Janel Benson Named Phi Eta Sigma Professor of the Year

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Professor of Sociology and Arnold A. Sio Chair of Community and Diversity Janel Benson has received the 2023 Phi Eta Sigma National Honorary Society Professor of the Year Award, the top student-awarded teaching honor at Colgate.

Each year, Colgate students nominate professors whom they believe exceeded expectations in teaching, motivating, and forming individual relationships with students. More than 130 nominations were made in support of 91 faculty for this year’s award. 

Spencer Gump ’23, chair of the Phi Eta Sigma Professor of the Year Committee, said that the phrase “goes above and beyond” was mentioned in almost every nomination for Benson, demonstrating the level of respect and admiration that students had for the professor.

“The professor we selected was repeatedly described as engaging, incredibly understanding, and someone who goes above and beyond for their students,” Gump said. “One nomination described our winner as ‘an amazing professor.’ They are extremely dedicated to their students both in and out of their classrooms and always willing to offer a helping hand."

Along with being caring and compassionate, Gump said students lauded Benson for helping students prepare for life after graduation. “One nomination read, ‘[She] helped us see beyond the class and made significant efforts to provide students with the tools necessary to think about their futures after Colgate,’” Gump said.

Finally, students emphasized the support Benson provides to under-represented students. “One nomination read, ‘[She] has provided tremendous support to me as a first-generation student to ensure that I have been able obtain all the resources I need to succeed,’” Gump said.

Upon receiving the award, Benson said, “I am humbled and deeply honored to receive this award. As a first-generation student myself, these student nominations mean the world to me.”

According to Benson, mentoring students is the most rewarding part of this career.

Benson, who joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2008, teaches sociology classes on research methods, educational disparities, and the family. Her research currently investigates the diverse experiences of first-generation college students to identify the ways campuses can better serve this underrepresented population.

Benson has published numerous scholarly articles, including two with Colgate students, and she recently published Geographies of Campus Inequality: Mapping the Diverse Experiences of First-Generation Students (Oxford University Press, 2020), with Elizabeth Lee. Benson is currently working on a second book that tracks the post-college experiences of first-generation college students, and through her Arnold A. Sio Chair in Community and Diversity, she collaborates with Career Services to mentor fellows in the Graduate School Access Fund. 

Phi Eta Sigma is the nation’s oldest and largest honors society for first-year students in all disciplines. Students become eligible for membership in Phi Eta Sigma by earning a minimum 3.50 GPA during their first year at Colgate.