“We have a tremendous allegiance to Georgia. We want to acknowledge what we’ve been given and give others those same opportunities.” –Jenny D’Elia (M ’74)
In 1968, Connecticut native Chris D’Elia journeyed by train to the University of Georgia to begin his graduate studies in ecology. Today, Chris is dean of Louisiana State University’s College of the Coast & Environment. He attributes much of this success to the opportunities he had at UGA to get his feet — figuratively and literally — wet.
Chris fondly recalls his UGA graduate assistantship as “an unbelievable gig.” He spent summers conducting research by snorkeling Hawaii’s coral reefs. He traveled to nearly every Georgia county to help classify the state’s freshwater fish species. And in 1971, he embarked on a two-month expedition that proved so seminal to his career that he is now writing a book about it.
That year, Chris traveled to the Marshall Islands as part of the UGA-led Symbios Expedition to study coral reefs. Under the waves, he observed the most biodiverse ecosystem he’d ever seen. On the atoll, Chris experienced an equally impressive display of diversity — his 24 fellow researchers came from a variety of backgrounds, institutions, and academic disciplines. It was an inspiring melding of the minds that led to more than groundbreaking discoveries about coral reefs’ vitality. Chris formed lifelong professional partnerships that led to decades of fruitful collaborations.
“My life has been on the downswing ever since,” Chris jokes. “Honestly, I am forever grateful that I was on that cruise. UGA helped me become what I am today.”
While Chris explored the Pacific Islands, his future wife, Jenny (Hunnicutt) D’Elia, had her own overseas adventures. In 1970, she enrolled as a graduate student in the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The Moultrie native’s first semester was in Italy’s picturesque Tuscan hills. A scholarship enabled Jenny to participate in the inaugural UGA Cortona Program.
Between studies abroad, Chris and Jenny “fortuitously” met in Athens. Now, they continue to travel the world, nurturing a shared adventurous spirit that sparked as students. And their mutual love for Italy has led to many more visits.
The D’Elias know firsthand how enriching it can be to experience new places and perspectives. They recognize the importance of diversity for not only personal growth but also scientific discovery. To help students of all backgrounds pursue ecological studies, the D’Elias have generously chosen to include the Odum School of Ecology in their estate plans. They hope their gift will enable future Bulldogs to seek adventure, getting their “hands and feet muddy” alongside world-class scientists in the field.
“We have a tremendous allegiance to Georgia,” Jenny says. “We want to acknowledge what we’ve been given and give others those same opportunities.”