A Look At D'Elia's Tenure As Dean

December 16, 2022

A retrospective of Dean D'Elia's tenure as the longest serving dean at LSU.

A man stands speaks from behind a podium

Dean D’Elia makes remarks at commencement, Spring 2021 

BATON ROUGE - Recently, Professor Chris D’Elia, Dean of the LSU College of the Coast and Environment, announced his intention to return as full-time faculty in the college effective June 30, 2023. D’Elia, who assumed the position he holds now in July of 2009, is the longest-serving dean at LSU and in the history of the LSU College of the Coast & Environment 

D’Elia said, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve as dean of this wonderful college, and I will very much miss serving in this capacity. However, my greatest joy at work has always been teaching and research. I look forward to spending time in the classroom, writing a book, and helping to improve STEM education at the secondary level.” 

LSU Provost Roy Haggerty commented, “We will miss Chris’ leadership, but we understand his desire to return to the faculty after a long and distinguished administrative career.”

The Growth of the Coastal Environmental Science Major

D’Elia cites the growth of the Coastal Environmental Science, or CES, major as the college’s greatest accomplishment during his tenure, as enrollment in the CES Bachelor’s degree program has grown from 25 students to more than 200 today. He has also overseen the development of new academic programs including four traditional graduate degrees and one online master’s degree, and more than 500 students have graduated with one or more degrees from the college.

D'Elia, who is a faculty member in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Environmental Sciences, regularly teaches an undergraduate Energy and the Environment course, where students are introduced to the scientific, legal, regulatory, economic and policy concepts relevant to the changing energy landscape in the United States, and around the world. “At the end of the course, students tell me it totally changed the way they think about energy,” says Dean D’Elia. “This same comment has been voiced many times over the 12 years I’ve taught the course. A professor can get no greater compliment.”

D'Elia offers this advice to CC&E students as he moves into the next phase of his career: “Keep an open mind and marshal your facts before you speak. Diversity of thought and freedom of expression go hand-in-hand.”

A man and a woman sit next to each other, speaking to each other

Dean D’Elia and Alumna April Ellis discuss her career path in a YouTube video, 2020

The Expansion of CC&E's Research and Outreach

With the roots of the college embedded in sponsored research, the college is well-known for its milestone discoveries. During D’Elia’s tenure, the college received more than $100 million in extramural research funding and currently is at a historically high level. “As our early-career faculty continue to receive awards and grants, I am confident that our research will continue to improve the understanding of the interaction between complex human and natural systems, particularly in coastal regions,” says D’Elia. CC&E has been a leader at LSU in the per capita research awards among tenure and tenure track faculty. 

Recognizing that people are critical to the success of the college, D’Elia has participated in hiring over 70% of CC&E faculty. With these hires, the college has greatly expanded its specialty areas to include artificial intelligence, energy and the environment, community resilience, and scientific communication in addition to the traditional focus areas of environment and public health, environmental and law, wetlands science, coastal ecology, fisheries, biological oceanography, coastal processes, modeling, and physical sciences. 

An auditorium full of people

Screening and panel discussion of the documentary film, “Chasing Coral,” 2018

– Photo Credit: Christine Wendling

For decades, D’Elia has been working to increase diversity in the physical sciences, a major issue of concern nationally. His efforts at the national and regional levels have focused on increasing the number of graduates from underrepresented communities with doctoral degrees, an essential requirement for faculty positions. His most recent efforts have been at the local level where he has launched several initiatives aimed at increasing the number and diversity of middle and high school students with environmental and coastal knowledge.

D'Elia has also expanded the college’s outreach efforts in all areas, including, notably, a 2018 lecture series titled “Coral Reefs in Crisis” which culminated in a screening of the award-winning Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, followed by a panel discussion facilitated by D’Elia and featuring the film’s stars, and other leading experts on coral reef bleaching—an event supported through philanthropy that D’Elia counts one of his favorites as dean.

Any efforts to advance research or improve outreach for CC&E would not be possible without the support of the local, LSU and scientific communities, D’Elia added. “I would like to thank my esteemed colleagues at LSU and CC&E’s Advisory Council for all their help and advice over the years.”

A Deeper Generosity

Dean D’Elia and his wife, Jennifer, not only support the university with their time and talent but also with their treasures. Their leadership gifts of an endowed professorship for future deans of the college of the coast & environment and an endowed student scholarship in the LSU School of Music honor their late son, Wake set a powerful precedent for the university’s faculty and staff to contribute what they can to the areas they are passionate about.

Two men and two women stand together

Chris & Jenny D’Elia meet with LSU Foundation senior leadership to discuss a major philanthropic gift, 2019

D’Elia’s generosity also extends to his community service activities, having volunteered for roles in more than 20 organizations, including President of the Estuarine Research Federation; Chairman, Board of Directors, Council of Scientific Society Presidents; Member, Board of Trustees, Ocean Leadership; Member, U.S. National Committee for the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO ; Member and Chairman of the Board, Southeastern Universities Research Association’s Coastal and Environmental Research Committee; Principal and Chair, Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative; North American Representative, Future Earth Coasts; and Member, Board of Directors, Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.