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Dave Willis Fisheries Research Endowment

The Dave Willis Fisheries Research Endowment was established to honor Dr. Willis' life work and to sustain his legacy through promoting excellence in fisheries education and research.

Dr. Willis (1955-2014) was a Distinguished Professor of Fisheries Science and Department Head of Natural Resource Management at South Dakota State University. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of North Dakota and his Ph.D. from Colorado State University. Over the course of his post-graduate career, he worked as a fishery research biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and taught at Pittsburg State University and Emporia State University before joining the faculty of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at South Dakota State University.

Dave was internationally known as a fisheries scientist and educator. Dave's published works, totaling more than 250 papers in the scientific literature, vastly improved understanding of fisheries science and education, conservation, and natural resource management in many ways. Dave's contributions to fisheries education, through his tireless efforts to produce textbooks such as: Fisheries Techniques, Case Studies in Fisheries Conservation and Management, Standard Methods for Sampling North American Freshwater Fishes, Small Impoundment Management in North America, and Introduction to Wildlife and Fisheries: An Integrated Approach, have shaped the education of an entire generation of scientists. Dave's mentoring of more than 50 graduate students and countless undergraduate students enabled them to become leaders themselves in fisheries management and education throughout North America and abroad.

Dave was a recipient of numerous awards that recognized his top-level achievements.  These included national recognition for the President's Fishery Conservation Award, Excellence in Fisheries Education Award, Excellence in Public Outreach Award, Distinguished Service Award, Meritorious Service Award and equally important SDSU awards for Excellence in Teaching, Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring, and Excellence in Academic Department Leadership. He was particularly proud, yet humbled, for his election to the national Fisheries Management Hall of Excellence that recognized his life-long work. Although he felt it was somewhat embarrassing to be recognized by his peers, they were the very people who nominated and elected him for that prestigious honor. When pressed with the question of what mean the most to him, he was most proud of the 90 plus competitive awards received by his students.

Dave's attentive and caring nature made him an outstanding leader, mentor, teacher, colleague, and friend to an extraordinary number of people in the fisheries profession and well beyond. Dave's life will continue to be an inspiration for all those he touched and encouraged, for students and the pursuit of knowledge, for service to the natural resources of this beautiful land, and for those who will benefit from his life's work for years to come. Dave's exceptional personal and career contributions have greatly benefited fisheries education, fisheries science, and fisheries management in the Midwest and throughout North America and the world.

We encourage and appreciate your support of Dave's legacy through a donation to support the growth of the Dave Willis Fisheries Research Endowment.  Gift pledges can be made over multiple years or as single donations. Proceeds will be used to provide competitive research awards to graduate and undergraduate fisheries students who have demonstrated scholarly excellence in fisheries science and best personify Dave's exceptional career and service to our nation's natural resources.


The recipient of this annual award shall:

  • Be a current fisheries graduate student in good academic standing within the Department of Natural Resource Management at SDSU.
  • Be involved in, or have immediate plans to commence a study focused in fish or fisheries research.

Application requirements will include:

  • Statement of research interest and career goals.
  • A two page, single-spaced proposal (introduction, objective(s), methods, budget and justification, and pertinent references) for use of funds.
  • Brief curriculum vitae.
  • Letter of support from the thesis or major advisor.
  • Contact information for two references not on the student's committee.

Preference shall be given to applicants who:

  • Are actively involved in the American Fisheries Society.
  • Are actively involved with organizations that are focused on environmental conservation issues.
  • Have demonstrated leadership in organizations that provide community service.

Printed application packages will be due by 31 March each year to the Department of Natural Resource Management main office. The recipient shall be selected by the Department of Natural Resource Management Scholarship Committee and will receive the award at the Department's annual spring awards banquet.

Dr. Willis
Dr. Willis holding a blue catfish
Willis- Pond Boss
Dr. Willis at Pond Boss
Willis in front of Swingle Hall Fisheries
Dr. Willis at Swingle Hall
Willis with Katie, Mike at 2008 Convocation
Dr. Willis, Dr. Katie Bertrand and Dr. Mike Brown at 2008 Convocation