Dion Benes: The Professor With a Cardboard Office
By Krisann Valdez
Grand Canyon University adjunct faculty member Dion Benes carries his office with him in a 2 x 2 cardboard Kinko’s box.
When he began teaching at GCU about six years ago, adjunct faculty did not have office space. That did not bother Benes a bit. After 26 years in the Marine Corps, he knew exactly what to do.
Nowadays, Benes carries his office around because he feels as a teacher, adjunct or not, it is important to be accessible to the students.
The last year and a half, Benes spent every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon volunteering his time at GCU’s Center for Learning and Advancement. Having taught every math class on campus, he is equipped to help students on every level. He’s an adjunct to four colleges: Liberal Arts, Business, Nursing and Health Sciences.
“I consider all the students as my students, if I am their professor or not,” he says. “If they go to GCU, I want to help them succeed.”
In his 40 years of teaching experience, Benes has found that serving others is the fundamental part to success in the classroom.
“To be a leader in the classroom, and in life, you have to be willing to follow and serve others. This was beat into my head during my military years. No matter our status in life, this is how we become effective leaders.”
Soon after enlisting in the Marine Corps, he was teaching classes in communication electronics at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif. Noticing his potential, the military paid for him to get his bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado and then his master’s at the University of Southern California.
After retiring as a major, Benes went on to teach at DeVry University in Phoenix for 26 years, where he served as an academic dean and senior professor.
He says he first heard of GCU when the school’s baseball team played ASU.
“When I first came to the Valley of the Sun, I came to watch baseball, particularly ASU,” Benes reminisces. “One weekend I came down to Arizona, hoping to catch a good game against USC or U of A at (ASU’s) Packard Stadium. The boys told me they were playing GCU. I said, ‘Who’s that? Some rinky-dink school?’ I was disappointed. But GCU ended up sweeping ASU that game. They caught my attention.”
A few years later, at DeVry, Benes’s friend, the head of the math department there, asked him if he had ever considered teaching as an adjunct at GCU.
“My friend loved GCU. He had taught at every Maricopa County school and GCU was his favorite. He loved the Christian atmosphere, the administration, and most of all the students. I told him I’d keep that in mind.”
When DeVry’s Phoenix enrollment declined, Benes was offered early retirement. He decided to take the opportunity to focus on his company, consulting for electrical engineering.
“I decided to pursue my company full time. I was doing software development for Molina Health Care, but they wanted me to sit in a cubicle and computer program all day,” Benes says. “I enjoyed the pay and the work was entertaining, but I missed the classroom. I love working with students and it didn’t matter the pay. I wanted to teach again. I felt I was wasting my years of experience in the classroom sitting behind a desk.”
Benes quit his desk job and landed a teaching position at GCU. He started with one nursing statistics class, and now he teaches full time.
Midway through last fall’s semester, he suffered a stroke, which happened one day while he was in the midst of teaching and tutoring.
“I was walking down the hall and kept bouncing off the walls for lack of balance,” he recalls. “I was laughing the whole time, hoping my students wouldn’t think I was intoxicated. I kept slurring my speech, too. That night my wife was concerned something was wrong with me, so the next day I finally went to the doctor. He was upset I had waited that long and admitted me right away to the hospital.”
Benes was in the hospital for three weeks. Then he was assigned two months of intensive physical and occupational therapy for four hours a week. The doctors asked him about his goal in life, to which he replied, “I want to recover enough to teach full time again Jan. 1.”
The doctors thought the goal was unattainable, but Benes proved them wrong. On his target date, he was back at GCU, his Kinko’s box under his arm and a smile on his face.