Ergonomics has become a hot topic among employers in recent years. Defined as the process of designing a workplace to meet the unique needs of the worker, ergonomics plays an important role in fostering successful businesses and employee satisfaction. One small example is through adjustable office equipment designed to increase each employee’s ease of use and physical health. I actually had the first standing desk at the Texas A&M Foundation, and its design is thanks to one of Texas A&M University’s very own faculty members: Dr. Mark Benden ’89 ’92 ’06. Because of him, I realize how much human craft and ingenuity goes into designing things so well that the design itself is never noticed.
Dr. Benden entered Texas A&M as a bioengineering major with plans of becoming a physician. After he took an ergonomics class during his senior year, however, he realized he could make large-scale improvements to public health by redesigning everyday objects with health in mind. For 20 years, Benden developed ergonomic products for companies before he set his sights on a public health challenge: addressing the national obesity epidemic.
Seeing how modern classroom and workplace environments encouraged students and workers to sit down throughout the day, Benden set out to design a standing desk that would incentivize individuals to move. With support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he deployed his stand-biased desks in 24 College Station elementary classrooms for two years and found that students who used them were more active and less likely to gain weight throughout the year.
Since then, Benden sold his standing desk company to Varidesk, a giant in the field of active workplace products. With proceeds from the sale, he and his wife, Teresa ’88, established an endowed scholarship for students in the School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, where Benden currently serves as department head. Today, he thrives on interacting with students and seeing Aggies develop and grow through teaching and mentorship.
After spending years designing better, healthier everyday products for people across the world, Benden is giving back to students who may eventually do the same through his mentorship and generosity.
He is not the only faculty member giving back to the university, either. Former, current and retired Texas A&M faculty and staff have given more than $79 million to benefit the university’s Lead by Example campaign. Their wholesale commitment to developing a premier education for students creates the learning environment in Aggieland we see today. While you may not know about every contribution they make, the impact is everywhere you look. Like a desk that does its job perfectly, their work is very intentional, by design.
Thanks and Gig ’em,
Tyson Voelkel ’96
President, Texas A&M Foundation