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Announcing the 2024 Benny Award Recipients

March 21, 2024

The Division of Student Affairs is pleased to announce the 2024 Benny Award winners! The Benny Awards acknowledge excellence and dedication demonstrated by our students, staff, faculty, and organizations in a broad range of categories.

Recipients were enthusiastically recommended by the people around them, who observed their commitment to our University community and their embodiment of our Bengal values. Nominations were then independently reviewed by a panel of Student Affairs professionals, and award recipients were selected. Award winners will receive a beautiful crystal memento at a dinner held in their honor, and their names will be added to the wall of Benny Award recipients near the ballroom in the Pond Student Union. Please join Student Affairs in congratulating our 2024 Benny Award recipients and thanking them for embodying the spirit of an Idaho State University Bengal! 

Outstanding Event of the Year: Indigenous People’s Day
The Indigenous People's Day celebration was a landmark event that brought together students, faculty, staff, and community members to honor and recognize the rich heritage of Indigenous communities. Through a series of engaging activities, including traditional performances, educational workshops, and guest speakers, the event succeeded in fostering a deeper understanding of indigenous cultures and their contributions to our shared history. The impact of Indigenous People's Day was profound, reaching far beyond the event itself. It created a platform for dialogue and understanding, encouraging a sense of unity among attendees and the diverse range of event-collaborators. The event's educational component facilitated important conversations about the history, challenges, and resilience of indigenous peoples, contributing to a more inclusive and culturally aware campus community. The success of this event was due in no small part to the leadership of Dr. Laticia Herkshan, whose vision for collaboration and community involvement was paired with admirable management. 

Graduate Student Leader of the Year - Madeline Dowen
One of Maddie’s nominators, of which there were several, described her as “an exemplary student, demonstrating care for all those around her and a dedication to learning and excellence.” Madeline was born and raised in Caldwell, Idaho, and graduated from Caldwell High School in 2017. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Health from the University of Idaho in 2021 and is currently in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program class of 2026. Maddie participates in the SPTA and the physical therapy Pro Bono clinic on the ISU campus, serving as a secretary for both. She is a great leader in classes with her positive attitude and tries to help her peers by creating study sessions and so much more. Maddie models collegiality and a team approach to success.

Undergraduate Student Leader - Isabelle Kirkman
The nomination for Isabelle Kirkman describes a person who has demonstrated the ability to establish and achieve goals and mentor others. A positive representative of the organization and one who is ready to take action to solve problems and advance our University’s mission, Isabelle demonstrates care for the safety and wellbeing of all people, and she actively supports the goals of belonging and inclusion for her department and campus.

Isabelle is a Pocatello native. She graduated from Pocatello High School in 2022, and promptly enrolled at Idaho State University. Isabelle is an intern with the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s Diversity Resource Center, where she helps to manage social media and marketing as well as planning events to support our Bengal community. Isabelle was recently accepted into the social work program, and she hopes to impact and participate in the development of public policy to support underrepresented and marginalized populations. She spends her spare time reading, hanging out with her husband Michael, and taking naps. She is extremely thankful for her family, friends and coworkers, especially her boss Ann, who has been an incredible support system and role model.

Exemplary Service Award -  Farhana Hibbert
Farhana Hibbert, a doctoral candidate in educational leadership in higher education, is a role model to other students on campus. She was appointed by the Governor to serve as a commissioner on Serve Idaho, the Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism. She advertises and promotes every service opportunity she knows about and is active in multiple organizations, including Special Olympics, Special Mutual, Boys Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts Troop 564, Eggstra! Eggstra! 4-H Club, Master Gardeners, the Pocatello Senior Activity Center, the South East Idaho Military Affairs Committee, the Distinguished Young Women Program of Pocatello/Chubbuck, the Pocatello Chiefs, her church youth group, and her political organization. Farhana is studying the experience of university students who participate in national service through the AmeriCorps program. She and her husband Monte live in Pocatello and have six children and two grandsons.

Roar Bengal Roar Spirit Award -  Noah Rutherford
Noah Rutherford is described as the most orange-blooded Bengal. His Bengal Roar is the loudest in a room, and his integrity, spirit, and passion for the University shines brighter than the lights on the Red Hill "I." Noah is a junior at ISU studying Political Science and planning to attend law school upon graduation. He is a Student Ambassador, a member of the Law Club, and loves to participate in Intramurals on campus. Noah is from the Treasure Valley and is a third generation Bengal who attended his first ISU football game when he was just a year old! He shares a sincere love of all things ISU with his grandfather, who was an ISU football player, and his parents, who met here on campus. Outside of his immense passion for ISU athletics and ISU history, he also enjoys golf, tennis, skiing, hiking, and spending time with friends on campus. 

Inspirational Bengal of the Year - Laura Mendez-Flores
Laura is characterized by integrity, a positive attitude, and a genuine willingness to learn and contribute. She exudes a passion for personal development, making the most of opportunities, and inspiring others through her journey. At the young age of 18, she made the journey from Mexico to the United States, utilizing this opportunity to build a foundation for her aspirations, learning a new language, and becoming financially independent. Laura attended her senior year at American Falls High School, graduating with honors and five scholarships, and she is now pursuing a double major in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing and Management. Laura has proven to be a dedicated and capable full-time student, maintaining a 3.89 GPA while managing two part-time jobs. As an Office Assistant at ISU's Career Center, she leverages her skills to support students on their career paths. In addition to her professional and academic endeavors, Laura actively engages in volunteer work, including organizing a blood drive project. In her free time, she enjoys riding horses, shopping, traveling, and trying new outdoor activities.

Student Organization of the Year - Student Veterans of America
The Student Veterans of America has come out of obscurity in the last year and conducted extensive outreach to veterans. SVA has volunteered with the Homeless Stand Down, Toys for Tots Drive, Idaho State Veterans home, and Salute to Service. The organization serves as the hub for veterans on campus, providing tutoring, outreach, support, socialization, and activities. The organization has hosted game night (in collaboration with the philosophy club), Top Gun movie night, football tailgates (in collaboration with ISU ROTC), Oktoberfest, and more. SVA has participated in the annual Fire and Ice festival, the student organization fair, and has joined ISU in honoring America by processing the flag in the homecoming parade. The SVA monthly meetings boast high attendance, with the majority of attendees showing up to multiple meetings and events. SVA has all four of its core officers highly involved and dedicated, each having served in their current position for over a year.      

Student Veterans of America is the veteran and military connection on campus. We volunteer in philanthropic events, organize leisure and recreational activities, and gather in our Veteran Student Services Center for study and socialization. As nontraditional students, it is vital for us to be able to get together, share our stories, and have a community to feel involved in and supported by. Our organization acts as that safe haven, providing advising, community, and friendship. Run by veterans, for veterans, Student Veterans of America is proud to stand by and support those students who have done their part in serving our country.

Student Organization Advisor of the Year - Amanda Bennett
Amanda Bennett is an assistant lecturer in the Department of Communication, Media, and Persuasion, where she teaches COMM 1101: The Fundamentals of Oral Communication and a variety of advertising courses as needed. With nearly a decade of corporate advertising experience with a national health insurance company, Amanda brings a very practical perspective to her work as the ISU Student Advertising Federation club advisor and teacher of the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) class. Her professional experience is complemented by a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in advertising and a minor in marketing, and a master’s degree in communication.

As a former member of two of ISU’s award-winning NSAC teams, Amanda developed a deep appreciation for the value this program offers students as they prepare for careers in advertising or related fields. Amanda loves teaching and mentoring current NSAC students both in the classroom and in the club, and she strives to provide meaningful and practical experiences that deepen their understanding of advertising best practices, while instilling confidence in their abilities to be successful advertising professionals.

As the club advisor or co-advisor since 2019, every team Amanda has worked with has placed in the top three in their District-level competition, and two of those top three finishes were in first place. She has helped establish the ISU NSAC team as a top competitor in the region and is committed to helping her students realize continued success.

Faculty Member of the Year - Dr. Donna Lybecker, Department of Political Science
Dr. Donna L. Lybecker is a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Global Studies program. Dr. Lybecker’s research and teaching cover the areas of International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Environmental Politics, with emphasis on political narrative, border studies, and sustainability. She believes teaching and research are intertwined and thus frequently includes students in research endeavors. Current research includes work on environmental conditions within border regions of the Americas; the manner and style of policy narratives used by non-governmental stakeholders; and an amalgamation pedagogy project looking at strengthening teaching-learning connections in the classroom. With her teaching and research, Dr. Lybecker aims to promote better-informed conversation and to improve student, decision-maker, and public understanding of our global communities, policy narratives and the framing of political issues. Dr. Lybecker’s service also mirrors these aims both within ISU and with entities external to ISU.  Her service includes co-chairing ISU’s Sustainability Committee, Associate Editor of the Social Science Journal and of the International Journal of Sustainable Society, Chair of the Selection Committee for the Bert & Phyllis Lamb Prize in Political Science, and a member of the Pocatello High School Ecology and Natural Resources Technical Advisory Committee.

Staff Member of the Year -  Angela Boursaw
The personal characteristics that Angela embodies are worthy and deserving of recognition.  She uses her creative talents and initiative facing any challenge head-on to help support positive change for her department.  Angela is hardworking and offers help despite the challenge or task at hand.  She helps spearhead and support various ideas and works tirelessly to ensure the idea comes to fruition.  She is quick to offer an encouraging word to others, even if the request is unspoken, and has a gentle way of helping others feel important and understood.

Angela was born and raised on a potato and grain farm in American Falls. She moved to Pocatello and had three amazing children who have blessed her life with 5+ grandchildren. This month, she celebrated her 20th Anniversary with her sweetheart. She enjoys Rock concerts, reading about murder, and sitting quietly in nature. Angela started her career at ISU as a work-study in the Adult Education program, helping students prepare for their GED. She loved serving that population so much that she never left the department.

Student Affairs Award of Distinction (Non-classified) -  Debbie Green
Debbie demonstrates every day what it means to be a Bengal. Debbie works tirelessly to get the various scholarships that we offer into the hands of our students in a timely fashion so that it can help inform their college decision. I truly believe that her efforts have had a huge impact on our new student enrollment as well as our continuing student enrollment. It is inspirational to watch Debbie work so incredibly hard every day and there is no one more deserving of the Benny Award!

Debbie Green is the Director of Scholarships at Idaho State University (ISU).  Born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Debbie attended Skyline High School.  She was recruited to play golf at Idaho State University and was a member of the Big Sky Championship Team in 1994.  Debbie earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Idaho State University. Now, as Director of Scholarships, she says she works with the most amazing staff and colleagues at ISU and finds her job to be incredibly rewarding.  Awarding over 40-plus million dollars in scholarship to ISU students, Debbie is in awe of the dedicated donors that give to ISU students. In 2014, Debbie and her team implemented the Bengal Online Scholarship System (known as BOSS) to help students navigate and apply for scholarships.  She has now worked at the university for over 20 years and loves giving back to the community and university that have given so much to her. 

Student Affairs Award of Distinction (Classified) - Ryan Karlson
Ryan Karlson’s nomination describes him as exemplifying the spirit of the Student Affairs Award of Distinction (Classified Staff) through his kindness, innovation, and dedication to creating a nurturing environment for our students. Ryan consistently embodies the qualities of empathy, compassion, and genuine care in his interactions with students, colleagues, and all those who seek assistance. His welcoming demeanor and commitment to enhancing the well-being of our student community make him an invaluable asset to our counseling center.

Ryan was born and raised in Pocatello. Before coming to ISU in 2018, he worked in real estate for 13 years. However, he decided to make a change, and, after applying at ISU, was hired by Counseling and Testing. Ryan’s time at ISU has been very rewarding for him, and he greatly enjoys his interactions with ISU’s students and the entire campus community. Ryan is also an avid plant dad and cares for several dozen plants at home and in the office. In his spare time, Ryan enjoys playing with his dogs Kody, Kady, and Goldie, as well as cuddling with his cat Jackson. He also takes great pleasure in doing yard work and gardening. Ryan is married to his best friend and emotional support human, Luke Christiansen.


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