Saluki Pride: Kelly Bender earns faculty teaching Excellence Award

During her 18 years at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Kelly S. Bender, an associate professor in the microbiology program in the School of Biological Sciences, has focused on student success.

From inquiry-based learning techniques during lectures; utilizing social media, collaborative group learning and gamification for an upper-level microbiology course, and meeting with students outside of the classroom to understand the learning techniques that work best for them, Bender strives to see that her students succeed while also being clear about course expectations.

Bender, the 2024 Excellence Award recipient for tenured and tenure-track faculty, notes that while she has taught a diverse range of courses from undergraduate- to graduate-level offerings, her teaching philosophy remains the same.

“During each of these courses, my goal has been to use student enthusiasm to improve the learning process,” she said. “Not only do I strive to provide a curriculum based on core concepts, but I also make it a priority to showcase new and exciting research discoveries. I find that this approach motivates students to delve deeper into topics that interest them and facilitates appreciation for the field.”

Bender said mentoring is “one of the most important roles” as a teacher. As a principal investigator on campus, she has mentored more than 25 undergraduates, including McNair Scholars and Research-Enriched Academic Challenge (REACH) recipients, and 12 graduate students, including five doctoral students “from diverse backgrounds in my laboratory. Many of these alumni are successful researchers, teachers and professors in industry and academia today.”

Derek Fisher, an associate professor in microbiology, wrote in his nomination letter that Bender “represents teaching excellence in all its definitions.” Bender serves as graduate student adviser and is on the College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences and Honors Advisory committees. He also notes Bender’s impact “on a global scale” by co-authoring the three most recent editions of “Brock Biology of Microorganisms,” which Fisher said “is considered to be the microbiology textbook.”

Get to know KELLY S. BENDER

Name: Kelly Bender

Department and job title: associate professor of microbiology, School of Biological Sciences

Years at SIU Carbondale: 18

Give us the elevator pitch for your job.

I teach general microbiology and microbial diversity with the goal of impressing upon students the amazing abilities of microbes — from producing antibiotics to breaking down plastics. I also have a research program that focuses on biomining and other environmental issues.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Interacting with students in both the classroom and the research laboratory.

Why did you choose SIU?

The focus on both teaching and undergraduate work.

At the top of my “bucket list” is:

Visiting Yellowstone — it is teeming with amazing microorganisms, and for some reason, I have not made it there yet!

My fondest memory as a child is:

Gardening with my grandmother. She never made it past fifth grade and wanted nothing more than to have been able to go to high school and college.

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