Dr. Lianna Etchberger will serve as the new executive director of USU-Moab and the Southwest region. Her husband Rich Etchberger is the USU vice provost. [Courtesy photo]

A changing of the guard is coming to Utah State University-Moab.

Effective July 1, Dr. Lianna Etchberger will take over as executive director of USU-Moab after serving as a faculty member for the Department of Biology at USU-Uintah Basin.

Her appointment comes as a two-for-one deal for Moab: Her husband Rich Etchberger is the USU vice provost.

“Having the Etchbergers as a USU resource in Moab will be a tremendous asset to the local community,” USU interim provost Laurens Smith said. “It’s an exciting time as we enter a new period of growth built upon the strong foundation by our previous administration’s leadership.” 

The dean and executive director positions were previously held concurrently by Dr. Steve Hawks. Hawks plans to remain in Moab where he will teach and help develop a new master’s of public health program.

“I’ve been the dean for nine and a half years and I’ve loved it,” Hawks said. “This is my hometown and it’s been fantastic to help build USU-Moab. Now I’m looking forward to returning to my true passions of teaching, research and working with students.”

Hawks said he will continue to support the development of a USU-Moab regional campus, and that he has great confidence in Etchberger.

“I’ve known Lianna for 10 years and I’m extremely impressed with her,” Hawks said. “She will be a very capable leader for the new campus.”

USU-Moab has had a presence in the area for more than 50 years, but momentum is gaining for construction of a state-of-the-art, permanent campus with the hope that construction will begin within the next few years.

Etchberger said that Hawks had laid a strong foundation for higher education at USU-Moab, and that she is looking forward to taking advantage of the momentum he has generated.

“Steve has assembled a fantastic team of staff and faculty who are very focused on providing the best student experience for every student who walks through the door,” Etchberger said. “He has partnered with the community to integrate higher education as an integral piece of Moab’s future.”

Etchberger earned a bachelor’s in microbiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in molecular biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to USU, she worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Arizona.

A respected researcher and renowned national teaching expert, Etchberger has more than 22 years of academic, professional and university service in the USU regional campus system. She climbed through the ranks, starting as an adjunct lecturer in the Uintah Basin in 1995. She became a full tenured professor in 2015.

“I am excited about using my background as a regional campus faculty member to have a more significant impact on student success in rural Utah,” Etchberger said. “And I am eager to expand the impact of higher education beyond the classroom and into the communities here in Moab and the Southwest region.”

Etchberger said that regional campuses play an important role in higher education because most of the students are place-bound and would never have the opportunity to earn a degree otherwise.

Etchberger said that she has learned firsthand that each student is an individual with their own goals and circumstances. She said that personal attention is needed in helping students identify a degree that will help them reach their life goals.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan that fits all USU locations because each has its own unique needs,” she said. “The best learning experiences are personally meaningful, encourage personal connection with the instructor and involve empowerment and ‘doing’ the discipline in the classroom.”

As part of the bargain, Moab will gain USU vice provost Rich Etchberger.

“I was extremely happy when I learned that Lianna had been selected as the executive director for Moab,” Rich Etchberger said. “After all of the years of thinking that Moab was one of the best places to visit, we now get the chance to join the community. We are very honored and excited to do that!”

Rich Etchberger said his role with USU won’t change very much, and that it doesn’t matter where he is based. He said that he spends much of his time traveling to other USU locations around the state to meet with faculty and staff, and that he also participates in a lot of video conferences.

Rich Etchberger said that his professional goals are focused on developing innovative ways to support student success.  

“We have lots of nontraditional students and since Lianna and I have worked with this population for over 20 years, we have insights into what works well for them,” he said.

Also a tenured full professor, Rich Etchberger has a bachelor of science degree in ecology from Unity College, and a master’s and doctorate degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Arizona.

He has been on the faculty at USU since 1995, and in 2015 he received the Carnegie Professor of the Year Award as the top undergraduate professor in the state of Utah.

The Etchbergers are avid outdoors people who love to mountain bike, ride dirt bikes, ski, hike, rock climb and fly fish. Their daughter Molly will start as a freshman at USU in Logan this fall.

Rich began visiting Moab in the mid-1980s, and then in the late 1990s, he, Lianna and a group of graduate school friends started making regular trips to the area.

“We have camped just about everywhere there is to camp around here,” Rich said.

Lianna Etchberger said that when many of them started having kids, “they shifted from car camping and camp stoves to condos and kitchen.”

“Needless to say, our friends and family are ecstatic that we are relocating to Moab,” she said.

The Etchbergers said they are looking forward to being a part of the Moab community, and that they are grateful for the kind and welcoming spirit that has been extended to them.

Lianna Etchberger said that she is also looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“I have an incredible support team of staff, local community folks on the administrative council, and many others across the USU system to help me get up to speed as I transition from faculty to administration,” she said. “I intend to be a transparent and forthright communicator to ensure a common vision. I look forward to integrating myself into our community and to educating myself about the certificates and degrees that best fit our needs.”

Appointment of Lianna Etchberger also brings Vice Provost Rich Etchberger to Moab

Having the Etchbergers as a USU resource in Moab will be a tremendous asset to the local community. It’s an exciting time as we enter a new period of growth built upon the strong foundation by our previous administration’s leadership.