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Benjamin receives inaugural ASEE Engineering Post Doctoral Fellowship
January 6, 2022
By
Stephen Greenwell
Le Shorn Benjamin (left) will be working with Jerrod Henderson to develop the Engineering Education program at the Cullen College of Engineering.
Le Shorn Benjamin (left) will be working with Jerrod Henderson to develop the Engineering Education program at the Cullen College of Engineering.
Le Shorn Benjamin, Ph.D.
Le Shorn Benjamin, Ph.D.

When Le Shorn Benjamin, Ph.D. initially saw the advertisement for a postdoctoral associate role focused on Engineering Education with Jerrod Henderson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, she knew that although her background was in educational research, she could transfer her knowledge and skills to the engineering context. In fact, she was excited since taking on new challenges has never been something she has shied away from.  

“When I saw the ad I was immediately interested, even though it was on the engineering side of things,” she said. “But what was interesting to me was that the entry requirement wasn't only a Ph.D. in engineering or engineering education. The post-doc description specifically requested somebody with either qualitative experience or mixed methods experience. There was also a line item about building and developing an engineering education unit or program. My doctoral research and all the larger parts of my research agenda look at the idea of quality in Ph.D. programs, so I thought it would really be an excellent opportunity for me.” 

Based on Benjamin’s research interest, Henderson advised Benjamin to apply for the new eFellows program, which is administered by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program places early-career Ph.D.s in engineering fields in university research postdoctoral fellowships. In addition to hands-on academic research with a faculty advisor, each fellowship cohort will participate in professional development and mentoring activities designed to prepare them for future research careers.

Henderson has been pushing the development of Engineering Education at UH and the Cullen College of Engineering, and recently received a planning grant for an Engineering Research Center. In addition to Henderson’s nod, Benjamin’s application was also endorsed by Department Chair, T.J. (Lakis) Mountziaris, Ph.D. and was ultimately selected by ASEE for inclusion in the inaugural cohort of the ASEE eFellowship.  

Henderson said that Benjamin had the “right amount of everything” he looks for, when it comes to hiring someone who his research group.

“She has the right amount of passion, relatability, capacity to trailblaze in research, leadership potential and willingness to grow,” he said. “Dr. Benjamin’s research and practice in programmatic quality will also help lay a foundation for a strong engineering education research focus within my department and eventually will lead to the development of an engineering education program at the University of Houston. Her research proposal is timely. In fact, we stand to learn directly from her findings and intend to apply them as we develop the Engineering Education program here at UH.”

Benjamin was attracted to UH because of the opportunity to conduct research into doctoral-level Engineering Education programs, but it was an insightful conversation with Henderson and his research group that sealed the deal. She described the group as collegial and felt comfortable that she would fit in. She noted that she was also impressed that Henderson stuck to the timeline he had given her for consideration of her proposal, which she noted with a laugh wasn’t always the case in higher education.

“I got a good vibe, good energy from that,” she said. “I proposed the idea of examining Ph.D. program quality within the lens of engineering education Ph.D. programs. So, the project is situated within his area, but also allows me to extend my own work, I think it was a really good research nexus and Henderson was all for it.”    

Benjamin earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Central Michigan University in 2019. She had earned her Master of Science in Education from Long Island University in 2011, but she decided to pursue her doctorate after practical experience as a high school teacher in New York City from 2009 to 2013, and an assessment officer for the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago from 2013 to 2016.

Benjamin has also served as a program administrator for an intergenerational social and youth development program, consulted on higher education program assessments as well as on personnel recruitment for an art studio, and, since her high school days, has served as a tutor for students.  

“My younger sister she's always talking to me about being brave and stepping out, but I think because I value the transferability of my skills, expertise and competence, I'm always thinking about, 'How can I apply this skill, this expertise, this experience that I have to novel and new settings? How can I use it to break into something new?'” 

Whether it was her informal work as a neighborhood tutor, or more structured experiences like teaching in a high school classroom or conducting research on educational quality, Benjamin has always realized how important it was to have access to high quality education and to have the support needed to excel while pursuing it.  

“I think I continue to do that throughout my career in education,” she said. “I'm always thinking about, 'Who doesn't have access to the resources that they need to be successful? What does support look like? What do challenges look like? Who needs additional support to become the best version of themselves?' Those are the questions I'm thinking about.” 

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