) in biology. Our various publications and a patent demonstrate that a well-known class of compounds called flavonols can be used to deliver controlled amounts of CO in cellular environments.

UST: What inspires you about your current leadership role?

LB: I strongly believe that research performed at USU improves the quality of our human existence, impacting lives locally, nationally and internationally. I am inspired by our faculty and students, who continue to push boundaries of knowledge and who challenge the status quo.

I am inspired that so many USU undergraduates are involved in research and that we have one of the strongest undergraduate research programs in the nation to facilitate their training. This keeps me focused on using my energy and creativity to move USU forward as a Carnegie R1 research institution.

Additionally, I am inspired by administrative and staff colleagues across main campus and throughout the statewide system. Their collective expertise and efforts sustain the landscape on which research, teaching and outreach can thrive at Utah State University.

Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.

Next Story in Science & Technology

See Also