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Utah State University Moab Celebrates Class of 2023

Utah State University Moab is proud to have celebrated its class of 2023 on Thursday, April 27. The class of 2023 had 43 individuals who completed the requirements for a degree and/or certificate. This year’s class earned one graduate and eight undergraduate certificates, 21 associate, 10 bachelor’s and eight master’s degrees.

“We are pleased to welcome each of you to the program this evening---members of the 2023 graduating class, your family, friends, faculty, and alumni,” said Lianna Etchberger, associate vice president of USU Moab. “There are many factors that contribute to the quality of USU Moab. Most important is the quality of our students who exemplify perseverance, commitment and the ability to engage in self-directed learning.”

USU Moab celebrated the graduates with a ceremony at HooDoo Moab. Etchberger welcomed the graduates and introduced the student speaker, Amra Hubbard-Harrison, who graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in integrated studies.

Beginning his studies at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles, Calif. and later at Colorado Mesa University, Hubbard-Harrison took a philosophy class that challenged him to ask one question: are you doing exactly what you want to be doing right now? This exercise led Hubbard-Harrison to spend the next two years traveling through Europe. He spent six months in a cabin in the mountains of Bosnia and a year training and racing sled dogs in Norway before ultimately moving to Moab, captivated by the potential outdoor recreation adventures.

Hubbard-Harrison reflected on his decade long journey of beginning college, stepping away and then returning. He remarked on the persistence of examples around him and how each of the graduates had their own persistence as they reached their goals. He encouraged the graduates to continue striving for their goals and to keep persisting.

“Everyone graduating today, may not have had such an unconventional start to their education, yet almost all of us are non-traditional students,” Hubbard-Harrison said. “While that means none of us followed the same path, I would argue that persistence ties us together. I’m graduating today because I was persistent, and so are all of you! Everyone graduating today has demonstrated tenacity, grit and persistence in their own way.”

Etchberger then introduced the keynote speaker, Peter Lawson¬– owner and operator of Professor Valley Ranch in Moab. Lawson’s longtime affiliation with Utah State University and the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources stems back to his grandparents — the college’s namesakes. Lawson and his family were also instrumental in the new USU Moab campus coming to fruition.

Lawson opened his speech by sharing his life story and the unconventional path he took to find out what career path he wanted to pursue. After his own graduation, Lawson worked at his family’s ski resort at Alta. While he found success in this career, he began to ponder if it was what he was supposed to be doing. He decided to look for a new possibility and not long afterward, moved to Moab and purchased his ranch.

He shared with graduates that life can be independent of the piece of paper they had earned in college. He encouraged them to keep an open mind and not be afraid to pivot and make changes if that was what they truly wanted to do.

“Now I have a fairy tale life, and I didn’t see it coming!” Lawson said. “But the more I stay open to possibilities, the more they come. My success didn’t seem to have anything to do with what I was trying to do. It had everything to do with working with what was coming toward me and being willing to alter the plans I had for myself.”

USU Provost & Chief Academic Officer Laurens H. Smith then provided a short message and conferred upon the students their degrees, and the graduates received their diplomas. The celebration concluded with a welcome address from Steven L. Palmer, president of the USU Alumni Association.

Smith closed the proceedings with a special recognition for Etchberger. He thanked her for her dedicated service at USU Moab in what was her final commencement ceremony as USU Moab Associate Vice President.

Located in the outdoor recreation paradise of Moab and boasting one of the greenest buildings on any USU campus, Utah State University Moab offers students the personalized attention and small class sizes of a small-town college with the resources of a large university. With programs such as Nursing, Elementary Education, Recreation Resource Management and Social Work, technical education in Health Professions, Automotive and Business, and degree options ranging from associate to doctorate degrees, USU Moab offers programs that help fuel local economies and empower individuals and their communities. Learn more at

Lianna Etchberger: A Legacy of Community Engagement, Research Excellence, Educational Stewardship
by Marcus Jensen, News Coordinator USU

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.

After 28 years at Utah State University and six years as the associate vice president of USU Moab, Lianna 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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