Dean Has Worked Tirelessly to Help Students & Keep Them on Track
A Santa Monica College dean who has worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years to provide crucial support services to students in virtually all areas – from transferring to four-year universities to helping veteran students – has been named SMC’s 2013 Manager of the Year.
In announcing his choice of Dean of Counseling and Retention Brenda Johnson Benson for the honor, SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang said, “Brenda personifies the best of Santa Monica College, combining a nurturing and supportive management style with a push for constant improvement and innovation. She is truly an outstanding manager.”
The daughter of a teacher and a tennis coach, the Westchester resident – who was recently named an outstanding educator (“Best of L.A. Education People”) by L.A. Weekly – began working at SMC as an intern while a graduate student in the School of Education at UCLA. She fell in love with her work at SMC and moved up the ranks from intern to counselor to coordinator/assistant dean of transfer services, a position she held for ten years from 1988 to 1998.
It was in this capacity and with her leadership that, in 1989, SMC first distinguished itself as the leader in transfer, sending more students to the University of California system than any other community college in the state. This is a record that the college continues to maintain.
“Brenda is a strong and unyielding advocate for her students, colleagues and the community college mission,” said SMC Transfer Center faculty leader Dan Nannini, “She is an educator for the educators and, for this, she is held in the highest regard.”
In 1998, Benson was promoted to her current position, Dean of Counseling and Retention, where her focus shifted to developing strategies that would support SMC – an “open door” community college – to both retain students until graduation and to support them with tools needed to succeed both during and after their time at SMC. Each semester, the SMC Counseling Department works with other campus programs and departments to deliver a myriad of orientation events, workshops and courses, all designed to lead to student success. Over the past 15 years these programs have proven to be key in supporting SMC students to complete their education and achieve their goals.
SMC’s annual fall season VIP Welcome Day has been a particularly successful and well attended orientation/retention event. Now in its 9th year, VIP Welcome Day typically brings 4,000 to 5,000 new students and their families to campus for a day of student success workshops and an opportunity to interact with SMC faculty and staff. Research has shown that this one event increases fall-to-fall student persistence by 49 percent.
She also oversees 10 specialized counseling programs that serve veterans and other underrepresented student populations. The SMC Veterans Resource Center currently supports over 600 student veterans and provides critical services that help these students while making the adjustment from military to civilian life.
Benson is currently near the end of a one-year term as President of the SMC Management Association. She has also, over the years, been active on statewide committees related to counseling and transfer, and co-authored the minimum standards for California Community College Transfer Centers.
She is married and has a 14-year old son.