STEM SCHOLAR FINDS HIS STRIDE AT MOREHOUSE COLLEGE

Date Released: May 8, 2017

By D. Aileen Dodd

Blake Benyard, a Morehouse College scholar athlete, has dashed and hurdled, vaulted and jumped, pushing himself through a grueling test of mettle and might to reach the end of a race.

His endurance is unyielding.

On May 21, this decathlete will finally pause at the finish line, bend over, and catch his breath. After four years on the run, Benyard, a senior physics major from Lorain, Ohio, is graduating magna cum laude with an award for having the highest grade point average in his department – a 3.8.

He’ll make time for pictures with family, handshakes with professors, and high-fives with classmates.

Then, the next leg of his journey will begin.

After breezing through research internships in nuclear engineering and electrodynamics, Benyard was accepted into three doctoral programs. He will attend the University of Wisconsin on a SciMed Fellowship that will help to cover the full cost of his Ph.D.

“I want to become a clinical medical physicist working in hospitals with cancer patients,” Benyard said. “I would love to be in the midst of the research on a cure for cancer. I lost my grandmother to ovarian cancer. That is what got me into medical physics. 

Benyard credits his success to Morehouse College and the investment that professors, coaches, and donors made in his future.

When he graduated from Lorain High with a perfect 4.0, he was unsure about his next step. Benyard said he had his “heart set” on Morehouse College, but his acceptance letter came without financial aid. As the son of a single mother, he knew that paying for college wasn’t an option. He would have to make his way to Morehouse.

And so his race began.

“I worked with my high school advisor Matthew Kielian, and we kept calling Morehouse almost everyday until we found someone who could help,” Benyard said.

The dean of admissions at the time told him to write the College to explain his situation. Benyard said his plea helped him to land a $23,000-a-year annual scholarship, which brought tears to his mother’s eyes. He joined the track team as a walk-on and dedicated himself to striving for excellence on the field and in the classroom.

 The athletic season, like the academic calendar, began in August with cross-country races and continued in January with track and field.

“Being on the track and cross country teams helped me to stay focused,” Benyard said. “It always kept me on track with what I needed to do, especially in trying to be a great athlete and a good student.”

Benyard pushed himself academically. He picked his college years to become fluent in Mandarin. Chinese studies became one of his minors.

In June 2014, after his freshman year, the director of the Chinese Studies Program, one of Benyard’s Morehouse mentors, helped Benyard and 11 of his classmates land scholarships to study Mandarin at Shanghai University over the summer.

And as if learning a new language wasn’t enough of a challenge, Benyard also dedicated himself to being a physics major and math minor.

“I was more of a math wiz in high school, but when I took physics I fell in love right away and have stuck with it ever since,” he said. “Physics is a pretty hard subject, and it can be very discouraging when you don’t understand something. The help that I received from professors kept my confidence up.”

Benyard understood that mastering physics would take the same dedication that he gave to decathlons. So, on Saturdays, he trained. He went to six-hour tutoring sessions with physics professor Dr. John Howard and a drop-in class of ambitious young scientists.

 “We were always engaged in some sort of academic discussion,” he said. “Dr. Howard was there if we needed help with problem-solving skills or just wanted to talk. That had a huge affect on my success here.”

Benyard managed to keep straight A’s throughout his sophomore, junior and senior years. His chemistry professor recommended him for a summer research internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. First, he studied the impact of radioactive sources on the environment as a nuclear engineering student researcher. Then, the impressive Morehouse scholar was invited back to study the impact of dielectric constants on radio frequencies and waves, research used in the development of bombs.

“It was pretty complicated stuff,” he said. “But the work made me more passionate about my major. It showed me the kind of research time you have to put in as a scientist.”

Benyard said he is thankful for his experience at Morehouse; it is where he learned to be a “Morehouse Man.” He describes the distinction this way: “A man who takes care of his business, has tunnel vision yet is aware of his surroundings, keeps his head on straight, is competitive by nature, and very competent where ever he goes.”

The graduating senior said he will take the teachings of Morehouse with him as he moves toward a new finish line – the journey that ends in a doctorate.

 “There are people at Morehouse from different economic backgrounds,” he said. “Some didn’t have much, but made something of themselves with what they acquired at Morehouse. They will continue to grow and represent the College well as they do great things in the world.

“Through my faith in God and prayer, I was able to make a way for myself to feel comfortable while I was here,” he said. “I am thankful for Coach Willie Hill, my professors, and everyone who gave me opportunities at Morehouse. My mother is very proud of me, and I am grateful for all that she has done for me. I am excited about my future.”

MORE ABOUT BLAKE BENYARD:

Name: Blake Benyard

Major: Physics

Minor(s): Mathematics and Chinese Studies

Hometown: Lorain, Ohio

Clubs: Society of Physics Students, Sigma Pi Sigma, Chinese Club, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and Pi Mu Epsilon.

Professors integral to my success: Dr. Willie Rockward for being a mentor and life skills coach outside of the classroom. Dr. Juana Mendenhall for being my research mentor and helping me to land an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. John Howard for holding Saturday sessions in Dansby every Saturday to help his students with physics problems. These sessions gave me the confidence to take on the physics curriculum and become a more competent student in my major. 

Programs integral to my success: Cross Country and Track and Field programs. My coach, Willie Hill has ensured that I developed, not only a great athlete but also a well-rounded man. I've learned many lessons about accountability and growth in track. 

Senior awards: “Top Ranking Senior” in the Physics Department. “Most Outstanding Upperclassman” in the Track & Field Program. Four-year letterman for Track and Field. Phi Beta Kappa honor recipient.

Plans after graduation: Ph.D. program in medical physics at the University of Wisconsin.


Last Modified: May 8, 2017, 13:05 PM, by: Kara Walker

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