URI Honors Professor Emeritus, David Bengtson, in Distinguished Achievement Awards

Dr. David Bengtson, Professor Emeritus in the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS), is the 2017 CELS recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award, honoring individuals who personify URI’s tradition of excellence in achievement, leadership, and service.

As a CELS alumnus, having earned both his master’s in Zoology in 1974 and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences in 1982, Bengtson has helped advance the Department of Fisheries, Animals and Veterinary Science during a 40-year teaching career at the University of Rhode Island. He is a pioneer in aquaculture research, and has made significant contributions to sustainable shellfish and fish farming on a global scale.

“When I was a college senior, one of the emerging issues was how we could feed the world’s increasing population,” recalls Bengtson, who has been on a mission to solve such global problems since he began teaching and researching at the university as a graduate student in the Biological Sciences department. In 1996 he obtained a tenured track position as Associate Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science (FAVS) at CELS.

When Bengtson was inducted into the CELS Hall of Fame last year, Dr. John Kirby, dean of CELS, praised Bengtson for his dedication to the college. “Whenever Dave would come see me in my office he would give me advice that had no agenda…it was always in the best interest of CELS and I truly appreciate that.”

Throughout his career, Bengtson remained an active faculty member in the CELS community, chairing the FAVS department for three consecutive three-year terms and teaching a variety of classes, including Fish Nutrition, Fishery Science, and Aquaculture and the Environment.

“I love the fact that I have been able to collaborate with different people from a variety of backgrounds,” reflects Bengtson on his career at URI, “people who have taught me about new things as we’ve solved problems together.”

He also served as interim chair of the Department of Plant Science and Entomology and mentored students in the Sustainable Systems specialization for the Masters of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) program at CELS.

“He was an exceptional leader, mentor, and teacher,” praise his long-time colleagues Dr. Peter August and Dr. Art Gold, directors of the MESM program.

Bengtson demonstrated an unwavering commitment to advancing the FAVS department with eighty-seven peer-reviewed publications. He also secured more than $5.5 million in grant funding, which provided substantial research and lab opportunities for his students.

In addition to his academic accomplishments at URI, Bengtson is also recognized as a distinguished scholar within the aquaculture community in New England, where he was among the pioneers of aquaculture research after commercial fish stocks crashed in the 1980s.

Bengtson has also made his mark internationally where his work has had a significant impact on global affairs in Southeast Asia. His federally funded research in Vietnam helped improve trade relations between Vietnam and Cambodia by assisting in the development of a sustainable food source for a native fish species in the region.

Even as he stepped down from his position at URI last fall, Bengtson remained engaged in his research abroad and the URI community. He’s currently working to complete the Vietnam-Cambodia project while also mentoring two of his Ph.D. students through the end of their degrees.

“As the grandchild of the original agricultural college that URI once was, CELS represents URI’s connection to the people of Rhode Island and continues to work with them to solve problems,” says Bengtson, who has certainly left his mark on CELS, the university and the broader community, paving the way for innovative aquaculture research that solves real-world challenges.