Benfield is 2020 recipient of Faculty Outreach Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  — Jacob Benfield, associate professor of psychology and social science at Penn State Abington, has received the 2020 Faculty Outreach Award.

Jacob Benfield
Credit: Penn State

The award honors faculty who have positively and substantially affected individuals, organizations or communities through problem solving or development as a result of extending their scholarship.

Benfield is founding director of the Abington Center for Civic Engagement and Social Scholarship (ACCESS), which since 2015 has been creating partnerships between the campus community with neighboring schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses across Greater Philadelphia.

One highlight of ACCESS is a partnership with Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a nonprofit group focused on strengthening underserved Latino communities through social, economic and health services.

This partnership links the campus community to projects that benefit the community. The two groups also collaborated to create a college readiness program for Latino high school students who, at 27%, are some of the least likely to attend college. Through this partnership, students attend college for academic workshops and participate in dual enrollment courses taught in their community. There’s also a six-week college immersion experience, including residence life, at virtually no cost to the student.

To date, more than 70 students have taken part in the program where participants can earn up to 18 college credits and a Penn State certificate in rehabilitation and human services, which is geared towards helping them find a career. The program is too new to determine if it will lead to a higher college graduation rate for these students, however, Latino enrollment at the campus is rising.

“Thanks to Jake’s vision and dedication to this partnership -- above and beyond the scope of expected outreach -- Abington is committed to create pathways to a Penn State degree among high-potential, high-need Latino high school students,” a nominator said.

Colleagues said Benfield’s vision to see beyond his own walls and to reach out into the most underserved members of the community with approaches that help those communities help themselves is what makes him an ideal candidate for an outreach award.

“This program is literally changing lives,” a nominator said. “Education is the silver bullet for so many of life’s challenges. First-generation college students are one of the least likely groups to graduate college and the very population he’s working with tend not to even apply for college, let alone attend. Jake’s work with Congreso has changed the lives of the people in those communities and it’s changed the way Abington faculty and staff think about their role in the community. His work is simply transformative to everyone it touches.”