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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Concentration on student success leads to teaching award

Chancellor’s Award winner Pam Benson works at her desk. Benson has taught at TCC for 18 years.  Photo by Gary Collins/The Collegian
Chancellor’s Award winner Pam Benson works at her desk. Benson has taught at TCC for 18 years. Photo by Gary Collins/The Collegian

By Gary Collins/ne news editor

(Final 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.)

Chancellor’s Award winner Pam Benson works at her desk. Benson has taught at TCC for 18 years.  Photo by Gary Collins/The Collegian
Chancellor’s Award winner Pam Benson works at her desk. Benson has taught at TCC for 18 years. Photo by Gary Collins/The Collegian

Pam Benson has dedicated her life to family, church, education and helping others.

In her 27 years of teaching, 18 at TCC, the assistant professor of English has left a permanent impression on students and TCC.

Her dedication and contributions to the school led to her recent Chancellor’s Exemplary Teaching Award, given annually to one faculty member on each campus. Benson won for NE.

Benson said she has been teaching all her life, raising her children and getting them through school. She brought with her to NE professional teaching experience from Northlake College, Mountain View College and University of Texas at Arlington.

Currently, she teaches English Composition II CDI and American Literature II via the Internet and Composition I via television. But Benson does not let her courses get stale.

During Benson’s tenure with CDI and ITV courses, she eventually became dissatisfied with the materials, so she created Visits with the Professor.

“The tapes used for ITV were outdated, and some students had difficulty relating to the programming created in the 1980s,” she said. “In an effort to better meet student needs and improve the course, I embarked on an exciting adventure that involved creating my own materials.”

Aided by NE media services and distance learning technicians, Benson wrote, starred in and created sets for the 10 DVD programs.

The approach was simple and to the point with Benson speaking to the camera as if addressing a class.

Teaching is something Benson believes she has the personality to do.

“I enjoy helping a student achieve success by helping them to do their personal best,” she said. “We aren’t all gifted with the same capabilities and motivation, but every individual has a point at which they can peak and do their best. My job is to help them with that.”

In addition to teaching, she was involved in the formation of the first Internet English courses offered by TCC.

Benson said she wants her students to be successful because success in class is a foundation toward future success.

Some students, Benson said, come from poor economic backgrounds and did not have the advantages that other students might have.

“They’ve been told all their high school lives that they are poor writers, so they think they don’t like English or poetry because of an unfortunate experience in high school,” she said. “So I try to turn that around.”

The career to which she has given so much time was not her first choice.

“I had an opportunity when I graduated to take a scholarship from the University of Texas at Austin in biochemistry, but I turned that down for a scholarship from TCU in nursing,” she said.

As fate would have it, she left school shortly into the nursing program, got married and started a family. When she returned to school, she changed her direction.

“I originally set out in life to be a nurse,” she said. “If I’d taken the biochemistry scholarship, I would probably be a doctor working in genetic research.”

Despite the shift in academics, she has no regrets.

“There are so many wonderful things in life that you’d like to be able to do, but you can’t do them all,” she said. “You have to make a choice and a commitment to do what you do and don’t look back.”

Before coming to TCC, Benson landed her first paid teaching job at the University of Texas at Arlington as a teaching assistant, where she also graduated.

A former community college student herself, Benson received an associate degree from Mountain View College in Dallas and both her master’s degree in humanities and her bachelor’s in English from UTA. In addition, she has done doctoral work.

In 2003, Benson took a faculty development leave to rejuvenate her American Literature II Internet courses. Loading her family into the car, she grabbed a camera and hit the road.

Traveling through the South, she visited the homes of Ernest Hemingway in Florida, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams in Mississippi and Flannery O’Connor in Savannah, Ga.

“It was really exciting for me because we went to these places that I’d read about,” she said. “We’d pull into the site, and I’d get out with my camera and start talking to people.”

After talking to some locals, she found a former casino in Mississippi that was supposedly a favorite writing spot of Tennessee Williams. While there, she interviewed the grandson of the builder who talked about his experiences as a child meeting Williams. She also visited the homes of F. Scott Fitzgerald in New York, Hemingway in Chicago and John Steinbeck in California.

Winning the Chancellor’s award took her by surprise, Benson said. Since she had no idea she would win, Benson sat with friends at a table in the back.

“So when they announced the award, I thought ‘how am I going to walk all the way up there,’” she said. “There were all these lights and cameras. It was sort of like the Academy Awards.”

Through her dedication to her job, Benson takes the time to give knowledge to her students, and she has left some with a permanent impression.

“Among the many positive messages you give your students, the single most important message is that our success is your number one goal,” Denise O’Donnell, a former student, said of Benson’s teaching.

Benson’s life lesson to all her students is about their future.

“I want students to know you are in control of your future, and it can be as big and wonderful and awesome as you want it be,” she said. “It’s up to you to achieve that success in life.”

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