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Our Mission

To inspire and mobilize people to strengthen communities through learning, scholarship, and advocacy

Values

Hope, Integrity, Collaboration, and Action

Vision

We envision inclusive, healthy, resilient, and just communities

 


 

Bennion Center Staff


   

DEBBIE HAIR | ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

From PTA to Community Council, Debbie Hair is engaged in her community. Besides those roles, Debbie has served in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and is currently participating SSLART, amateur ham radio support for the City of South Salt Lake. She’s also written a cookbook and is an award-winning dutch oven chef. Debbie has been Administrative support for the Bennion Center since 2007.

801-585-3296 | debbie.hair@utah.edu

 pic asma

ASMA HASSAN | UTAH READS PROGRAM MANAGER

Asma is glad to be back at the Bennion Center and grow its Utah Reads program. Previously, she worked at the Eccles School of Business, at Utah Campus Compact, a local chapter of AmeriCorps where she enrolled and exited members completing their AmeriCorps hours in educational, health, and environmental fields, serving vulnerable populations, and as a tutor for Utah Reads.

Asma has a M.Ed. in Special Education and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah. In her free time, she enjoys tutoring students using engaging teaching methods, hanging out with her sisters, and eating Thai food.

801-585-9101 | asma.hassan@utah.edu

BOBBIJO KANTER | ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, STUDENT PROGRAMS 

BobbiJo Kanter joined the Bennion Center in 2016 following a 13-year career with Special Olympics programs. She is excited about connecting students with community experiences to create inclusive, engaging, and meaningful opportunities. While not working, BobbiJo can usually be found in the great outdoors with her wife and giant dogs.

801-585-9103 | bobbijo.kanter@utah.edu

DEAN MCGOVERN | EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Dean McGovern enjoys exploring the intersections of education and community. He is inspired daily by the students and faculty who choose to make the world a better place through their learning, teaching, and scholarship. He believes that if the Bennion Center didn’t already exist that someone would just have to invent it. Dean gets lost running mountain trails whenever he can.

801-585-7826 | >>dean.mcgovern@utah.edu

 Richards_Megan

MEGAN MEDINA | BENNION SCHOLARS PROGRAM MANAGER

Megan Medina likes growing programs and people. She's happiest when she is mentoring and encouraging students, which is part of the reason why she's so excited to direct the Bennion Scholars program. A native of North Dakota, Megan's an avid traveler. She spent time living and teaching in China and loves the outdoors.

801-585-3297 | megan.medina@utah.edu

ERIC NHEM | STUDENT PROGRAMS MANAGER

As the former co-director of Project Youth and a current volunteer for the Elevate Theater Company, Eric is no stranger to the Bennion Center. Being so involved shaped who he has become today. Eric is eager to connect with and mentor students who share his passion for serving our community. Outside of the Bennion Center, Eric can be found getting lost in a good book, expressing himself through writing and dancing, obsessing over everything Disney, and eating sushi and sweets.

801-585-1508 | eric.nhem@utah.edu

 

 

AMY SIBUL | ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR CEL

Amy Sibul's scientific background is in wildlife and plant ecology, and she has been faculty in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah since 2011. She joined the Bennion Center team in 2018 to support faculty across campus in their endeavors to expand engaged learning experiences for students.  She wants every student to have access to hands-on, applied opportunities that enrich and deepen their educational experience. When not in the office she can be found communing with Utah's bees and birds while wandering campus and the Wasatch Mountains.

J SWANGER | ALTERNATIVE BREAKS PROGRAM MANAGER

With love as his politic and idealism as his practice, J Swanger is excited about joining students in pushing the limits of community building in all of its many forms. Whether he’s in a minivan en-route to his next Alternative Break or sitting under a tree with a favorite book, J is guided by his passions for education, literature, justice, and cheesecake. He’s thrilled to be a part of the Bennion Center team and to coordinate the program that first taught him the meaning of community, and his desk and schedule are always open for students and friends.

801-587-9027 | j.swanger@utah.edu

BRYCE WILLIAMS | STUDENT PROGRAMS MANAGER

Bryce Williams is a proud University of Utah Alum who loves animals, cooking for his wife, and attending Utah athletic events. Bryce was engaged with the Bennion Center as a student and says coming to work at the Bennion Center has been like coming back home.

801-581-8436 | bryce.williams@utah.edu

Andi

ANDI WITCZAK | ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY ENGAGED LEARNING

After 15 years as a graphic designer and design faculty member, Andi comes to us from Kansas University where she was the director of the Center for Civic And Social Responsibility. She believes in the power of design to tackle social challenges but she combines that learning with leadership skills and a passion for multi-discipline collaboration.

801-585-9100 | andi.witczak@utah.edu

Chris Wada

CHRIS WADA | DIRECTOR, MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS

New to higher education, Chris brings 12+ years combined experience as a sales & marketing leader, project manager and business development consultant in the fresh produce and natural food industry. After moving back to the SLC area from Southern California to live closer to family (grew up in Idaho), he was chosen to lead an expanded marketing & communications role at the Bennion Center to reimagine the department. Focused on being a marketer and now educator, his goal is to create a creative agency type of structure made up of student & community member volunteers to provide real life, professional opportunities with purpose-minded peers. Outside of work, his world revolves around his wife and 2 young kids. #dadlife

801-585-6564 | chris.wada@utah.edu

 Eva Jannson

EVA JANSSON | DIRECTOR, DEVELOPMENT

Eva Jansson is no stranger to the University of Utah. After earning degrees in anthropology and international studies from the U, she joined the development team at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts where she worked for several years. Her love of data and analysis eventually drew her to join the research team and the University’s Office of Advancement before she stumbled across her future role as director of development at the Bennion Center. She’s excited to be part of team of staff and students who dedicate themselves to making the world a better place for everyone. When not at work, she enjoys a plethora of hobbies including elaborate cross stitching, terrible movies, intensive strategy games, jeeping, and her dogs (Archer and Crom).

801-585-0093 | eva.jansson@utah.edu

 

Bennion Center Student Board

The Bennion Center strives to be a student-directed organization in virtually every sense of the word. Our Student Board is composed of student leaders who represent each of the innovative community engaged programs and projects operating within the Bennion Center. These student leaders work collaboratively with each other, their programming areas, and staff partners to ensure positive outcomes, transparent processes, and strong relationships in all we do.  


ALEX ACUNA

ALTERNATIVE BREAKS

She, Her, Hers

ALTERNATIVE BREAKS

ANAHY SALCEDO

BENNION SCHOLARS

She, Her, Hers

BENNION SCHOLARS

DAREN THAI

COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

He, Him His

COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

RIA KADDU

COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMS

She, Her, Hers

COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMS

KIM YAPIAS

UTAH READS

She, Her, Hers

UTAH READS

EDUARDO BARBA

RESIDENTIAL ENGAGEMENT

He, Him, His

SERVICE HOUSE

Majoring in criminology, pre-law. Third-year. Class of 2021. Represent and serve as liaison for the Bennion Service House and Gail Miller Community Engagement Tower in partnership with Housing and Residential Education. I am the primary advocate for residents within these areas as it pertains to Residential Engagement programming including Service Dialogues, Officers Hollow, and more. I serve as the bridge between HRE and the Bennion Center and am responsible for relaying information between these organizations.

KASPER KOBLANKSI

COHORT PROGRAMS

He, Him, His

FIRST YEAR EXPERIENCE

BOBBIJO KANTER & ASMA HASSAN

ADVISORS

She, Her, Hers

 

Bennion Center Advisory Board

A volunteer advisory board guides the Bennion Center. The individuals who comprise this board have distinguished themselves in education, business, community, or family. They serve as a resource to help students and staff remain true to the Bennion Center’s mission, vision, and values. In addition, advisory board members work side by side with students during community engagement activities. They mentor students on civic practices, as well provide them with valuable networking opportunities.

Interested in joining the board? Contact Debbie Hair or apply to join a Bennion Center Committee.


EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Robin Hough, Chair
Blake Perez, Past Chair
Debbie Hair, Staff Liaison
Dean McGovern
Amanda Finlayson
Heather McDonald
Mitch Vice
Robert Kraemer
Laura Gee

MEMBERS AT LARGE

Jake Stone
Suzanne Hawker
Lon Richardson Jr.
Lon Jenkins
Alex Stayner
Jorge Fierro
Sarah Morton Taggart

EMERITUS

John W. Bennion
Phillip Clinger
Charlotte Jacobsen
Richard Jacobsen
Kathryn Lindquist

EX-OFFICIO

Martha Bradley-Evans
Jason Ramirez

Thank you for all of your support and direction!


DEVELOPMENT & ALUMNI

Laura Gee, Chair
Eva Jansson, Staff Liaison
Alex Stayner
Christine Carr
Jake Stone
Kim Paulding
Lon Jenkins
Lon Richardson Jr.
Sara Shaw
Erika Wood
Cindy Kuo

STUDENT PROGRAMS

Amanda Finlayson, Chair
BobbiJo Kanter, Staff Liaison
Austin Waters, Chair Elect
Ayrel Clark
Amanda WIlson
Brook Pyper
Danielle Johnson
Jessica Ashcraft
Leeann Sudbury
Sam Earl
Sarah Morton Taggert
Suzanne Hawker

BENNION SCHOLARS

Heather McDonald, Chair
Megan Medina, Staff Liaison
Carolyn Bilss, Chair Elect
Glenn Bailey
Ivis Garcia Zambrana
Miranda Best
Jayson Pemberton
Kristina Worton
Salley Aerts
John Adamson

CEL FACULTY

Robert Kraemer, Chair
Amy Sibul, Staff Liaison
Lepa Espinoza
Tony Mastracci
David Hawkins
Yda Smith
Reva Rauk

MARKETING

Mitch Vice, Chair
Chris Wada, Staff Liaison
Andi Witczak
Carol Sogard
Kevin Bischoff
Bill Oakley
Sara Dorsey
Daren Thai

 


Click the link below to learn more about serving on our committees.

 SUBMIT YOUR INTEREST FORM

Meet the Alumni

Whether you graduated from the University of Utah last semester or decades ago, your Bennion Center experience provided you with community engaged memories that may still be dear to your heart. Whether your experiences changed the course of your career or laid a foundation for family and community service, share your story. We hope you’ll enjoy hearing from our alums old and new.


 

PATRICK MCCABE

It was the era of Ferris Buhler, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones. At the University of Utah, it was the beginning of the Lowell Bennion Center. And Patrick McCabe was part of the movement.

“I was in student government at the time this idea came forward,” he recalls. “I got interested hearing about it and volunteered to be the liaison with the ASUU.”  The idea was to create a way to help University of Utah students serve in the community. Patrick says he asked Lowell Bennion, “What would you like us to do?” Lowell’s response: he needed a group of students to help with projects one Saturday each month.

“I don’t remember what we called it then,” Patrick says, but he took on the task of organizing the group under the direction of Irene Fisher. “I was so impressed with Irene and inspired by her.”

Patrick says he placed ads in the Daily Chronicle asking students to come and volunteer. He says Irene and Lowell both felt meeting needs was their first priority, figuring out the organizational structure would come as they served.  “There were yard projects, delivering turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners and tutoring at Salt Lake’s homeless shelter,” Patrick recalls. 

In fact, it was his work with the Bennion Center at the homeless shelter that led him to write his honors thesis on whether or not a person has a legal right to a home. He began to explore the idea of using the law to shape and change society. After graduating from the U, Patrick earned a law degree from Cornell and is currently practicing in San Francisco, California.

“I do a lot of work setting up new charities,” he explains. “I’m sure that all stems from my work at the Bennion Center. A fair amount of my work is pro-bono. Those of us who have gone through the Bennion Center have a lot of affection for the center. Students, when granted responsibility, will take it and accomplish a great deal.”

Leslie

LESLIE (WARNER) DALTON

Leslie Dalton says she doesn’t feel comfortable unless she’s engaged in some sort of community service. She credits the Bennion Center for her civic awareness.

In 1990, Leslie was a freshman at the U. She discovered the AIDS awareness program that was then one of the Bennion Center service opportunities. That started her service career. She was one of the first group of Bennion Center service learning scholars and eventually became president of what was then called the Bennion Center Student Association.

“I took Irene Fisher’s class on the legislature and became a lobbyist for the PTA (Parent Teacher Association),” she recalls with a laugh. “I never would have gone there if it hadn’t been for her.”

Leslie graduated in 1994 and used her legislative experience to lobby for children’s health issues while raising her children. In 2012, she got her teaching certificate from Utah Valley University and has spent the last five years working as an English teacher at Mountain Ridge Jr. High in Highland, Utah.

She’s been active in Operation Safety Net, a suicide prevention campaign for LGBTQ youth. She also incorporates service learning in her junior high classroom. “In the community where I teach, those kids are very privileged – probably some of the most privileged in the state. I don’t think they understand what it means to need.”

Currently working on a master’s degree in education, Leslie plans to continue developing service learning activities for her students. “I want them to look outside of themselves and see a different side of things. I want them to see what their privilege can be used for.”

Barbara_Ochoa

BÁRBARA OCHOA

Bárbara Ochoa (they/elle pronouns) didn’t intend to go to the Bay area. It just sort of happened. “I was already planning on working with queer and trans youth of color,” they recall. “It was just a question of when and where.”

Bárbara graduated from the U in 2015. That was also the year they served as a site leader for an alternative break focused on queer and trans justice. In 2014, they had been a participant on the same trip and were thrilled to be leading the LGBTQIA*/Human Rights site on their last year at the U. “Alt breaks really gave me an opportunity to identify which organizations reflected my own world and my own experience,” they recall. “I was surprised at how the break trips created a foundation or map for me of the kind of organizations that exist in the Bay area.”

Today, Bárbara serves as the Queer and Trans Youth Center Coordinator for Health Initiatives for Youth. They work closely with the San Francisco Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District in facilitating workshops and support groups for both middle school and high school LGBTQIA* youth of color. “Youth get overwhelmed by peer pressure and family expectations,” Bárbara notes. “So we try to work from a harm reduction perspective: creating a space that not only validates their struggles, but offers support to lower the impact of trauma and violence.” They also organize events at the youth center where queer and trans youth can participate in events, play video games, or just access wi-fi for homework. They also oversee a clothing closet where marginally housed or homeless youth can take any clothing materials they may need.

Oliver Anderson

OLIVER ANDERSON

In 2014 Oliver Anderson was a newly minted U grad with bachelor’s degrees in sociology and human development and family relations. Today he’s the new coordinator of student involvement, leadership and orientation and Westminster College.

Oliver says the Bennion Center played a central role in his career trajectory. ”My lived experiences with the BC have impacted how I approach my experiences every day. I am more aware and conscious of my surroundings and how my actions impact my community. From environmentalism to human rights and advocacy, to even meeting someone new, the BC has given me the tools to respectfully and passionately engage the world.”

Oliver’s involvement with the Bennion Center began when he was a freshman. He volunteered on Legacy of Lowell and Project Youth. The next year he found himself helping to plan Project Youth and working on Saturday Service Projects. From there, Alternative Breaks became his passion. After his first experience as a participant, he spent the next two years as a site leader.  “I enjoyed the opportunity of getting students from all backgrounds and studies united for a week of service. More than that, I loved brining the Alt Break experience back to the U and further spreading the knowledge that we students gained on our trip.”

Oliver says involvement at the Bennion Center gave him the chance to connect with individuals outside of his usual circles. “I was able to grow the love of continuous service and learn that I can connect with all folks who cross my path, regardless of our differences. Thanks to the BC, I am living more graciously, one step at a time.”

Katie Saiget boat

KATIE SAIGET

“Sometimes I think you have to be removed from your current situation in order to see what your reality is and be compelled to take action.” Katie Saiget says that’s what she gained from her first Alt Breaks experience. A friend convinced her to come along on a community engagement trip to Arcada. Katie says serving there gave her better perspective on the needs of her own community. “For me, it’s about awareness and action,” she says. “You see how to become more civically engaged and you feel a lot more empowered to take action.”

Katie used that empowerment to engage in an honors course led by then Bennion Center director Marshall Welsh. The course focused on rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  Students had been in the cleaning up in the lower 9th Ward when they discovered family albums and keepsakes. “I remember sitting contemplating what would I do if something like that had happened to me. All of us as students were able to band together and express all of the emotions we felt but also gain so much perspective from people we would otherwise have never met. They gave us a world of perspective and we gave them our sweat for the day.”

Today Katie works in the tech industry. She uses her Bennion Center skills almost every day. “What the Bennion Center taught me was always staying curious and always defaulting to doing something with the knowledge that you have. At the Bennion Center I remember leading group reflections. It’s something I just recently brought to my leadership trainings I hold for my company.”

Katie is still volunteering too. She has served as a mentor to first gen students. She also helps immigrants complete their paperwork for citizenship. “I find myself really compelled to give back.”

Focus on Community Needs

The Lowell Bennion Community Service Center was dedicated in 1987 by Chase Peterson, President of the University of Utah. He stated, “No university can rest merely with the transmission of old or the generation of new knowledge. It must also help students reach out to larger opportunities and responsibilities. That is what the Bennion Center is all about.”

Students have been doing just that – directing projects designed to address an identified community need, usually in partnership with an existing public or private agency. Projects that served elderly people, youth, and special populations were among the first programs offered, and still provide the bulk of our volunteer opportunities.


 

Bennion Center History | The First 20 Years

LEARN MORE

Our Namesake

While new ideas and innovative strategies to implement them are flourishing, the Bennion Center continues to model itself on the life its namesake, Lowell Bennion, who embodied respect for all people, believed in social and economic justice for all, and acted tirelessly  on his beliefs.


About Lowell Bennion

LEARN MORE

HOPE

Courage and optimism are at the heart of our efforts to create deeply engaged learning experiences for students, while also making a positive impact in the community.

 

INTEGRITY

We work to act and communicate honestly and with integrity and to treat others with respect, compassion, and understanding.

 

COLLABORATION

We believe in the power of collaboration and collective impact as we seek to create deeply engaged learning experiences and meet the needs of our communities.. We seek  strong and genuine  partnerships that enable all to work toward strengthening communities. 

 

ACTION

We inspire and mobilize people to strengthen communities through learning, scholarship, and advocacy. We create safe spaces for diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. We understand the ability of this teaching and learning process to foster a deeper understanding of our world, its issues and its people. We make use of best practices for program development, assessment, and professional growth.

Click the link below to view our past Annual Reports

 Annual Reports

Community Engagement at the U

Since it's founding in 1850, the University of Utah has been home to people committed to community. This passion for shared knowledge, improved well-being and expanding research drives faculty, students, and staff to imagine new possibilities within the context of community. It is a collaboration that results in transformation.

That is why community engagement is a core component of the University of Utah's strategic plan. Engaging with communities to improve health and quality of life helps meet critical needs of the individual, the institution, and the populace at large. 

Today the U builds on its commitment to community engagement by discovering, developing, and expanding best practices in teaching and learning, research, scholarship, and service.  "We have an obligation to our students, our state, our nation to be a higher education innovator - leading the way in developing creative strategies that deliver value and ensure exceptional experiences in higher education. The U's value comes not only in our commitment to our students and patients, but from our commitment to innovation and discovery."    Ruth V. Watkins, President, University of Utah

Community Engagement Definitions

Community Engagement -- the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

Community Engaged Scholarship -- Investigation, analysis, and the transformation and dissemination of knowledge based on community-informed, reciprocal partnerships involving the university and community members.

Community Based Research is a “collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings.

Community Based Teaching and Learning takes place within the community and is designed to affect the community directly. The participants are community members and not necessarily traditional students. It can be reciprocal but that is not its primary purpose, community impact is the primary objective.

Community Engaged Learning courses must address best practices in community engagement: the partnership has to be reciprocal; the service has to address an area need in the community, it must be curricular based; the syllabus must address specific learning outcomes related to engagement, and it must include a reflection component.

Faculty Service is service done by faculty directly for the community (not service to the university, a discipline, a profession, or a particular religious denomination). Service must be voluntary and participants must receive no or minimal remuneration.

Student Service must be co-curricular and voluntary. Students cannot receive monetary compensation or course credit, and service efforts must be tied directly to the community (not the community of students at the university or to a particular religious denomination.)

Staff Service is service done by university staff directly for the community on behalf of the university (not service to the university, a discipline, a profession, or a particular religious denomination). Service must be voluntary and participants must receive no or minimal remuneration.

Outreach: University resources are used to benefit the community. While outreach often increases awareness and accessibility for the university, these outcomes are incidental and the primary focus remains benefiting the community. Although the university contributes to public life in the surrounding community (the arts, athletics, etc.), this particular type of outreach focuses on bringing educational and service-oriented resources into the community.

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Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerv...
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Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerva decided to get involved with community engagement to find a way to make new connections. Within a CEL (community engaged learning) course, Minerva was able to take class lessons and apply them to real life scenarios. “The community engagement course has also allowed me to develop skills that I cannot solely learn through a book such as being able to approach strangers and engage in meaningful conversations,” Minerva said. In a City and Metropolitan Planning class, Minerva learned that despite the pandemic, people were eager to talk about parks and how important they are to them. Minerva was able to realize that with the pandemic, parks have become a sanctuary place for many during the pandemic - they are one of the few places where people still felt they could gather safely, entertain their children, exercise, and find peace. 
Minerva said, “Taking a certified Community Engagement Learning Course (CEL) would be beneficial to individuals who want to understand the challenges in their community, identify ways to get involved, and refine their professional and personal interests.” If you want to learn more about Minerva’s experience with CEL courses, check out her blog at the link in our bio!
Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerva decided to get involved with community engagement to find a way to make new connections. Within a CEL (community engaged learning) course, Minerva was able to take class lessons and apply them to real life scenarios. “The community engagement course has also allowed me to develop skills that I cannot solely learn through a book such as being able to approach strangers and engage in meaningful conversations,” Minerva said. In a City and Metropolitan Planning class, Minerva learned that despite the pandemic, people were eager to talk about parks and how important they are to them. Minerva was able to realize that with the pandemic, parks have become a sanctuary place for many during the pandemic - they are one of the few places where people still felt they could gather safely, entertain their children, exercise, and find peace. 
Minerva said, “Taking a certified Community Engagement Learning Course (CEL) would be beneficial to individuals who want to understand the challenges in their community, identify ways to get involved, and refine their professional and personal interests.” If you want to learn more about Minerva’s experience with CEL courses, check out her blog at the link in our bio!
 
 
 
 
 
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Last Updated: 4/16/21