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Mark Benge Alumnus of the Month

Alumni Mark Benge

 

Question.) When did you graduate from WCU and in what subject area?

Answer.) 1986 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Q.) What are some of your fondest memories of your days at WCU?

A.) I have lots of great memories, such as developing lifelong friendships with roommates, football games (especially attending the national championship game in Charleston in 1983), being initiated as a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, snow skiing, living and working in other states as part of the cooperative education program, camping with fraternity brothers in the dead of winter, and trout fishing at the base of waterfalls in what would eventually become Dupont State Forest.

Q.) Who were your favorite professors/staff at Western Carolina and why?

A.) Dr. Paul A. Reid, past Chancellor of WCU, whose annual competitive scholarship meant I had to maintain a high GPA each year in order to receive the grant.
Dr. Tom O’Tool, a history professor, who taught me a different way of analyzing issues, but also made history fun by dancing on his desk at times to keep our attention.
Mrs. Susie Ray, Cooperative Education Director, who encouraged me to apply for various co-op positions, including IBM, and helped me prepare for the interviews.
Dr. David Teague, a computer science professor, who challenged me in numerous ways to refine my software development abilities.
Mr. James Medlin, Development Foundation Director, who mentored and helped prepare me for the business world.

Q.) Mark, you’ve enjoyed a very distinguished and successful professional career as a software engineer. Tell us a little about your career path and how you got there.

A.) My guidance counselor at East Surry High School, Mrs. Beulah Perkins, recommended that I major in a relatively new field called computer science. Consequently, she even recommended that I apply toward a summer science training program at WCU, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, where I would receive advanced instruction in computer science, electrical engineering, and chemistry. I applied and was accepted into the program the summer of 1980, which was between my junior and senior years of high school. During my freshman year at WCU, I saw an advertisement about cooperative education and decided to investigate. I applied for a position at IBM, thinking it was a long shot at best. However, an upperclassman from WCU, Ron Nelson, so impressed his manager at IBM Charlotte, Harry Stigall, that Harry decided to look for another candidate from WCU. Beyond my wildest dreams and as a rising sophomore, I became that candidate and recipient of Harry’s offer. I was able to continue to work a number of sessions for IBM at various locations, such as San Jose, CA, and Boca Raton, FL, until I graduated.
When I graduated from WCU in 1986, IBM had a hiring freeze in effect, so I went to work for RJ Reynolds for approximately three years. It was at RJR where I met my beautiful wife Kelly. For most of the past 30 years, I have been employed by IBM, except for a short stint with a start-up company, AppGate, where I worked on a VPN product. I was blessed to work on a variety of products at IBM, such as OS/2, VisualAge C++, IT Director, Portal Server, Web Content Management, and most recently Connections. These products span operating systems, software development tools, systems management, web content, and social software. Most recently my division was sold as part of a divestiture to HCL America, where I continue to develop software for the HCL Connections product.

Q.) Mark, you are currently on the WCU Board of Visitors, and an active alumnus of Lambda Chi Fraternity—Beta Zeta Chapter. Why do you feel it’s important for alumni to stay connected and involved with their university?

A.) It’s an opportunity to give back to the university that I love and that has done so much for me. Alumni who are connected and involved with WCU give back to the university with their time, expertise, and also materially. Being connected and involved, benefits not only current students, but also future students, and our involvement will encourage and provide the opportunity for them to seek and attain higher goals in life.

Q.) Mark, you’ve become an avid runner. How did you become interested in running?

A.) I ran some in high school with friends with hope of establishing a cross-country team, but that did not materialize. I really started running 12 or so years ago as a way to get back in shape after spending too much time behind my desk. For competition runs, I ran mostly half marathons until I met new friends, who both encouraged and challenged me to start running ultra-marathons. I enjoy running challenging races which go by unique names, such as Rabid Squirrel, Uwharrie Mountain Trail Run, Southern Tour, Bad Water Cape Fear, and Ragnar trail races. Running is a great opportunity to share a healthy, common experience with friends, meet other runners from the U.S. as well as the globe, and make new friendships.

Q.) Now tell us something unique and interesting about yourself that few people may know.

A.) I was a contributing editor for OS/2 Magazine in the early to mid-1990s. The genesis for my writing skills was a newsletter, The Iguana Gazette, that I started for the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at WCU.

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