Prominent ergonomist, entrepreneur teaches future innovators in the field he loves
When Mark E. Benden, PhD, CPE, made the decision to come to Texas A&M University as a student it was the allure of the school’s undergraduate bioengineering program—something most colleges did not offer in the 1980s—that drew him to College Station, Texas.
Although this was the main reason for the first-generation student from Maryland to make the almost 1,500-mile trek from home, it was an elective class that would set him on his career path. As a fifth-year, senior Benden took an ergonomics class, sparking an interest in a field that was still evolving.
“I took one elective in ergonomics, and I loved it,” Benden said. “It really pivoted my view of what I wanted to do. I loved that it combined biomechanics and some knowledge of the human body and it would allow me to develop solutions and interventions and new products to help people. It was just a nice fit.”
For Benden, the class was the first step in what would become a prestigious and successful career as both a professor and an entrepreneur.
Benden is the head of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and director of the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center. He is also the chief executive officer of three faculty-led startups—PositiveMotion LLC, Stand2Learn LLC, and Wellbeing Code LLC—and has licensed five different products to four different companies since becoming a faculty member.
In addition, Benden holds 23 U.S. patents, has authored articles, books and book chapters on ergonomics, and is frequently asked to speak to and lecture professional groups throughout the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe.
“We’re making all kinds of things more ergonomic. Our keyboards, our mouse, everything we touch is more ergonomic,” said Benden, who is a Certified Professional Ergonomist. “Ergonomics is basically making things fit people instead of forcing people to fit things.”
Benden’s original goals included some form of a career in the medical field, hence his decision to come to Texas A&M to study bioengineering. At the same time, he wanted to do something that would allow him to design items that would enhance people’s lives.
“I was really interested in helping people, which was the medical part of my brain,” Benden said. “Then, there was also the engineering part of my brain that would allow me to develop solutions and interventions and new tools and products to help people.”
After obtaining his master’s degree in industrial engineering, and wanting nothing more to do with school, Benden ventured into the real world.
“I had people asking me if I was going to stick around for a doctorate and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Benden said. “I wanted to get out of there, I didn’t want to take another test.”
Benden, who was a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, was already in the Army Reserves where he would eventually become an officer. He was an engineer for Johnson & Johnson in its medical products division. Benden also served as executive vice president for Neutral Posture.
Still, the seed that had been planted during his collegiate years continued to grow, and eventually, Benden made the decision to head in another direction with his career.
“I kept thinking it would be nice if I was a professor because I could teach and help the next generation with these topics that I love,” Benden said. “I could also work on inventions and commercialization. When you work for a company, you are pretty much limited. When you become a faculty member, you have this incredible opportunity.”
So, after 15 years in the private sector Benden returned to Texas A&M to work on his PhD in interdisciplinary engineering. Now, as a professor and a leader in ergonomics, Benden is sharing his love for the ever-growing field with the next generation.
“The field is rich for all of these young students we have here,” Benden said. “They have the opportunity to set the pace and the trends going forward and that is very exciting. Working with them is by far the best part of the job and it gives you hope for the future when you see all these great minds and the work they are doing.”