Lauren Benz, PhD, Named McNair Distinguished Faculty Mentor

The USD TRiO McNair Scholars program is very pleased to announce that Dr. Lauren Benz was selected as one of two McNair Distinguished Faculty Mentors of the Year for 2012-2013.  She was nominated by Ms. Miranda Stratton, USD McNair Scholar, who will attend Stanford University this fall for a PhD in Molecular Biology.

The McNair Scholars Program works with first generation, low income, and underrepresented students who want to become the next generation of scholar-leaders in academia. 

Here is what Miranda had to say about Dr. Benz:

I am writing enthusiastically and wholeheartedly to recommend Dr. Lauren Benz as the McNair Scholars Faculty Mentor of the Year.

I first met Dr. Benz two years ago through a friend of mine, a former research student in her lab, at the annual Sci-Mix, a poster event for students to get to know the research of the faculty members from various  science departments. As I conversed with Dr. Benz, her passion for research was contagious. Although Chemistry is not my primary academic focus, she took the time to explain to me the relevance to her work, while simplifying the techniques used to collect the data that she had thus far. By the end of our meeting, we had talked about the potential for me to join her laboratory.

When I was determining what research I would like to conduct as a McNair Scholar, I felt that it was necessary to explore the field of Chemistry further because my previous research was in Biology. I recalled the interaction I had with Dr. Benz, as well as conversations I had with my friend about Dr. Benz’s mentorship style, and proceeded to contact her to see if she would take me on as a research student. She was delighted to have me on as her first McNair Scholar, and proceeded to help me through the proposal process.

Because I was a novice in the field, she provided me with the background information and met with me in office hours to help build my knowledge in the field of surface chemistry. She patiently answered all my questions, and checked in throughout the process to ensure I felt confident understanding the information, especially in writing and presenting my research. Through her patience and ability to translate our research into petroleum-relevant organosulfur compounds, I have acquired the skillset and knowledge to effectively articulate our research to all audiences, including the general public.

Along with helping me develop my writing and presentation skills, Dr. Benz has also prepared me for graduate level work by giving me and my research partner a great deal of autonomy in developing the project. Rather than overseeing us constantly in the laboratory, she allows us to perform experiments independently and check in with her when we had collected data.
By giving us independence, my research partner and I have been able to troubleshoot during unforeseen circumstances in the project, as well as improve upon the protocol for our project. When we have had troubleshooting issues in the past, Dr. Benz has always been available to help give suggestions on how to improve the experiment. Thus, Dr. Benz practices the perfect balance between allowing her research students to grow as independent researchers, while ensuring that they are provided with enough guidance to be successful in the field.

Dr. Benz has not only helped me develop as a researcher in chemistry, but has also supported me in my personal development. Dr. Benz was actively involved in my graduate application process, as she provided insight about her experience, while suggesting I seek advice from faculty within my department.

She also gave me confidence to decide that going to graduate school was a fantastic opportunity, and that I was more than adequately prepared for the training I will receive in the upcoming years. Dr. Benz also reminded me that although the research is significant, I should select a program based on other factors. For example, knowing that my family is important to me, she advised me to consider a school that will help me to continue to foster my relationship with them.

She also has given our laboratory the opportunity to connect outside of research. As a lab, we have gone out to lunch together and celebrated birthdays together. Members of our lab also have presented at the American Chemical Society’s National Conference, where they fostered stronger communities among each other while learning more about science. Many members of our lab also participate in the book club Dr. Benz oversees for the Chemistry and Biochemistry department.

Overall, Dr. Benz is compassionate, intelligent, well-respected, and completely invests in her students to develop them into confident researchers. By balancing her teaching skills in the laboratory and devoting time to get to know her students outside of the laboratory setting, she has been a phenomenal mentor. I will cherish my research experience with Dr. Benz and hope to emulate the wonderful skills she possesses.