Debra Ann Elleman Mlsna ’86

It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of the amazing Dr. Debra Ann Mlsna, a cherished member of the Mississippi State University (MSU) community and a distinguished scholar and teacher in the field of chemistry. Deb passed away peacefully in her sleep surrounded by her family after a long battle with breast cancer. She leaves behind a legacy of academic excellence, dedicated mentorship, and an unwavering commitment to student success.

Born to Charlotte Ann Moyers (1930–2024) and Thomas Smith Elleman (1931–2010), Deb was raised in a loving family alongside her siblings, Bruce Elleman Ph.D. and Dr. Rebecca Hodge CVM. In 1989, she married the love of her life, Todd Mlsna, in Austin, Texas. Through all the joys, pains, struggles, and triumphs in life their relationship was constant and loving and easy and joyous. Their union brought forth three talented children: Hannah Mlsna (1994), Matthew Mlsna (1996), and Jake Mlsna (1998) (married to Annie Mlsna). The bonds of family were the foundation of Deb’s life, and her love and devotion to her husband and children were unwavering.

Dr. Mlsna’s academic journey began at Davidson College, where she earned a B.S. in Chemistry in May 1986. She continued her studies at the University of Texas at Austin, obtaining her Ph.D. in Chemistry in May 1992. At Mississippi State University, she served as an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and as Director of General Chemistry Programs for several years. She also co-directed and founded the Randle R White PreMed Advising Office.

Before her tenure at MSU, Dr. Mlsna was a Senior Scientist at Seacoast Science Inc. in Carlsbad, CA. There, she was a key scientist on the development team for the Seacoast Science/Vernier MiniGC and authored its lab manual. She also held teaching positions as a Lecturer at Miramar College, a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maine, and served as Assistant Director of Laboratories at Clemson University.
Deb was deeply passionate about her work, dedicating herself to teaching full-time right up until the end. Her remarkable contributions to education and research earned her numerous prestigious awards. Among these accolades were the Grisham Master Teacher Award, Mississippi State’s highest teaching honor, and the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Professor Award, the college’s top teaching award. She also received multiple Outstanding Faculty Awards from the Department of Chemistry, the Shackouls Honors College Award for Outstanding Faculty Member, the Mississippi State Pride Faculty Awards, the “Teacher of the Week” recognition from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council, and the Arts and Sciences Teaching Award. Each of these honors stands as a testament to her dedication, expertise, and the profound impact she had on her students and colleagues.

Dr. Mlsna’s innovative approach to undergraduate teaching was evident in her creation of a comprehensive summer research program and the development of three highly regarded courses at MSU. One course was a study abroad program on Alternative Sources of Energy, co-taught with her husband Todd, which took students to Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden each summer, offering a global perspective on sustainable energy. Another course, Science and Cinema, intertwined scientific concepts with modern apocalyptic films, fostering critical thinking and a deeper appreciation of science and storytelling. She also designed a popular general chemistry course for pre-health students, emphasizing its applications in the medical field. Dr. Mlsna’s ability to make complex scientific principles accessible and relevant was unparalleled.

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Deb demonstrated remarkable discipline and dedication in her personal life as well. She was a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, recognized for her grace and strength. Her martial arts prowess led her to become a multiple-time state champion in California and culminated in her winning a national championship in 2007. This discipline and dedication in Tae Kwon Do mirrored her relentless pursuit of excellence in life.

Additionally, Deb was an avid traveler. In the final months of her life, she planned and enjoyed two memorable trips: a magical Christmas journey from Budapest to Germany and a vibrant family trip across Costa Rica. These journeys, which capped a lifetime of travel, reflected her adventurous spirit and her desire to create lasting memories with her loved ones. Deb’s legacy is one of passion, perseverance, and a profound love for both knowledge and life.

Dr. Debra Ann Mlsna’s memory will live on in the hearts and minds of her family, friends, colleagues, students and the countless individuals whose lives were touched by her remarkable contributions to science and education. Her legacy as a loving wife, devoted mother, and visionary teacher will continue to inspire future generations.

A private memorial service in honor of Deb’s life will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family graciously 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. Let these moments of enjoyment be a tribute to the memory of Dr. Debra Ann Mlsna.

Below are links to a music playlist of her favorite songs that she put together in her last week, and a video featuring a collection of her children’s favorite pictures.

Link to music playlist:

Links to the pictures:
On YouTube

On Google Drive

On Vimeo