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Our Mission

To inspire and mobilize people to strengthen communities through learning, scholarship, and advocacy


Hope, Integrity, Collaboration, and Action


We envision inclusive, healthy, resilient, and just communities


Our People




Asma Hassan


Asma is glad to be back at the Bennion Center and grow its Utah Reads program. Previously, she worked at the Eccles School of Business in their IT department, at Utah Campus Compact, a local chapter of AmeriCorps where she enrolled and exited members completing their AmeriCorps hours in educational, health, and environmental fields, serving vulnerable populations, and as a tutor for Utah Reads.

Asma has a M.Ed. in Special Education and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah. In her free time, she enjoys tutoring students using engaging teaching methods, hanging out with her sisters, and eating Thai food.

801-585-9101 |

Pronouns - She, Her, Hers


BobbiJo Kanter


BobbiJo Kanter joined the Bennion Center in 2016 following a 13-year career with Special Olympics programs. She is excited about connecting students with community experiences to create inclusive, engaging, and meaningful opportunities. While not working, BobbiJo can usually be found in the great outdoors with her wife and giant dogs.

801-585-9103 |

Pronouns - She, Her, Hers










801-585-1508 | 

Pronouns - She, Her, Hers

Megan Medina


Megan Medina likes growing programs and people. She's happiest when she is mentoring and encouraging students, which is part of the reason why she's so excited to direct the Bennion Center's curricular programs (CEL courses/faculty, Bennion Scholars, & Certificate). A native of North Dakota, Megan's an avid traveler. She spent time living and teaching in China and loves the outdoors.

801-585-3297 |

Pronouns - She, Her, Hers

Grace Hymel


Grace Hymel is a passionate community builder and educator at heart. She comes to the Bennion Center after several years dedicated to community engagement and leadership development throughout her undergraduate and graduate education. Grace earned her Master of Science in Student Affairs for Higher Education from Miami University and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Loyola University in Maryland. She also brings experience from working at the College of WIlliam and Mary, and with Break Away, the national non-profit for Alternative Breaks.

In her free time, she enjoys reading, being active, spending time outdoors, and exploring new places. Grace is thrilled to work, learn, and live alongside this community in their collective pursuit of a more just society.

Pronouns - She, Her, Hers


Chris Wada


Brett Gaffney joined the Bennion Center in 2022, on her birthday, which feels lucky. Before moving to Utah, she earned her MFA in Poetry from Southern Illinois University and worked an eclectic mix of jobs which allowed her to connect with communities of writers, librarians, booksellers, artists, veterinarians, dog walkers, and haunted house actors, among others. 

Now she is thrilled to hold a position in Residential Engagement and Student Cohorts where she can support students with a drive toward advocacy and social impact. Brett is happiest when she's in the mountains or desert with her family and their spoiled puggle, Ava. 

801-581-8436 | 

Pronouns - She, They







Pronouns - She, Her, Hers


Bennion Center Student Board

The Bennion Center strives to be a student-directed organization in virtually every sense of the word. Our Student Board is composed of student leaders who represent each of the innovative community engaged programs and projects operating within the Bennion Center. These student leaders work collaboratively with each other, their programming areas, and staff partners to ensure positive outcomes, transparent processes, and strong relationships in all we do.  

2022-2023 Student Board

  • Kat Park, Alternative Breaks
  • Xitlally Garcia, Bennion Scholars
  • Cora Lanphear, Communication Team
  • Puja Batchu, Community Engagement Cohorts
  • Ryan Park, Community Partnership Program
  • Madelyn Bossarte, Residential Engagement
  • Idaly Tapia, Utah Reads

Bennion Center Advisory Board

A volunteer advisory board guides the Bennion Center. The individuals who comprise this board have distinguished themselves in education, business, community, or family. They serve as a resource to help students and staff remain true to the Bennion Center’s mission, vision, and values. In addition, advisory board members work side by side with students during community engagement activities. They mentor students on civic practices, as well provide them with valuable networking opportunities.

Interested in joining the board? Contact Debbie Hair or apply to join a Bennion Center Committee.


  • Jacob Stone, Chair
  • Robin Hough, Past Chair
  • Debbie Hair, Staff Liaison
  • Dean McGovern, Executive Director
  • Mitch Vice, Marketing
  • Christine Carr, Development
  • David Hawkins-Jacinto, CEL
  • Carolyn Bliss, Scholars


  • Suzanne Hawker
  • Jorge Fierro
  • Sarah Morton Taggert
  • Lon Jenkins


  • John W. Bennion
  • Phillip Clinger
  • Charlotte Jacobsen
  • Richard Jacobsen
  • Kathryn Lindquist


  • Chase Hagood, Dean, Undergraduate Studies
  • Jason Ramirez, Dean of Students

Thank you for all of your support and direction!


  • Christine Carr, Chair
  • Eva Jansson, Staff Liaison
  • Lon Richardson Jr.
  • Erika Wood


  • BobbiJo Kanter, Staff Liaison


  • Jenna Templeton, Chair
  • Kate Pasco, Staff Liaison
  • Glenn Bailey
  • Xitlally Garcia Barajas
  • Carolyn Bliss
  • Kevin Davenport
  • Indigo Mason
  • Megan Medina
  • Ashley Patterson
  • Megan Peterson
  • Anahy Salcedo
  • Cristobal Villegas


  • David Hawkins-Jacinto, Chair
  • Robert Kraemer, Past Chair
  • TBD, Staff Liaison
  • Andrew Merryweather
  • Leticia Alvarez-Gutierez
  • Allison Nicholson
  • Reva Rauk
  • Kim Hackford-Peer


  • Mitch Vice, Chair
  • Chris Wada, Staff Liaison

Click the link below to learn more about serving on our committees.


Meet the Alumni

Whether you graduated from the University of Utah last semester or decades ago, your Bennion Center experience provided you with community engaged memories that may still be dear to your heart. Whether your experiences changed the course of your career or laid a foundation for family and community service, share your story. We hope you’ll enjoy hearing from our alums old and new.



It was the era of Ferris Buhler, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones. At the University of Utah, it was the beginning of the Lowell Bennion Center. And Patrick McCabe was part of the movement.

“I was in student government at the time this idea came forward,” he recalls. “I got interested hearing about it and volunteered to be the liaison with the ASUU.”  The idea was to create a way to help University of Utah students serve in the community. Patrick says he asked Lowell Bennion, “What would you like us to do?” Lowell’s response: he needed a group of students to help with projects one Saturday each month.

“I don’t remember what we called it then,” Patrick says, but he took on the task of organizing the group under the direction of Irene Fisher. “I was so impressed with Irene and inspired by her.”

Patrick says he placed ads in the Daily Chronicle asking students to come and volunteer. He says Irene and Lowell both felt meeting needs was their first priority, figuring out the organizational structure would come as they served.  “There were yard projects, delivering turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners and tutoring at Salt Lake’s homeless shelter,” Patrick recalls. 

In fact, it was his work with the Bennion Center at the homeless shelter that led him to write his honors thesis on whether or not a person has a legal right to a home. He began to explore the idea of using the law to shape and change society. After graduating from the U, Patrick earned a law degree from Cornell and is currently practicing in San Francisco, California.

“I do a lot of work setting up new charities,” he explains. “I’m sure that all stems from my work at the Bennion Center. A fair amount of my work is pro-bono. Those of us who have gone through the Bennion Center have a lot of affection for the center. Students, when granted responsibility, will take it and accomplish a great deal.”



Leslie Dalton says she doesn’t feel comfortable unless she’s engaged in some sort of community service. She credits the Bennion Center for her civic awareness.

In 1990, Leslie was a freshman at the U. She discovered the AIDS awareness program that was then one of the Bennion Center service opportunities. That started her service career. She was one of the first group of Bennion Center service learning scholars and eventually became president of what was then called the Bennion Center Student Association.

“I took Irene Fisher’s class on the legislature and became a lobbyist for the PTA (Parent Teacher Association),” she recalls with a laugh. “I never would have gone there if it hadn’t been for her.”

Leslie graduated in 1994 and used her legislative experience to lobby for children’s health issues while raising her children. In 2012, she got her teaching certificate from Utah Valley University and has spent the last five years working as an English teacher at Mountain Ridge Jr. High in Highland, Utah.

She’s been active in Operation Safety Net, a suicide prevention campaign for LGBTQ youth. She also incorporates service learning in her junior high classroom. “In the community where I teach, those kids are very privileged – probably some of the most privileged in the state. I don’t think they understand what it means to need.”

Currently working on a master’s degree in education, Leslie plans to continue developing service learning activities for her students. “I want them to look outside of themselves and see a different side of things. I want them to see what their privilege can be used for.”



Bárbara Ochoa (they/elle pronouns) didn’t intend to go to the Bay area. It just sort of happened. “I was already planning on working with queer and trans youth of color,” they recall. “It was just a question of when and where.”

Bárbara graduated from the U in 2015. That was also the year they served as a site leader for an alternative break focused on queer and trans justice. In 2014, they had been a participant on the same trip and were thrilled to be leading the LGBTQIA*/Human Rights site on their last year at the U. “Alt breaks really gave me an opportunity to identify which organizations reflected my own world and my own experience,” they recall. “I was surprised at how the break trips created a foundation or map for me of the kind of organizations that exist in the Bay area.”

Today, Bárbara serves as the Queer and Trans Youth Center Coordinator for Health Initiatives for Youth. They work closely with the San Francisco Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District in facilitating workshops and support groups for both middle school and high school LGBTQIA* youth of color. “Youth get overwhelmed by peer pressure and family expectations,” Bárbara notes. “So we try to work from a harm reduction perspective: creating a space that not only validates their struggles, but offers support to lower the impact of trauma and violence.” They also organize events at the youth center where queer and trans youth can participate in events, play video games, or just access wi-fi for homework. They also oversee a clothing closet where marginally housed or homeless youth can take any clothing materials they may need.

Oliver Anderson


In 2014 Oliver Anderson was a newly minted U grad with bachelor’s degrees in sociology and human development and family relations. Today he’s the new coordinator of student involvement, leadership and orientation and Westminster College.

Oliver says the Bennion Center played a central role in his career trajectory. ”My lived experiences with the BC have impacted how I approach my experiences every day. I am more aware and conscious of my surroundings and how my actions impact my community. From environmentalism to human rights and advocacy, to even meeting someone new, the BC has given me the tools to respectfully and passionately engage the world.”

Oliver’s involvement with the Bennion Center began when he was a freshman. He volunteered on Legacy of Lowell and Project Youth. The next year he found himself helping to plan Project Youth and working on Saturday Service Projects. From there, Alternative Breaks became his passion. After his first experience as a participant, he spent the next two years as a site leader.  “I enjoyed the opportunity of getting students from all backgrounds and studies united for a week of service. More than that, I loved brining the Alt Break experience back to the U and further spreading the knowledge that we students gained on our trip.”

Oliver says involvement at the Bennion Center gave him the chance to connect with individuals outside of his usual circles. “I was able to grow the love of continuous service and learn that I can connect with all folks who cross my path, regardless of our differences. Thanks to the BC, I am living more graciously, one step at a time.”

Katie Saiget boat


“Sometimes I think you have to be removed from your current situation in order to see what your reality is and be compelled to take action.” Katie Saiget says that’s what she gained from her first Alt Breaks experience. A friend convinced her to come along on a community engagement trip to Arcada. Katie says serving there gave her better perspective on the needs of her own community. “For me, it’s about awareness and action,” she says. “You see how to become more civically engaged and you feel a lot more empowered to take action.”

Katie used that empowerment to engage in an honors course led by then Bennion Center director Marshall Welsh. The course focused on rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  Students had been in the cleaning up in the lower 9th Ward when they discovered family albums and keepsakes. “I remember sitting contemplating what would I do if something like that had happened to me. All of us as students were able to band together and express all of the emotions we felt but also gain so much perspective from people we would otherwise have never met. They gave us a world of perspective and we gave them our sweat for the day.”

Today Katie works in the tech industry. She uses her Bennion Center skills almost every day. “What the Bennion Center taught me was always staying curious and always defaulting to doing something with the knowledge that you have. At the Bennion Center I remember leading group reflections. It’s something I just recently brought to my leadership trainings I hold for my company.”

Katie is still volunteering too. She has served as a mentor to first gen students. She also helps immigrants complete their paperwork for citizenship. “I find myself really compelled to give back.”


Our Story

Focus on Community Needs

The Lowell Bennion Community Service Center was dedicated in 1987 by Chase Peterson, President of the University of Utah. He stated, “No university can rest merely with the transmission of old or the generation of new knowledge. It must also help students reach out to larger opportunities and responsibilities. That is what the Bennion Center is all about.”

Students have been doing just that – directing projects designed to address an identified community need, usually in partnership with an existing public or private agency. Projects that served elderly people, youth, and special populations were among the first programs offered, and still provide the bulk of our volunteer opportunities.


Bennion Center History | The First 20 Years


Our Namesake

While new ideas and innovative strategies to implement them are flourishing, the Bennion Center continues to model itself on the life its namesake, Lowell Bennion, who embodied respect for all people, believed in social and economic justice for all, and acted tirelessly  on his beliefs.

About Lowell Bennion




Civic Competencies at the Bennion Center
The Bennion Center utilizes the Civic Competencies to assess student learning through community engagement. Civic Competencies are a set of defined behaviors, practices, and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to be effective in positive community change. We evaluate student learning based on this rubric.

Click here to view our Assessment Rubric

Click the link below to view our past Annual Reports
 Annual Reports

Community Engagement at the U
Since it's founding in 1850, the University of Utah has been home to people committed to community. This passion for shared knowledge, improved well-being and expanding research drives faculty, students, and staff to imagine new possibilities within the context of community. It is a collaboration that results in transformation.
That is why community engagement is a core component of the University of Utah's strategic plan. Engaging with communities to improve health and quality of life helps meet critical needs of the individual, the institution, and the populace at large. 
Today the U builds on its commitment to community engagement by discovering, developing, and expanding best practices in teaching and learning, research, scholarship, and service.  "We have an obligation to our students, our state, our nation to be a higher education innovator - leading the way in developing creative strategies that deliver value and ensure exceptional experiences in higher education. The U's value comes not only in our commitment to our students and patients, but from our commitment to innovation and discovery."    Ruth V. Watkins, President, University of Utah


Courage and optimism are at the heart of our efforts to create deeply engaged learning experiences for students, while also making a positive impact in the community.


We work to act and communicate honestly and with integrity and to treat others with respect, compassion, and understanding.


We believe in the power of collaboration and collective impact as we seek to create deeply engaged learning experiences and meet the needs of our communities.. We seek  strong and genuine  partnerships that enable all to work toward strengthening communities. 


We inspire and mobilize people to strengthen communities through learning, scholarship, and advocacy. We create safe spaces for diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. We understand the ability of this teaching and learning process to foster a deeper understanding of our world, its issues and its people. We make use of best practices for program development, assessment, and professional growth.

Community Engagement Definitions
Community Engagement -- the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
Community Engaged Scholarship -- Investigation, analysis, and the transformation and dissemination of knowledge based on community-informed, reciprocal partnerships involving the university and community members.
Community Based Research is a “collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings.
Community Based Teaching and Learning takes place within the community and is designed to affect the community directly. The participants are community members and not necessarily traditional students. It can be reciprocal but that is not its primary purpose, community impact is the primary objective.
Community Engaged Learning courses must address best practices in community engagement: the partnership has to be reciprocal; the service has to address an area need in the community, it must be curricular based; the syllabus must address specific learning outcomes related to engagement, and it must include a reflection component.
Faculty Service is service done by faculty directly for the community (not service to the university, a discipline, a profession, or a particular religious denomination). Service must be voluntary and participants must receive no or minimal remuneration.
Student Service must be co-curricular and voluntary. Students cannot receive monetary compensation or course credit, and service efforts must be tied directly to the community (not the community of students at the university or to a particular religious denomination.)
Staff Service is service done by university staff directly for the community on behalf of the university (not service to the university, a discipline, a profession, or a particular religious denomination). Service must be voluntary and participants must receive no or minimal remuneration.
Outreach: University resources are used to benefit the community. While outreach often increases awareness and accessibility for the university, these outcomes are incidental and the primary focus remains benefiting the community. Although the university contributes to public life in the surrounding community (the arts, athletics, etc.), this particular type of outreach focuses on bringing educational and service-oriented resources into the community.

The Community Research Collaborative
The Bennion Center proudly supports and encourages quality community-based research (CBR). We want community members and academic researchers to work together in powerful partnerships to uncover, understand, disrupt obstacles as well as excentuate the assets that will lead to more healthy, inclusive, resilient, and just communities. 
We want to employ CBR to:
  • Translate scientific knowledge into practice
  • Support organizing and movement building
  • Impact policy
  • Guide community and economic development
  • Foster learning and personal transformation
  • Build trust with communities harmed by past research
  • Improve organizations
  • Strengthen communities
  • Enrich our understanding of the world
Our communities struggle with deep-rooted inequities and global challenges that defy simple answers. CBR is a powerful way to address these challenges by harnessing our collective knowledge, data, and resources.
This report, produced by the U's Community Research Collaborative, offers guidance for both community-based and campus-based practioners and anyone who wants to engage in quality collaborative CBR to strengthen their community. 
The U's Community Research Collaborative is composed of researchers, organizers, activists, scholars, educators, and community leaders, who work together to advance quality participatory and action-oriented community-based research. The group and its products are supported by University Neighborhood Partners and the Bennion Center.
Click here to view the full report on CRC Guidelines


Our Acknowledgement
While the Bennion Center is currently working on a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan, it is imperative that we have this antiracism agenda. We recognize that there will be people who are marginalized and minoritized who may feel like they’re not visibly represented in this plan, and we think that no DEI plan will ever be able to serve all people, but we recognize that, given the state of the world today, antiracism is what’s most important for us to focus on. Therefore, there is a political need in this historic moment to take a specific stand against racism and anti-Blackness. It’s important to talk about that. It is not that we do not recognize that there are other systemic issues that need to be addressed; the committee affirms the need for thoughtful consideration of other forms of systemic exclusion. We believe that it is the responsibility of the staff to see themselves in the antiracist work of the Bennion Center, and in doing so to account for and explicitly work against the intersectional oppressions that we all recognize exist. In this way, the Bennion Center can begin to rebuild its spaces and programming to be inclusive of all identities: gender, sexuality/asexuality, age, SES, citizenship status, ability/disability, indigenous status, language, etc.--all without losing focus on the racial injustice that has deserved but been denied our focus in the past.
Systemic racism is a pervasive problem that affects the everyday lives of Utahns. Racism cuts across every sector within the state of Utah. In healthcare, racism leads to higher rates of mortality during childbirth among Black women, reduced access to quality healthcare for People of Color, and an increase in pollution-related illnesses in minority communities. In housing, minority neighborhoods that have been historically redlined still suffer from the consequences of systemic racism. In higher education, colleges and universities continue to be complacent in fighting against systemic racism. People of color are underrepresented in student bodies and faculty ranks, buildings retain names of racist forbearers, and socioeconomic hurdles to finishing degrees continue to disproportionately impact students of color.
Systemic racism goes against the mission, vision, and values of the Bennion Center, which compels its constituents to combat systemic racism whenever and wherever it exists. That is why the Bennion Center wholeheartedly believes that Black Lives Matter, and that incorporating explicitly anti-racist strategies and actions into the Bennion Center’s mission is essential. Antiracism is centered in the idea that racial groups are equal in their apparent differences- that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracism argues that racial policies are the cause of racial inequities, and antiracism requires the implementation of a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity. (Kendi, 2018)
In response to the senseless executions of countless Black and Brown lives at the hands of police brutality--the murder of George Floyd* being the catalyst--the Bennion Center has crafted this Antiracist Agenda. The purpose of this Agenda is to create opportunities for systemic change in the Bennion Center’s culture that will center all programming, policies, and dialogue around an antiracist ethic. For too long, the Bennion Center has stayed passive when the communities, students, and faculty we serve have needed our voice to speak up for real change. We know we can do better as an organization. While we’ve had multiple individuals affiliated with the Bennion Center model powerful antiracist actions in the past, we, as an organization, have not integrated such actions into our organizational ethos nor our leadership on campus. Guided by our mission of inspiring and mobilizing people to strengthen their communities through learning, scholarship, and advocacy, the Bennion Center chose to take an antiracist stance by implementing antiracist policies and procedures to promote equity and justice for the people with whom we work. 
This Antiracism Agenda addresses the ways that the Bennion Center has, in the past, failed to implement antiracist policies and has perpetuated Systemic Racism. However, the Bennion Center acknowledges that it does not have all the answers and cannot do this work alone. Through this plan, we will continue to engage all of our stakeholders to ensure that the Bennion Center is held accountable to take strong antiracist actions to support our belief that Black Lives Matter. We will also create shared accountability with our staff, faculty, students, and community partners to create an antiracist culture within and beyond the walls of the Bennion Center.

Anti-Racism Agenda Commitments
  1. Nurture an inclusive and Antiracist environment in the Bennion Center
  2. Be leaders in defining and implementing Antiracist community engagement

  3. Create a culture that fosters the recruitment and retention of a diverse staff with equitable opportunities for advancement and compensation


Do you have a Bennion Center story or experience?

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2021-2022 Annual Report


Published on 9/6/2022


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Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerv...
Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerva decided to get involved with community engagement to find a way to make new connections. Within a CEL (community engaged learning) course, Minerva was able to take class lessons and apply them to real life scenarios. “The community engagement course has also allowed me to develop skills that I cannot solely learn through a book such as being able to approach strangers and engage in meaningful conversations,” Minerva said. In a City and Metropolitan Planning class, Minerva learned that despite the pandemic, people were eager to talk about parks and how important they are to them. Minerva was able to realize that with the pandemic, parks have become a sanctuary place for many during the pandemic - they are one of the few places where people still felt they could gather safely, entertain their children, exercise, and find peace. 
Minerva said, “Taking a certified Community Engagement Learning Course (CEL) would be beneficial to individuals who want to understand the challenges in their community, identify ways to get involved, and refine their professional and personal interests.” If you want to learn more about Minerva’s experience with CEL courses, check out her blog at the link in our bio!
Meet Minerva! After moving from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Minerva decided to get involved with community engagement to find a way to make new connections. Within a CEL (community engaged learning) course, Minerva was able to take class lessons and apply them to real life scenarios. “The community engagement course has also allowed me to develop skills that I cannot solely learn through a book such as being able to approach strangers and engage in meaningful conversations,” Minerva said. In a City and Metropolitan Planning class, Minerva learned that despite the pandemic, people were eager to talk about parks and how important they are to them. Minerva was able to realize that with the pandemic, parks have become a sanctuary place for many during the pandemic - they are one of the few places where people still felt they could gather safely, entertain their children, exercise, and find peace. 
Minerva said, “Taking a certified Community Engagement Learning Course (CEL) would be beneficial to individuals who want to understand the challenges in their community, identify ways to get involved, and refine their professional and personal interests.” If you want to learn more about Minerva’s experience with CEL courses, check out her blog at the link in our bio!
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Last Updated: 7/27/23