Richard C. Benson, the former Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering and dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been conferred the title of Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering Emeritus and Dean Emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
The emeritus title may be conferred on retired professors, associate professors, and administrative officers who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. Nominated individuals who are approved by the board receive an emeritus certificate from the university.
Benson came to Virginia Tech in 2005 and brought with him a commitment to excellence in research, teaching, and service to every element of his leadership. During his 11-year tenure, the College of Engineering achieved record growth and even greater national and international stature.
Benson encouraged his faculty to adopt a hands-on, minds-on philosophy of learning, producing engineering graduates that are considered among the most desirable by employers.
The College of Engineering climbed to its highest ranking in the National Science Foundation’s report on engineering schools’ research expenditures under Benson's leadership. The 2016 survey, reporting on figures for fiscal year 2014, shows the college at eighth place with $228.5 million in research expenditures.
In 2014, Benson presided over the opening of Goodwin Hall, a $100 million building that includes eight classrooms, an auditorium, and more than 40 instructional and research laboratories and offices for the mechanical engineering, aerospace and ocean engineering, engineering education, and chemical engineering departments, and the internationally celebrated Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls Lab.
Over the past decade, Virginia Tech engineering students routinely participated in many design competitions, and in several cases won them. In an international competition, Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory team dominated the 2011 humanoid robot soccer competition known as RoboCup, winning the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup, the competition’s version of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s World Cup. The team repeated its domination in 2012 in Mexico City, taking the top spot in adult- and kid-sized divisions.
In 2016, the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech placed second in the EcoCAR 3 Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, a four-year design competition that seeks to inspire science and engineering students to integrate hybrid-electric designs in efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the vehicle while retaining the muscle and performance of the iconic Camaro car brand.
Also on the global stage, Virginia Tech’s Hyperloop student team placed fourth among 120 teams representing top universities in the design phase of the Hyperloop transportation system. The project, initiated by SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, is a high-speed transportation system using a near-vacuum tube to propel a passenger-carrying pod at speeds potentially in excess of 700 miles per hour. The goal is to reinvent the transportation system by eliminating barriers of time and distance by using Hyperloop transport to move cargo and passengers immediately, safely, efficiently, and sustainably. Teams will test their human-scale pods during a competition weekend at the track, scheduled for Jan. 27-29, 2017.
Benson helped facilitate the partnership between Wake Forest University with its premier medical facility and Virginia Tech faculty in the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. The school has garnered international acclaim and scores of media headlines in a number of areas, most notably with its work into helmet research and head-injury prevention.
Benson also championed the creation of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, which is fast becoming a major, nationally prominent home for high-end, interdisciplinary research in the physical and engineering sciences.
Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Benson was head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a master’s degree from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
Benson left Virginia Tech in 2016 to become president at the University of Texas at Dallas.