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Former scuba instructor finds passion for teaching as a CSULB marine ecology professor

From clear blue waters to sandy beaches in tropical weather, life in the Bahamas is a dream vacation filled with numerous activities such as marine wildlife, scuba diving and snorkeling.

For Bengt Allen, his island life was a one-of-a-kind experience as a scuba instructor at Club Med resort. Allen did more than teach the basics of scuba diving– he introduced marine wildlife facts in his lessons.

“When we got on the boat, I would tell everybody what they had been seeing in the ocean,” he said. “They thought it was great, and I didn’t realize other dive instructors didn’t even know what a blue reef fish was.”

Working as a scuba diving instructor, Allen realized he enjoyed “the science, biology and natural history” of marine life.

After a four-year break from college, Allen chose to pursue his master’s degree in biology at San Diego State University in 1999.

Once Allen finished his biology master’s program, he moved to New York to attend Stony Brook University’s marine ecology and evolution doctorate program in 2007.

“By the time I was halfway through the [doctorate] program, I had decided that I was most interested in a job at a Cal State or something equivalent,” he said.

Now he is a marine ecology professor and director at CSULB, teaching several upper-division science courses such as general ecology, marine biology and ecology of marine communities.

In his time at the marine biology department, Allen has worked on research projects with his fellow colleague, Christine Whitcraft, the CSULB marine ecology wetlands professor and director.

Together they have collaborated on several projects such as the Huntington Beach wetlands and Colorado Lagoon where Whitcraft described Allen’s work ethic as “part of the key to success as a scientist.”

Although scientific projects can consist of heavy workloads, Whitcraft admired how Allen could always “dive right in” to the task.

Allen attends a field site in Rancho Palos Verdes, California to study the intertidal community in the Abalone Cove with some graduate students. 
Photo courtesy: Bengt Allen
Allen attends a field site in Rancho Palos Verdes, California to study the intertidal community in the Abalone Cove with some of his graduate students.

Photo courtesy: Bengt Allen

“[Bengt] has brought a great understanding of marine ecology, experimental design and statistics towards our work together,” Whitcraft said. “Thanks to his work on these projects, we have been able to advance the understanding of coastal ecosystems as well as publish the interesting work with students.”

A CSULB student research from Bengt Allen's marine ecology graduate program conducts a temperature variability experiment on small plates bolted to the rocks.
Photo credit: Bengt Allen
Elizabeth Hunt, a CSULB student research from Bengt Allen's marine ecology graduate program conducts a temperature variability experiment on small plates bolted to the rocks.

Photo credit: Bengt Allen

Whitcraft and Allen have worked together extensively to receive grants for their project collaborations and have co-advised students in the marine ecology program.

“[Bengt] has been a great mentor to many students here at CSULB – in his classes, in his lab, and in the Biological Sciences department,” she said. “He is often sought out for his expertise in statistics and always has time to help students and faculty alike.”

The black abalone thermal image is from
one of Allen's students who modeled the effects of increasing temperature variability and its endangerment risk. 
Photo courtesy: Bengt Allen
The black abalone thermal image is from
one of Allen's students who modeled the effects of increasing temperature variability and its endangerment risk.

Photo courtesy: Bengt Allen

Established in 1891, the Southern California Academy of Sciences (SCAS) began as a small group of individuals who met for various programs and excursions to local sites.

In 2012, Allen was nominated as vice president for SCAS by its board members.

One of Allen’s biggest accomplishments as vice president was collaborating with the SCAS president to make modern changes that would “help initiate electronic registration, payment and abstract submission for the annual meeting.”

“We made some real progress in taking an organization that’s been around for over 100 years and modernizing it,” he said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy about all of my contributions.”

Allen continued to teach his marine ecology courses remotely this semester and paused laboratory use due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When everything had shut down, I had just graduated my eighth master’s program student in three years,” he said. “Since I wasn’t in the lab for about 15 months, the shut-down gave me some time to follow up on some research projects I had already completed.”

With high hopes and anticipation, Allen will be teaching in-person in spring 2022 after over a year of remote teaching his marine ecology courses.

“I’m very excited to teach my classes on campus next semester with labs and field trip times,” he said. “With more face-to-face classes available, that’ll be a great back-to-campus experience for a lot of students.”

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