Consistently going above and beyond has earned Kestas Bendinskas of Oswego’s chemistry faculty SUNY's prestigious rank of Distinguished Service Professor.

“Dr. Bendinskas has been a consistent contributor to our campus, community, state and nationally,” President Deborah F. Stanley wrote.

Highly regarded and “an integral resource and leader on campus and in the community,” Bendinskas “sets a fine example for others,” Stanley wrote. “He has shared his knowledge and expertise nationally -- he is often invited to speak on topics related to his winning scholarly pursuits.”

Alok Kumar, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in Oswego’s physics department, called Bendinskas’ service “exemplary” in his nomination.

“Dr. Bendinskas is a productive scholar, an internationally recognized scientist, a scholarly and creative activities advocate in academic and non-academic settings, an environmental activist, a chief of a leading national undergraduate journal, a caring mentor to many undergraduate and graduate students, and a respected and passionate teacher,” Kumar wrote.

Kumar credits Bendinskas' skill in launching the Oswego bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2003, which now accommodates more than 125 majors and additional students who find many opportunities in Oswego’s labs and in post-graduation pursuits.

Bendiskas “inspires young undergraduates to aim high” and helps them reach their goals, Kumar noted, supporting many Oswego graduates who are now teaching and doing research in numerous institutions or working as scientists.

In addition to top-rate skills as a teacher and scholar, Bendinskas is “a community activist who is always vigilant of our duties as citizens and scientists in the local and global community,” Kumar wrote. “In all his activities, he leads people by setting an example, doing what is ‘above and beyond’ and is always volunteering.”

Expanding science access

Kristin Croyle, dean of SUNY Oswego’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, especially noted two accomplishments that expand science access.

“As a co-founder of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Center (MBBC) at SUNY Oswego in 2006, Dr. Bendinskas worked to corral support for interdisciplinary research activities and state-of-the-art equipment so that involved faculty and students can access research infrastructure beyond the typical capacities of a primarily undergraduate institution,” Croyle wrote.

Located in the college’s Shineman Center, the MBBC supports collaborations from 14 faculty and 30 student researchers annually. “His work to develop the capacity of the MBBC has been instrumental in the research development of hundreds of students over time,” Croyle wrote.

Croyle and others also heralded Bendiskas’ leadership of the American Journal for Undergraduate Research (AJUR) since 2014. 

“As executive editor, Dr. Bendinskas has reviewed hundreds of manuscripts. He regularly maintains the editorial board, responds to author inquiries, edits manuscripts and prepares each edition of the journal for publication,” Croyle said, as “such dedicated service to an outlet that only publishes undergraduate research is a reflection of Dr. Bendinskas’ willingness to support student research across the country.”

Thanks to his efforts, AJUR is now archived by the U.S. Library of Congress and indexed by EBSCO, which greatly amplifies the work of student researchers. 

“Beyond the typical classroom teaching, he represents the best of what SUNY Oswego wants from their faculty,” wrote Scott Furlong, SUNY Oswego’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. 

At the campus level, Bendinskas created and led such successful initiatives as the Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Center, the Merck Summer Research Experience program, and Early Start and other faculty grants. For more than 17 years, he has served on the college’s Scholarly and Creative Activities Committee, including as chair four times for this group pivotal to campus-based research funding.

“His own research is impressive with 23 peer-reviewed publications and presentations and attendance at a large number of conferences,” Furlong noted. “He received the SUNY Oswego Gold Medal for securing more than $1 million in external grants in 2013 and has now secured more than $5 million by 2020.”

A recipient of the Oswego President’s Award for Scholarly and Creative Activity, Bendinskas contributes to science and research well beyond Oswego’s classrooms and labs.

“At the national/international level, he has been recognized by Sigma Xi (national science fraternity) as a Distinguished Member and a national leader for promoting undergraduate research,” Furlong wrote. As North East associate regional director of this group, Bendinskas organizes conferences and other opportunities.

Bendinskas blends his expertise and passion for the environment to advise local governments, organize Science Cafe events for the community, run a listserv to support environmentally active groups and help the Milea Beach Road Association’s around 40 local homeowners care for their environment.

Bendinskas earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Bowling Green University, followed by postdoctorate work at Johns Hopkins University. He previously received an engineer of chemical technology degree from Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology in Russia.

Generous collaborator

“Kestas is the ideal collaborator who is generous with his time and always open to new ideas,” said James MacKenzie, professor and chair of biological sciences.

In looking to develop an interdisciplinary connection when MacKenzie joined the faculty in 2004, he hoped to find somebody approachable he could share ideas with but “I found so much more in Kestas,” MacKenzie said. 

“With his affability and keen scientific mind, that first conversation resulted in a research collaboration that continues to this day,” MacKenzie wrote. “As is the nature of scientific discovery, Kestas’ ability to adapt to the needs of the project by interpreting data and finding ways to answer the next question has been vital to the success of our work.”

MacKenzie called Bendinskas a “consummate team player” in projects like maximizing the effectiveness of the MBBC and other spaces. In committee work they have shared, Bendinskas “is collegial, focused on getting the job done and he brings an academic rigor and standard that I appreciate,” MacKenzie wrote.

“He is a big proponent of mentoring students through the entire research experience, to teach them how to become independent researchers who are involved in the design of an experiment through the data analysis and interpretation,” MacKenzie said. “The proof of his methods lies in the many students who have gone onto some of the best graduate institutions in the nation.”

Fellow chemistry faculty member Vadoud Niri praised Bendinskas’ dedication in mentoring more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students’ research projects.

“As the chemistry graduate program coordinator, I had the chance to witness Kestas’ participation in all the graduate seminars and asking great questions and making great comments to the presenters,” Niri noted.

Bendinskas played a pivotal role in developing a 2+2 chemistry articulation agreement between SUNY Oswego and Zhejiang Gongshang University, China. “Chinese students from this university of 25,000 are now able to obtain chemistry degrees at SUNY Oswego,” Niri wrote.

Encouraging mentor

Charlotte Labrie-Cleary, biochemistry major and undergraduate research assistant, wrote that despite his busy schedule, Bendinskas makes himself readily available for students.

“Upon entering his office, he never ceased to make you feel welcome and comfortable,” Labrie-Cleary said. “Dr. Bendinskas acknowledges the potential in all his pupils and encourages every student to be their best. Dr. Bendinskas instilled in me the idea that I could achieve anything I put my mind to, and for that I am forever grateful.”

While involved in so many responsibilities, “Dr. Bendinskas deeply cares for his pupils,” Labrie-Cleary wrote. “The integrity, dedication and thoughtfulness he displays is inspiring. … Dr. Bendinskas’ efforts go above and beyond any professor I have ever met, and it shows in his students’ success and glowing evaluations.” 

Isabelle Bichindaritz, the director of Oswego’s biomedical informatics programs, noted that “the kindness and spirit of service of Dr. Bendinskas are exemplary,” as he generously lends his time and expertise to help colleagues.

“On several occasions, I have contacted him to discuss my ideas for potential grant proposals and for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, and each time he has provided his contribution and showed interest in common projects,” Bichindaritz wrote. His service leadership includes a “rare gift of infusing his passion for his field to students, biomedical scientists and others through common research projects,” she added.

“His research spans many important issues in biochemistry, ranging from studies of metal-protein interactions to human health issues such as the proteomic approach in studying diabetes,” wrote Augustine Silveira, Distinguished Teaching Professor and chemistry emeritus faculty member. 

“Another health issue investigated by Dr. Bendinskas and his research group involves the proteomics of human biological samples in adults and children who were exposed to lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic in the environment,” Silveira added. “This work is very important to society in improving people’s lives by solving their health problems.” 

Bendinskas helps supervise current student research on how to better detect COVID-19 mutations, and led an ongoing study on detecting the presence of date-rape drug gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB).

Bendinskas' research in hair, nail and salivary cortisol measurements has experienced nationwide recognition. His recent collaborations include research with groups from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Duke University, Drexel University, University of Massachusetts, Brown University, Columbia University and many other institutions.

Silveira said Bendinskas’ evaluations from students are excellent, showing “a deep respect for him,” in how many pursue undergraduate research and master’s theses under his guidance. 

“He is rigorous and demanding, but with a belief based on years of caring about students and his profession,” Silveira noted. “His teaching, research and service to the university are all exceptional.”