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Kansas State University
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Sources: Doug Benson, 785-532-1926, bensonml@k-state.edu; and
M. Duane Nellis, 785-532-6224, dnellis@k-state.edu
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415
News release prepared by: Katie Mayes, 785-532-6415, kmayes@k-state.edu

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

K-STATE'S 2009-2010 COFFMAN TEACHING SCHOLAR TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY IN THE CLASSROOM AND ACROSS CAMPUS

MANHATTAN -- For nearly 40 years, Kansas State University's Doug Benson, professor of Spanish, has taught his students about the world around them. In exchange, he's learned a lot about them and himself.

In large part, he said, it is because of the diverse kinds of people he's had the privilege of interacting with. It also is why Benson has been active at K-State in helping to create an environment where a diversity of opinions and backgrounds can be shared.

"People who are surrounded by people who are like them learn, but they learn at a slower rate," Benson said. "A diverse learning environment has a way of maximizing learning and educational achievement."

Benson has been named K-State's 2009-2010 Coffman Chair for University Distinguished Teaching Scholars. During his term, he will encourage diversity by helping to develop faculty and student resources on promoting diversity in the classroom.

"Douglas Benson is passionate about diversity on the K-State campus," said M. Duane Nellis, K-State provost and senior vice president. "His year of focused work as a Coffman Scholar will not only benefit faculty and staff, it will ultimately enrich the educational experience at K-State."

Benson has been a longtime champion of diversity at K-State. He has served for many years as co-chair of Community Cultural Harmony Week and has been a recipient of K-State's Commerce Bank Presidential Faculty/Staff Award for Distinguished Service to Minority Students.

As the Coffman Scholar, Benson will work on the Virtual Tilford Center, a learning resource for students, faculty and staff for enhancing diversity. The center will use the Second Life platform as its basic structure. It will draw on the work of K-State's Tilford Group, which has spent the last 12 years developing a comprehensive diversity curriculum.

Benson will head the four-member board guiding the development of the virtual center's content, which will include classroom materials, information about diversity-related activities and visitors, ideas and funding for research projects and access to diversity training.

Most immediately, Benson will work on a diversity calendar and training components. He also will have informational meetings and presentations on the resources available and the importance of diversity at K-State, as well as bring internationally known experts in the field to campus.

Though it has long been a priority to recruit diverse students and faculty to K-State, Benson said that continually working to create a campus environment where a multitude of ideas and people are welcome also is important. As the Coffman Scholar, he will work to promote diversity as a catalyst for enhanced academic excellence at K-State.

"It's not enough just to have people of color here," Benson said. "It's equally important to create an environment where diverse experiences are welcomed because that is what produces all those ideas that our students come up with."

Diversity is key to a well-rounded education and to preparing today's college-age students for the challenges they'll face, both professionally and personally, using many different perspectives and strategies, Benson said.

Education is a two-way street, he said, noting that his students have taught him things, too.

"I've been able to help students learn about themselves and the world through Spanish, and I've had the opportunity to learn things from my research and my students that I could not possibly know working on my own," Benson said.

The Coffman Chair was created in 1995 to highlight K-State's commitment to excellence in undergraduate teaching and learning. Though the appointment lasts a year, all who are selected retain the title throughout their career. Benson is the 15th faculty member to be named a Coffman Chair.