By Leanna Tilitei C 23
Tonya Bennett LPS’11, ML’23, Director of Educational Technology at Penn Vet and ML’23, has been selected to receive the 2021 EDUCAUSE Rising Star Award for her commitment to engaging young professionals from diverse backgrounds in information technology careers.
Presented to talented, early to mid-stage career IT professionals in higher education, the Rising Star Award recognizes an emerging leader who has contributed to the field through increased leadership, responsibility, and sphere of impact.
Bennett received the award in October after being nominated by a colleague. She also regularly contributes to the EDUCAUSE newsletter.
“It was really exciting to be recognized by such a great organization,” said Bennett. “One of the greatest compliments is knowing that your peers and colleagues truly respect you and what you bring to the table. It’s just a good reminder to keep pushing,” Bennett shared.
Though she has quickly emerged as an up-and-coming leader in the field, Bennett did not always know that she wanted to pursue a career in IT.
“I didn’t actually start out in IT. I worked for the NASDAQ back when it still went by the Philadelphia Stock Exchange for about the first eight years of my career,” she said. “I didn’t discover IT until I started working at Penn.”
Bennett received her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Development from Rosemont College in 2007 and her Master of Liberal Arts from Penn in 2011.
“I love learning and had always wanted to get an advanced degree,” Bennett said. “I just didn’t know when was the right time. Penn had this really great deal where you could work for the university and get your degree at the same time.”
While researching topics like gender and national ethnic conflict in 20th-century genocides for her master’s degree, Bennett worked as a Coordinator for Academic and Student Affairs. After serving as Director of Academic Services & Student Life for two years at Penn Dental, Bennett began a position as Director of Educational Technology at Penn Vet in 2018. There, she has been able to craft her skills in IT and share her knowledge to help others in higher education.
“I do not have a degree in IT, so everything I’ve learned about it happened on the job. I think that made the learning a little more fun and impactful,” Bennett said. “I was able to grasp the application side of things much more easily, and it has helped me be a better teacher to articulate concepts in a way that is easier to understand.”
At Penn Vet, Bennett supports faculty, staff, and students with educational technology products and online exams by acting as the primary administrator for programs like Canvas, Zoom, Panopto, E*Value, and Qualtrics.
Two years into her position at Penn Vet, Bennett began to see challenging but compelling legal issues in IT. As a result, she decided to pursue a Master in Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School to better understand how the law and IT intersect.
“I noticed that there are a lot of legal principles and frameworks in IT and higher education that I wanted to understand better,” said Bennett. “When I saw that there was an IT concentration in the Master in Law program, I was eager to try it out. It’s truly great to be able to keep learning and growing here at Penn whether it be at work or in the classroom.”
Bennett has enjoyed ML classes such as “Intro to Intellectual Property”; “Technology, Law, and Ethics”; and “General Business Law.”
For Bennett, who is also an adult competitive figure skater, the best part about being at Penn, however, is being in her home city.
“I grew up in Philly,” Bennett said, “so it is great getting to go to the hometown school. I always thought that Penn was really cool, and in high school, everyone always looked up to Penn and all it had to offer. It’s just really humbling to actually be here.”
In addition to being the 2021 EDUCAUSE Rising Star Award winner, Bennett also recently received a Models of Excellence Award from the University of Pennsylvania for “Supporting Penn Through COVID-19 and Return to Campus Work-Team.”