Virginia Tech professor Fred Benfield has spent the better part of the past 45 years pursuing a variety of interests, from freshwater ecology research to performing live music.
Raised in rural North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains, he spent many hours roaming the woods and creeks as a child. As an undergraduate student at Appalachian State University, he took several ecology courses, but said that his interest in freshwater ecology specifically developed as a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences, part of the College of Science.
“Working in the field with [my mentor] Dr. [Stuart] Neff and his graduate students really helped me focus my interests on freshwater ecology,” said Benfield.
He is one of seven Virginia Tech employees who are being honored for 45 years of service to Virginia Tech. He was recognized during the 2016 Service Recognition Program this spring.
Benfield began his career at Virginia Tech as a graduate teaching and research assistant and is now an ecology professor and the associate department head of biological sciences. His current research focuses on ecosystem level and biodiversity responses of aquatic systems to historical and contemporary changes in land-use.
Benfield is one of the founders of Virginia Tech’s Stream Team/Ecosystem Research Group, which is a collection of biology professors and students who study different aspects of ecosystem ecology. He is also a member of the Society for Freshwater Science, with his Stream Team co-founder, Jackson Webster.
“Fred is well known in his profession for his 45-plus years of research in stream ecology and for being one of the real movers and shakers in our professional society,” said Webster.
Benfield served the freshwater society in many roles, including as president from 1994 to 1995, and he received the society’s Distinguished Service Award in 2011.
Benfield’s teaching assignments have included general biology, zoology, ecology, and freshwater ecology at Virginia Tech. Benfield said he particularly enjoys advising undergraduate students.
Benfield’s other interests include basketball, hiking, and biking. He also enjoys spending time with his wife of 52 years and playing music with his two sons.
For nearly 30 years, Benfield has played guitar in a local band called “American Roots” with his eldest son, Jon. Benfield’s younger son moved to Los Angeles to perform music but joins the duo on stage when he returns home to visit.
The family band plays covers of Americana-style music, ranging from The Carter Family to George Gershwin. They have made appearances at various New River Valley locations, including Gillie’s and the Palisades. They have also performed at Blacksburg’s annual street festival, Steppin’ Out, the Floyd County Store, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several local wineries.
“My favorite part of performing is the communication that occurs between us during gigs,” said Benfield. “We’ve played together for so long that we just somehow know where the other is going on tunes without saying anything or even looking at each other.”
Written by Mackenzie Nicely, a senior from Lexington, Virginia, majoring in public relations and political science.