A Passion for People

Healthcare research and student contact fuel this future professor

One might say that Ashley Benedict is a people person. "I enjoy working with students not only in the classroom, but also helping them realize their goals and aspirations," says Benedict, an industrial engineering graduate student. "The main reason I came back to school was to obtain a PhD that would allow me to assist college students," she explains.

Benedict, however, is not waiting for her degree to start making a difference either at Purdue or within her extended community. "When I arrived at Purdue I didn't want my experience to be one of nothing but a focus on graduate school and research," she says.

So, over the past two years, Benedict has volunteered in Lafayette as a big sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters. "I find I need to have outlets in order not to burn out as a graduate student, and volunteering is a great way to stay focused and balanced," she says.

Originally from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Benedict spent three years as an industrial engineer for a hospital system in Gainesville before moving to West Lafayette. "Purdue had a solid reputation in the field of industrial engineering," she says, "and I was looking to try something new."

Purdue proved to have exactly what she was looking for. Benedict enrolled in the IE graduate program in 2006, a year after the College of Engineering added its healthcare engineering signature area to address the urgent need for engineering solutions to problems inherent in the healthcare industry. The new signature area immediately captured her attention as an ideal place to develop a research focus on "how healthcare providers in small, private practices implement healthcare information-technology applications."

Benedict's choice to pursue a career in academia stems in part from what she sees as a general lack of awareness today among students of the many opportunities that exist within the healthcare industry. "As an undergraduate, I didn't even realize there were industrial engineering opportunities in this field," she says. Benedict hopes that as a professor she will be able to help students become more mindful of how they can combat what she sees as a current healthcare crisis facing the United States.

During fall semester 2008, Benedict added another extracurricular activity to her already busy life when she helped found the Industrial Engineering Graduate Student Organization, a group for which she now serves as president. The new organization, Benedict says, "aims to enhance scholarly communities within the school, help recruit new graduate students, and mentor students from the time they are admitted."

The group is actively looking for sponsors to keep the program available for future IE graduate students. Benedict hopes the organization will grow to become an important resource for students by providing opportunities for professional development and networking.

-J.W. Rosson

Benedict was named a 2008 Student Member with Honors by the Human Factors Ergonomics Society. The annual award acknowledges students who have made an outstanding contribution to the human factors/ergonomics discipline.