STEM Shoutout: Dr. Melinda Morgan

Associate professor of geography and environmental studies named new director of sustainability studies

Dr. Melinda Morgan took on the role as the new director of the sustainability studies program at the University of New Mexico in June after being affiliated faculty in the program since 2008. The director of the program also holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Sustainable Environmental & Food Systems.


“The students in that program are some of the most passionate on campus and I’ve loved having them as a professor, so I am really looking forward to stepping into the role of director,” Morgan said.


She assumed the role after the retirement of the previous director and founder of the Sustainability Studies program Bruce Milne, who has led the program since 2004.


“Bruce Milne’s leadership has created a strong legacy and his passion for sustainability created a very vibrant program,” Morgan said.


Morgan said that the sustainability studies program had been growing during a time when other university programs saw decreases in enrollment and credits that to an increased interest in environmental studies. 


“This is a difficult but exciting time when it comes to taking on environmental challenges and students in New Mexico are rising to that challenge. And the program really reflects that.”


While she started as the acting director this summer, the announcement of the position was postponed to this month. Morgan plans the program will hold a send-off for Milne when it is safe to do so, honoring the time he spent leading the program. 


“As you know, this last spring was so challenging,” Morgan said. “We were unable to do anything for Bruce to honor his retirement, so it was sort of with a whimper rather than a bang. We want the opportunity to officially honor all of his accomplishments.” 


Morgan said that one of her initial goals as the director of the program is to spend time reaching out to different people across the campus — faculty, staff and students — to get feedback on what they hope to see from the program. She said that she hopes this will increase the number of faculty affiliated with sustainability studies and deepen the University’s investment in the program. 


Morgan, formerly known at Melinda Harm Benson, changed her name in the summer of 2020. Morgan decided to take on her paternal grandmother’s maiden name. 


“My grandma had an eighth-grade education, worked as a janitor, and raised three kids during the Great Depression. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever known,” Morgan said. “By taking her name, I feel like I’m drawing on the strength of all my female ancestors. As a professor at UNM, I have a professional life and level of personal freedom none of them would ever have imagined for themselves.”


Coinciding with the shift into her new position, Morgan is also in the process of creating a transdisciplinary research collaborative to look at the social-ecological system dynamics of water supply, climate change and wildfire in the Rio Grande watershed. This research collaborative stems from the University’s Grand Challenge on Sustainable Water Resources. 


“That’s the type of sustainability-oriented, interdisciplinary initiative that I would love to see sustainability studies supporting on campus,” Morgan said.