CC&E's Chris D'Elia Honored by Phi Beta Kappa

July 03, 2023

Dr. Chris D'Elia

Chris D'Elia received a distinction from the Phi Beta Kappa chapter of his undergraduate institution, Middlebury College.

BATON ROUGE - Chris D’Elia, the College of Coast & Environment’s long-time dean and professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, was honored by his undergraduate institution, Middlebury College in Vermont, when he was elected to the campus chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.

D’Elia said, “This is an enormous honor. It came to me completely out of the blue—I had absolutely no idea that I was being considered, and in fact, I did not even know that alumni were eligible to be elected. My late father, Frank G. D’Elia, M.D., was Phi Beta Kappa from UNC Chapel Hill, and I know how much he treasured that distinction for his whole life.”

D’Elia attended Middlebury as an undergraduate and received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1968. He also studied Spanish all four years. He then went on to receive a PhD in Zoology from the University of Georgia in 1974, where he completed a dissertation on the phosphorus metabolism of reef corals and their symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae.

“This spring Christopher D’Elia, a member of the class of 1968, drew the attention of the committee,” said Elizabeth Morrison, the secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa, Beta Chapter of Vermont, and professor of Religion at Middlebury.

“The faculty chapter agreed that his outstanding record of research, teaching, and service should be recognized. The biology faculty member we consulted was impressed by his work on aquatic system nutrient cycling and applauded the mix of basic science and more applied/management work.”

This is not something that happens every year, “only when we are truly impressed by a candidate,” Morrison noted. In order for the nomination to go through, chapter members review the records of the candidates, consult faculty in related fields and be voted on by faculty.

This is not D’Elia’s first recognition by an alma mater. In 2014, he was recognized with a University of Georgia Graduate School Alumni of Distinction Award, 2014, where he received his PhD.

Among his many honors are the President’s Award from the Sea Grant Association, 1999, the Meritorious Service Award from the Chesapeake Bay Program, 1999, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992, and Sustaining Fellow, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, 2019. In 2020, he received the Wes Tunnell Lifetime Recognition for Gulf Science and Conservation by the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative, or GOMURC. He is a member of the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.

Under D’Elia’s tenure as dean, the College of the Coast & Environment has grown dramatically, with the undergraduate Coastal Environmental Sciences major growing from just 25 students at its inception to over 200 today. D’Elia also participated in the hiring of 70 percent of current faculty of the college. CC&E has received over $100 million in extramural research funding in his time as Dean and is currently at an all-time high.

D’Elia has also made a commitment to diversifying the physical sciences (aka geosciences). At the national level he has focused on increasing the number of graduates from under-represented communities who receive doctoral degrees, while also working at the local level to launch initiatives aimed at increasing the pipeline network of students with coastal and environmental knowledge.  

Professor D’Elia returned to full time faculty status in DOCS on July 1st.

Phi Beta Kappa is the country’s oldest academic honor society. Since its beginnings in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, it has become an organization “grounded in liberal arts and sciences, and learning and freedom of inquiry,” according to its website. The Middlebury College Chapter, the Beta chapter in Vermont, is the 13th oldest chapter in existence.