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A fifth-year doctoral candidate and
dissertation fellow in political science and international relations,
Thomas Benson has combined his passion for the environment with his
education to impact the extended UD community.
Benson said he was already almost a vegetarian by default because he
could not afford to buy meat during his undergraduate years at the
University of Leeds in his native England, his decision to become a
vegan and not eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs or honey is really attributed
to his commitment to sustainability. Interested in the environment and
policies relating to it for much of his life, Benson buys secondhand
clothing, does not drive, regularly recycles, uses unscented detergent,
drinks out of a reusable water bottle, purchases used books or
e-versions, volunteers for efforts to improve local sustainability
initiatives, carries reusable cutlery and a straw to avoid single-use
plastic, and does all he can to repair electronic goods before getting
A fifth-year University of Delaware doctoral candidate and dissertation fellow in political science and international relations,
Benson has combined his passion for the environment with his education
to impact the UD campus and beyond. After taking some time to adapt to
living in a new country, Benson became actively involved in a variety of
“I came to the realization that it’s all well and good to talk about
my research and how much I care, but I need to focus more on what I can
do to help,” Benson said. “I was already trying to do as much as I could
for the environment on a personal level, and the recognition came that I
could do even more as a graduate student.”
He began attending meetings of the Graduate Student Government’s
Sustainability Committee in the fall 2019 semester and became its chair a
year later. Also a graduate representative on the UD Sustainability
Council and chair of the Bikeshare Committee, the latter entailed
bringing together a group of stakeholders, including Newark residents,
urban planners, Newark City Council members and representatives of local
nonprofits and UD.
“Thomas has been remarkably involved throughout the University for
his sustainability efforts and broader graduate school governance
initiatives as well,” said Benjamin Bagozzi, associate professor of
political science and international relations at UD. “Connecting the
community is a passion of his alongside both the research and teaching
aspects of being a graduate student.”
Benson’s route from the small town of Wetherby in the north of
England to the University of Delaware is indirectly linked to the
Environmental Law course he took at Leeds as he was nearing the
completion of his bachelor of laws degree in 2016.
“I already had an interest in environmental politics, and the course
showed me what I want to do with my life,” said Benson. “Pursuing a
legal career would not have allowed me to devote my full attention to
environmental law. It would have to be in conjunction with other areas
of the law that I am not particularly interested in.”
With very limited funding offered to him for graduate studies in the
United Kingdom, and a strong desire not to take on any more debt than he
already had incurred, he investigated opportunities away from home. His
research took him to UD’s website, where he read about the political
science and international relations doctoral program that allows
students to earn a master of arts along the way. Pleased to learn that
funding was available for European students, Benson studied the
program’s information and struck up an email conversation with Bagozzi.
“The majority of our prospective students do not reach out ahead of
time, so that stood out to me,” Bagozzi said. “From the very start,
Thomas’ emails were very thoughtful and thorough, and I could tell he
had done a lot of thinking and had a strong understanding of what
graduate school entailed.”
Benson was also impressed by his interactions with Bagozzi and enrolled at UD in 2017.
“It became very clear to me that Dr. Bagozzi was passionate about
environmental politics, and I was able to feel the connection with him
at the time,” said Benson. “That has definitely been the case. He was
assigned to be my adviser and we talk regularly, so it has all worked
Describing himself as a typical introverted British person, Benson
admits he was apprehensive about coming to the United States. His
transition was aided by UD’s orientation program for international
students that enabled him to learn about American culture and form
friendships that he has maintained throughout his time at UD.
“The University is very good at helping international students make
friends,” said Benson. “I like the collegial environment and how
friendly other graduate students are. It feels like a home.”
Benson quickly noticed that the supermarkets are larger than back in
England, and portions in restaurants are often larger and less
expensive. While he did have the advantage of coming from an
English-speaking country, he does receive some good-natured joking about
the way he pronounces words like “water” and “Harry Potter” as well as
how he says “motorways” instead of “highways” and “coriander” instead of
In the classroom, Benson said he needed to do some catching up
because he came from an undergraduate system that did not place a great
emphasis on quantitative skills or high levels of interaction and
discussion. By the start of his second graduate year, he felt like he
was on par with his classmates. Along with being Benson’s adviser,
Bagozzi has taught two of his classes and benefited from his work as a
research assistant as well.
“One thing that stood out to me about Thomas right from the start is
his unbelievable drive and passion for learning,” Bagozzi said. “Someone
who is so deeply invested in truly just being able to continue to learn
is really impressive, even among graduate students who are already
predisposed to that type of behavior. I’ve learned a ton just from
overseeing his work on smart cities and urban sustainability, and he has
helped me a lot with my work on environmental conflict-related topics.”
Benson has also presented at numerous conferences, served as a
visiting researcher at Boston University and received various grants and
awards, including selections for the Princeton Dissertation Scholars
Program, the Aspen Institute’s Future Leaders Climate Summit, and the
Brown University Climate Social Science Network Scholar Program. The
Princeton program will allow him to conduct extended fieldwork in Boston
and Washington, D.C., as well as Leeds and Bristol in England.
“I am grateful that my hard work is being recognized,” said Benson.
“It has motivated me to keep going and made me realize that what I am
doing is paying off and is a worthwhile pursuit.”
Although much of Benson’s decision to come to the University of
Delaware was for financial reasons, and he does miss his parents,
brother and sister, his experience at UD has inspired him to stay in the
United States after graduating next year. He is considering pursuing a
career as a sustainability manager or officer in a local government
authority as well as being a college professor. A first-generation
college student, Benson has enjoyed the teaching opportunities given to
him while pursuing his master’s and doctorate, especially being able to
help students understand how theories and concepts are applied in the
“Thomas would be an outstanding professor committed to doing broader
service to a university and connecting with the community,” Bagozzi
said. “If he were to go into the policy or advocacy arenas in either the
government or nonprofit sector, he would be excellent on that front
too. He is someone who can speak both languages [academia and politics],
which is quite rare.”
Along with everything else on his plate, Benson is keeping busy helping plan this spring’s University of Delaware Earth Day
event on April 22, which he said is going to be full of activities and
education. Speaking from his personal experience, he has some advice for
other students no matter where they are on their educational journey.
“To first-year students, persevere,” Benson said. “It might be
challenging, and the transition may be really difficult, but if you
persevere, you will continue to improve. For anyone else after that, get
involved with fellowships, internships and volunteer work. Make the
most of your time. After I realized that I can do more and should do
more as a graduate student, I tried to make the most of my time.”
Article by Adam S. Kamras; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published April 21, 2022
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