From fly-down faculty to its own campus: The history of USU Moab

usu moab artist rendering
An artist’s rendering of campus life at the new Utah State University Moab campus. Courtesy photo

After many years, plans for construction of the new Utah State University Moab campus have begun with groundbreaking for the first building expected next spring, according to USU Moab Marketing Director Loren Miller.

As the community celebrates USU Moab’s countdown to the new campus, it is a good time to reflect on USU Moab’s history and the work that has gone into getting USU Moab to this point, said Miller in an email.

“Starting in the 1950s, Moab’s main source of income had been uranium mining. However, the world uranium business eventually dwindled. By the mid-1970s, Moab’s mining economy was almost entirely bust. In a financial crisis, Moab rebranded itself as a tourist and sport location for outdoor enthusiasts. As mining decreased and new industries began to take hold in the community, a greater need for a college education increased for employment,” she wrote.

In 1967, the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 387, which afforded Moab the opportunity to offer higher education. During the first few years, USU Moab struggled to gain sufficient enrollments to support full-time faculty. University courses in Moab were offered in high school classrooms taught by USU faculty who flew to Moab from Logan on the weekends. In 1973, USU hired Dr. Kay Hancock as the director in Moab, said Miller.

Hancock said flying back and forth between Logan and Moab had its difficulties. He commented that even though the weather seemed great in Moab, Logan often had bad conditions. One night as they descended into Cache Valley, “they lost visibility and the pilot came in on the beacon. When he touched down and cut power, the wind blew them sideward and damaged some of the landing gear. No one was hurt but they were all shaken up.” Hancock said that after dangerous flights like this happenned, at least one professor would “refuse to fly any longer.”

Through the years, USU has worked to serve students using various forms of technology, from satellite equipment to the interactive broadcasting equipment used today. In the early 2000s, USU Moab leased and then purchased a former government office complex at 125 West 200 South. In 2012, a second building in the same complex that had housed city offices was purchased. In 2015, a smaller building to the south was acquired, bringing the total space to approximately 20,000 square feet in three buildings, said Miller.

Under the direction of Dr. Steve Hawks, dean and executive director from 1997 to 2017, and with USU Moab’s continued and consistent growth, land for a new campus was purchased, with the help of donations from the Holyoak family and the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land exchange. Plans are in place to build a campus at the end of Aggie Boulevard, three miles from the center of the City of Moab near the “Behind the Rocks” recreation area.

USU Moab now offers more than 50 degrees, from the associate level to doctorate. This has been made possible by leveraging faculty from across the state, including seven faculty housed at the USU Moab campus. Thanks to the collaboration between USU Moab and the community, many of the programs correlate to local needs, officials say. Some of the major program areas include education, business, healthcare, natural resource management, and recreation and hospitality.

In 2018, USU Moab was selected by the Utah Legislature to serve as the community’s technical college for programs like automotive tech, welding and more. Career and Technical Education certificates are a good option for those looking to quickly gain more skills for professional development, officials say.

Now at the helm, Dr. Lianna Etchberger, USU Moab associate vice president, is working to finalize plans for the first building at the USU Moab campus. The new space will offer students quiet places to study, new classrooms and science laboratories with up-to-date technology, and a suite of student services to ensure USU Moab can provide the necessary resources for student success.

To celebrate the plans for the new building and the donors who have made it a reality, attend the Countdown Reception for the new campus from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at the HooDoo Grand Ballroom. Visit moab.usu.edu for more information.