James Madison University

Dr. Jim Benedict Encourages Student Success

Retired Professor Dr. Jim Benedict Still Sees Psychology in All he Does

By Deirdre E. Myers

Jim Benedict

For 30 years, Dr. Jim Benedict was an esteemed full-time faculty member of the JMU Psychology Department. During that time, he impacted thousands of students both in and outside of the classroom. Upon his retirement, the Department of Psychology decided to continue his legacy of helping students succeed by establishing the James O. Benedict Scholarship Endowment in Psychology.  Once the scholarship is endowed, forever into the future, the Department of Psychology will select an outstanding student to receive a scholarship that will help pay their JMU tuition. With the fund currently halfway to its endowment goal, Dr. Benedict is hopeful that the psychology department will soon be able to award a scholarship to students who embody the same passion and dedication that has been sparked for so many students by Dr. Benedict, himself.

In his retirement, Dr. Benedict’s interest in helping students still brings him back to JMU. He currently teaches one course per year in Advanced Psychological Statistics, a subject that he affably explains students “love to hate.” His students say that although the material can be intimidating, Dr. Benedict is able to make a daunting subject enjoyable by making the class atmosphere feel social and welcoming,. He encourages each student to contribute, and tailors research and presentations to individual student interests. One of Dr. Benedict’s students, Brian Caperton, notes that he made his students feel comfortable by always being approachable.  Brian notes that “although he is held in very high regard within our department, Dr. Benedict never stood ‘above’ his students.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Benedict has also completed research to learn how to create a positive and successful teaching environment.  These have included studies of student productivity, the impact of course design on student comfort level, and effective teaching methodologies. He has used the results of his research to improve his teaching methods, and has tried to make his teaching as student-centered as possible. When asked what the most important thing a student can get out of a course, he notes that he hopes students “will be changed by the result of a course, be it by new knowledge, a new perspective, or more openness to future learning opportunities.”

Studying psychology is important, Dr. Benedict says, because it is a cross-disciplinary skill. Through the lens of psychology, students can better understand science as well as human and animal behavior.  He believes that, in learning about psychology and practicing research, what students are gaining are the skills and desire to help other people, and that is truly invaluable. Dr. Benedict wants to encourage students to continue in their search for knowledge and their drive for service through their scholarship.

When asked why the award was for aspiring Psychology professors, Dr. Benedict explained that many “students don’t think it is possible, but this should encourage students who are thinking about [teaching] to seriously consider it.” According to Dr. Benedict, students who have tremendous dedication, focus, attention to detail, compassion for other students, and those who may often find themselves enjoying the process of sharing their passion with others may want to consider careers in teaching.

Since his retirement, Dr. Benedict has focused more of his time on his Vineyard business. He began growing Chardonnay grapes in 1995 in Mount Crawford, Virginia, and has been tending to them faithfully for eighteen years. The Vineyard now yields six tons of grapes per year. He sometimes will hire JMU students to help him with the harvest. Dr. Benedict says that viticulture is strikingly similar to Psychology culture, in that scientific methods are used to learn how to grow the best grapes. In his vineyard endeavors, he finds himself in a familiar world of research, annual meetings, and presentations on important findings.

Until the endowment goal is reached, the Department of Psychology has selected a student each year to receive the James O. Benedict Senior Teaching Award. This award honors a senior student who embodies the same passion for teaching and learning that the scholarship hopes to someday recognize. Anyone interested in contributing to the James Benedict scholarship fund can find more information on the JMU Psychology website.  We welcome contributions that can help us encourage the values taught by Dr. Benedict and to help other students follow in his footsteps.