Remembering Deb Mlsna—teacher, mentor, friend

Remembering Deb Mlsna—teacher, mentor, friend

Photo of Deb MlsnaMississippi State mourns the loss of Debra “Deb” Mlsna—an associate professor of chemistry since 2009—after a long battle with cancer. She leaves behind a legacy of academic excellence, dedicated mentorship and an unwavering commitment to student success.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Rick Travis said, “Deb brought a tremendous passion and energy to everything she did and her contributions to science education and the chemistry department have made a tremendous difference to the lives of many. Her commitment to her family and her students was always at the forefront of her thoughts and actions.” 

Mlsna is survived by her husband, Todd—an MSU professor of chemistry—and her three children. 

In her academic career, Mlsna garnered more than $1.2 million in grant money for her research endeavors. She was awarded the 2022 John Grisham Master Teacher Award, a 2018 Outstanding Faculty Award for the Department of Chemistry—an award she also received in 2014—and a 2016 Shackouls Honors College Award for an Outstanding Faculty Member. Additionally, she received a Mississippi State Pride Faculty Award, and Teacher of the Week recognition from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council. 

She served as the director of general chemistry programs for several years and co-directed and founded the program that today is known as the Dr. A. Randle and Marilyn W. White Health Professions Resource Center at MSU.

“She was one of the most passionate, student-centered professors on this campus,” said Mary Celeste Reese, current director of the HPRC, who developed and founded the program along with Mlsna.

An avid traveler, Mlsna created MSU’s popular study abroad program on alternative sources of energy, co-taught by her husband, leading students to Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden each summer, offering a global perspective on sustainable energy. 

At MSU, Mlsna was known for her innovative approach to undergraduate teaching, highlighted by her creation of a summer research program—Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). During the COVID-19 shutdown, universities across the country canceled many summer internships and research programs. Mlsna pressed forward and kept her REU open, becoming one of the only in-person summer programs of its type operating in the U.S. in the summer of 2020. 

Funded through a National Science Foundation grant, REU programs are designed to support underrepresented students in STEM, hosting students from institutions that do not provide summer research opportunities.

In 2022, Mlsna’s REU students visited the Gulf Coast to learn about the intersections of food, energy and water security and were able to participate in a sea turtle release. 

Mlsna earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1986 from Davidson College and in 1992 earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, also in chemistry.

A private memorial service in honor of her life will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those who knew her find joy in life’s simple pleasures—take a leisurely walk, savor a special meal, embark on a journey, or spend quality time with loved ones.