Douglas J. Austen (’84 M.S. fisheries and wildlife conservation), executive director of the American Fisheries Society, received the Gerald H. Cross Alumni Leadership Award from the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and the college’s Leadership Institute.

A native of suburban Chicago, Austen discovered his love of fishing as a child and pointed to family vacations spent on lakes or with access to nearby trout streams as the start of his career in fisheries. During his time at Virginia Tech, he worked closely with Professor Donald Orth on a project on the New River addressing smallmouth bass and helped to create computer programs to generate population estimates for use in the classroom.

Austen went on to serve as a fisheries researcher with the Illinois Department of Conservation and spent six years as the director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. In 2010, he became the national coordinator of the Landscape Conservation Cooperative with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he served until he joined the American Fisheries Society in 2013.

Austen now works with staff and partners to ensure that fisheries science is used in policy development and legislation. He says the best part of his current position is the opportunity to work directly with the society’s members. “I get to help talented people flourish in their careers.”

Professor Emeritus Gerald H. Cross, head of what was then called the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences from 1976 to 1989, created a continuing education program focusing on leadership development for Forest Service professionals. Approximately 1,000 natural resource professionals have participated in the program since 1988. The leadership that Cross demonstrated inspired the creation of his namesake award, whose recipients are recognized for their dedication and outstanding achievements in leading others.