A professor who is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities in engineering education and whose influence has extended from a Greenville arts festival to workshops as far away as Indonesia is winning this year’s Class of ‘39 Award for Excellence.
Lisa Benson has developed several programs that have become integral to the Clemson University community, while carving out a reputation as an outstanding teacher and researcher.
She is in her second year of a five-year term as editor of the Journal of Engineering Education, the flagship research journal of the American Society of Engineering Education. As editor, Benson plays a key role in deciding what research is published in the journal, the top in her profession.
Each year, the Class of ‘39 Award goes to one distinguished faculty member whose outstanding contributions over a five-year period have been judged by his or her peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the university, the student body and the larger community.
As the 2018 winner, Benson’s name will be engraved in stone at Carillon Gardens next to 29 past winners, who represent a variety of disciplines going back to 1989.
“I understand how special it is to be a member of the Class of ‘39,” she said. “I actually got to meet some of them many years ago when I gave tours of the Clemson carillon, and they came up to the bell tower to ring ‘their’ bells. They were an amazing group of people. Winning this award is a high honor. I’d like to thank all those who supported and nominated me. This is a team effort.”
Cindy Lee, chair of the Department of Engineering and Science Education, said the award is well deserved.
“Lisa is a passionate educator and researcher who is making the world a better place for students, faculty members and colleagues here in Clemson, across the nation and around the world,” Lee said. “She has voluntarily taken on several large projects because she sees them as ways to promote STEM, her students and colleagues.”
Benson was the first faculty member hired when the department was founded in 2006 and has since developed several programs to help students, graduate teaching assistants and fellow researchers.
Science As Art is among the most far-reaching and publicly visible of her programs.
Students and faculty members create visual art with scientific themes, often including images pulled directly from research projects. The works are a major part of Clemson University’s STEAM Exhibit at Artisphere in downtown Greenville each May.
Benson also co-founded a workshop series that helped students apply for the Graduate Research Fellowship, a prestigious honor from the National Science Foundation that helps pay for graduate school. The workshop helped boost the number of Clemson students who received the fellowship, including seven in 2016 and eight in 2017.
Benson has also been called an outstanding teacher who brings innovative, student-focused practices to the classroom. She has taught junior-level bioengineering classes and graduate-level classes aimed at preparing students to become faculty members in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.
Graduate students often describe Benson as inspiring. She provides guidance and asks challenging but appreciated questions during thesis and dissertation defenses, students said.
Several of Benson’s students have gone on to use the work they did with her as the basis for grants they secured after graduating and becoming faculty members.
Colleagues said that Benson’s research in engineering education is internationally recognized from Europe to Asia, where she has led workshops for aspiring education researchers.
Benson has played an integral role in multiple National Science Foundation grants that are aimed at supporting students and creating new innovations in Clemson’s academic culture.
One is the university-wide ADVANCE grant, which aims to reduce gender inequality and improve opportunities for all early- and mid-career faculty members at Clemson. Two grants are based in Glenn Department of Civil Engineering – the Revolutionizing Engineering Departments grant and the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need grant.
Another was “Tigers Teach,” a collaboration with the College of Education on a Robert Noyce Scholarship Initiative. It provided financial support to students who plan to be STEM educators.
Much of the work grew out of her CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. The award focused on the relationships between student motivation and learning in engineering.
Benson is responsible for $1.4 million in external funding over the past five years to support her research. The number climbs to $6 million when counting her collaborative efforts to support research at Clemson as a whole.
The Class of ‘39 Award is the latest in a string of honors for Benson. She and her students have won four best paper awards in the past five years, and Benson received the Collaboration Award in 2015 from the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the college, said that Benson is eminently qualified for the Class of ‘39 Award.
“Dr. Benson has devoted countless hours to serving her students and colleagues,” Gramopadhye said. “She is an inspirational leader, outstanding teacher and innovative researcher. The honor is well deserved.”
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