By Ashley Bradley/ne news editor
(Part one in a four-part series on faculty winners of the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching, an annual award that recognizes professors who impress and inspire their students.)
Known in the community as the “Star Man,” Dr. Raymond Benge won the 2009 Chancellor’s Award for NE Campus.
He has written more than 40 articles for encyclopedias, scholarly journals and reference works, but what brought him and TCC into the spotlight was his work with NASA.
In January, he conducted experiments in a NASA Weightless Wonder zero gravity aircraft. Inside the ship, Benge and other scientists, including an engineer with Lockheed Martin, ran tests with harmonic oscillators.
Benge took video of the experiments and now shows his students the outcomes.
Currently, Benge teaches three classes and three labs including Planetary Astronomy, University Physics I and University Physics II.
Colleagues and students recognize Benge’s skills as a scientist.
“I have never had a colleague that I respect or admire more than Ray,” said Mac McCurdy, professor of physics and astronomy. “Ray is not only one of the best teachers in the Tarrant County College District, he is also one of the best two-year college physics and astronomy teachers in the nation.”
Other than obtaining a bachelor’s of science degree from Duke University, a master’s of science degree from Texas A&M University and teaching at a number of schools including the University of North Texas, Vanderbilt University and Richland College, his students and fellow faculty members here at TCC have been impressed and impacted by his teaching styles.
“Physics can be one of the most challenging courses to teach, yet Ray has earned the interest and following of his students,” said Dr. Lillian Hansen, physical sciences chair. “He is extremely engaging in the classroom and animated in his presentation.”
Benge’s students regularly keep in touch with him after their classes end. They say he is fun, and the way he teaches makes them want to continue learning.
“I was overwhelmed, at times, by the math and physics due to my total lack of experience in both areas,” said former student Barbara Mulley. “If a lesser professor (or an arrogant one) had been teaching, I don’t think I would have had the guts to hang in there.”
Another former student, Carlie Johnson, wrote Benge an e-mail saying she missed his class and that it was one she would remember forever. She took his spring 2007 semester stellar astronomy class.
“Not only was it entertaining, but the best part was listening to an instructor who really had passion for the subject matter and didn’t just appear to be there for the paycheck,” she said.
While some students write Benge letters and e-mails to show their gratitude, some students give him small gifts.
“These are not items of great value but are rather things of primarily sentimental value that fit my quirky sort of sense of humor,” Benge said. “I have had students give me a stuffed flying saucer, space play sets, astronomy ties. … One semester, a student in the astronomy club took a series of photographs of a lunar eclipse and made a nameplate for my office.”
A student in his planetary astronomy class, Lauren Cave said the only reason she took the class was because he was teaching it.
“I think he’s actually been to Mars because he knows so much about it,” she said. “He gets so excited about what he is teaching, he even has solar system-themed ties.”
When Benge was in graduate school, he served as a teaching assistant. That is when he realized he loved to teach.
“I thought I just wanted to do research,” he said. “As I progressed, I realized that I wanted to teach because I was really good at it, and I enjoy it.”
Though a number of students and faculty love his work and the way he conducts class, Benge said he felt humbled upon winning the Chancellor’s Award.
“Here I am winning this award, and there are so many here that are good at their jobs as well,” he said.