National ‘excellence in teaching’ award presented to MSU’s Owen Nagel

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Studio portrait of Athena Owen Nagel
Athena Owen Nagel (Photo by Russ Houston)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University faculty member Athena Owen Nagel is the recipient of a University Professional and Continuing Education Association national award for her innovative and dedicated distance learning teaching methods. UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing and online education.

Owen Nagel, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Geosciences, will formally accept her 2021 UPCEA Excellence in Teaching Association Award at the national UPCEA conference, held virtually this April.

In 2020, Owen Nagel received UPCEA’s Professional, Continuing and Online Educator Award for the South Region. She also received the 2020 Online Teaching Award from MSU’s Center for Distance Education.

Nominated for the UPCEA award by Susan Seal, executive director of MSU’s Center for Distance Education, Owen Nagel said receiving the award is a validation of her work because it comes from an organization that specializes in online and continuing education.

“The people involved with the award selection really understand how online education works best and the challenges that it brings,” Owen Nagel said. “I’m honored that my work was selected for this award.”

Founded in 1915, UPCEA serves 400 leading public and private colleges and universities in North America, offering innovative conferences and seminars, research and benchmarking information and professional networking opportunities. Its awards program seeks to recognize outstanding continuing higher education leadership and educational programs.   

Owen Nagel said one benefit of distance education is the inclusion of a broad group of students.

“Many of the students in my courses have a variety of professional or life experiences, as well as being geographically diverse. That is an amazing wealth of knowledge and information. I try to build my classes by creating assignments and discussion prompts, to have students share that knowledge to enrich the class and create student connections,” Owen Nagel said.

“I also especially enjoy knowing that teaching in this style allows our military students and their families to stay with their education while moving around and supporting our country,” Owen Nagel said. “That wouldn’t be as possible in a more traditional classroom setting.”

Head of the Department of Geosciences John Rodgers said one of Owen Nagel’s strengths is her ability to ensure her students “fully understand” the content of their courses.

“One of the reasons why Dr. Owen Nagel is such a successful teacher is that she has been certified as a Quality Matters instructor, which means she learned best practices on how to be an effective online teacher. She uses her Quality Matters training in her classes, and that has helped her develop some of the best online courses anywhere,” Rodgers said. “Dr. Owen Nagel is always available to her students, both day and night. She is one of the hardest working professors that I know.”

Owen Nagel has more than 10 years of experience in researching island and coastal karst—coasts made of calcareous rocks and showing distinctive geomorphic characteristics. She has researched karst in a variety of areas, including several islands in the Bahamas, Mallorca, Spain, Barbados and Curacao.   

Owen Nagel is a member of the Geological Society of America, a member of the National Speleological Society and a member of the Association of Women Geoscientists.

In 2009, Owen Nagel joined the MSU faculty as an instructor and began working on her Ph.D. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which she received in 2014 from MSU. She earned her master’s degree in 2007 from MSU and her bachelor’s degree in 2004 from the University of Central Missouri.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,000 students, 323 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs, 14 master’s programs, and 27 undergraduate academic majors offered in 14 departments. For more details about the College of Arts and Sciences or the Department of Geosciences, visit or

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