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The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space in DeGarmo Hall

The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space in DeGarmo Hall

Alumnus advances training for future teachers

An official Illinois State University resolution dated October 23, 2015, reflects the legacy of one very special graduate.

“Therefore, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees…approves naming DeGarmo Hall, Room 52, as ‘The Richard L. Benson Flexible Learning Space’ in honor of his financial gift to the College of Education and Illinois State University.”

Beyond recognizing a generous dual alumnus, the space is making a difference in how College of Education students prepare for their own future classroom. Benson’s $100,000 gift commitment was used to create flexible learning space that bears his name.

The gift is just one example of how external private support opens doors of opportunity for improving or creating learning spaces needed across campus. Student learning improves when classrooms keep pace with technology found in the real world, especially in the realm of education.

Benson ’54, M.S. ’55, completed degrees in elementary education and educational administration, respectively. A resident of Peotone, he enjoyed a long career in K-12 and higher education and wants to support future educators.

He wanted his donation to fund transforming a room into a flexible learning space with an emphasis on science education. The college’s science education program was doubling, so space was needed for extra sections.

The room, which over the years had morphed from the first distance-education class on campus to a regular classroom and then a computer lab, still had great infrastructure.

“It was good room that wasn’t being utilized well,” Assistant Dean Ken Fansler said.

Benson’s gift likely saved decades of time and helped the College stay competitive in attracting good students.

“To get a gift like that from Mr. Benson takes our vision and makes it real,” said Fansler, who calls the investment important and unique. It is important because it allows for the department to design a modern space that will help train new teachers in an environment that resembles classrooms they’ll lead when they begin their careers. Benson put no conditions on how the money was to be spent, which is unique.

“We had the idea, the space, and no money,” Fansler said. “He said to use it as you need to use it.” All Benson asked is that pictures be taken to share the results and show what was done.

The room is bright and spacious, its walls covered with dry-erase coating making them all “writeable.” Chairs and tables are on wheels and moveable, which is important to remain flexible.

“It was absolutely critical as we continue to follow trends in K-12 settings,” Fansler said. “Classrooms don’t look like old classrooms anymore.”

The right furniture allows for small groups, collaboration, flexibility, and no traditional rows of seating. “It opens up a whole new way of teaching and learning,” said Fansler, who is grateful for the investment in teacher education.

Because of Benson, ISU students will be prepared and comfortable in today’s changing classroom setting long before graduation. Similar investments by other donors across campus are equally crucial, as they allow for capital and equipment improvements that significantly enhance the Redbird experience.

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