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Professor Lisa Cook and Dr. Amber Benton Win Excellence in Diversity Awards

December 15, 2020

JMC faculty and staff members Professor Lisa Cook and Dr. Amber Benton have been named two of Michigan State University’s Excellence in Diversity Award winners for 2021. The Excellence in Diversity Recognition and Awards Program (EIDA) recognizes efforts of outstanding faculty, staff and students who are actively engaged in and committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion at Michigan State University.

Dr. Amber Benton, JMC’s Director of Diversity Programming and Student Engagement, received an “Individual - Emerging Progress Excellence in Diversity” award. For the last three years, Dr. Benton has refined this role, expanded programming, and developed new initiatives, all while completing her PhD in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education. In her role, she teaches a student success seminar for first year students, advises students, serves as liaison and mentor to student organizations, oversees the college’s diversity programming and training, and provides leadership and training on diversity, equity, and inclusion across campus.

When Dr. Benton first arrived at JMC, she re-designed and taught the first-year student success seminar, MC 100, transformed the Madison Academic Diversity Initiative through new programs and increased participation, and expanded the First-Year Mentor Program. Dr. Benton’s unique understanding of student needs inspired her to organize a more robust and educational welcome week programming for incoming students, including a mandatory workshop for first-year students focused on sexual assault and relationship violence prevention titled Speak About It. Dr. Benton’s constant reflection and assessment of her work and programs, as well as her commitment to infusing DEI into all aspects of her programs, are well-noted by JMC faculty and staff.

In addition to her work within James Madison College, Dr. Benton is active in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion across campus. Dr. Benton founded and co-organizes the MSU Women of Color Community, is the Vice President of the Black Faculty, Staff, and Administrators Association, and is a member of the IDEA Coordinators Committee. She provides trainings to student organizations including sororities, the Black Student Alliance, and supports open meetings and town halls.

Dr. Benton was nominated by Interim Dean Linda Racioppi, Assistant Dean Jeffrey Judge, and was supported by the James Madison College Inclusion Committee, Professor Jennifer Goett, and Professor Phillip Seaborn. “Simply stated, Amber makes James Madison College and MSU better places to learn and work,” Dean Racioppi and Dean Judge wrote. “Her efforts have been vital to making our institution more inclusive, caring, and equitable.”



Professor Lisa Cook won as director of the American Economic Association Summer Program (AEASP) in the category “Unit – Excellent Progress toward Advancing Diversity within Community.” The AEASP is a national program sponsored by the American Economic Association and is designed to increase diversity in the economics profession, recruiting high achieving female and minority undergraduates interested in pursuing graduate training in economics. The program provides them with an intensive twelve-week educational experience meant to better prepare them for their graduate training. The program has existed since 1974, and MSU applied and won the right to run the program for the years 2016-2020 through a highly competitive process.

The AEASP team was nominated for “making the program a resounding success” and “the positive impact of their efforts on MSU’s reputation as an institution that values diversity” over the last five years. During this time, the program prepared 177 students for graduate study in economics, provided faculty members and graduate students the opportunity to better understand and contribute to improving the diversity problems in the field, successfully converted into a remote program during COVID-19, and led to an increased number of applications to the MSU PhD program in economics.

The AEASP team was nominated by Professors Steven J. Haider and Jeff Biddle, chair and associate chair of the MSU Department of Economics respectively. Their nomination was supported by Dr. Rachel Croson, former Dean of the College of Social Science, Dr. Tim Vogelsang, the former Chair of the Department of Economics, and Ini Umosen, a 2016 participant in the AEASP and currently a PhD student in economics at the University of California-Berkeley.

Due to the university restrictions on large gatherings, the program celebrating the awardees’ achievements will be pre-recorded and available for viewing on February 24, 2021.