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Excellence and Expertise

Mary Ben Bonham awarded 2024 Knox Distinguished Teaching Award

The professor of Architecture and Interior Design has an impressive list of students externally recognized for their work

Excellence and Expertise

Mary Ben Bonham awarded 2024 Knox Distinguished Teaching Award

Mary Ben Bonham
Mary Ben Bonham

Mary Ben Bonham, professor of Architecture and Interior Design, has been awarded the 2024 Knox Distinguished Teaching Award.

Established by Miami alumnus E. Phillips Knox '68, the award is presented to faculty members whose achievements merit recognition for excellence in teaching along dimensions such as learning through inquiry and experimentation; awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity; or active participation in experiential learning and community partnerships. 

Bonham teaches courses in design, sustainability, and building systems and has been coordinator of the Interior Design program since 2017.

“She is an impactful teacher with strong course evaluations and has rightfully earned the respect of faculty and students alike,” a nominator wrote.

“As documented evidence of her sustained commitment to teaching excellence, and support of student learning outcomes, Mary Ben has an impressive list of students externally recognized for their work.”

Her mentoring in lighting design and building energy efficiency has helped Miami students garner national recognition.

In 2021, four out of the six awards given for a national light fixture design competition came from Miami. In notifying the department, the competition coordinator wrote, “We’ve never had RBT (Robert Bruce Thompson Annual Student Light Fixture Design) competition results where 4 out of the 6 awards given went to a single school/program/professor. But your students astonished us! Good work, professor!”

Bonham also has been instrumental in helping Miami students win awards in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero and Solar Decathlon Design Challenge competition.

Real-world, outside-the-classroom problem solving

Bonham’s research and published works center on specific themes in architectural technology, including high-performance facades and lighting pedagogy.

“She engages her students in real-world, outside-the-classroom problem solving; models herself as a learner and her students as teachers; and exemplifies the teacher-scholar model by blending her scholarship and teaching in carefully constructed classroom activities,” another nominator wrote.

Bonham practiced in Texas, Kentucky, and Massachusetts before joining the Department of Architecture + Interior Design as an assistant professor in 2007.

Her portfolio includes commercial, restaurant, retail, education, and residential projects with a focus on interior design, identity/prototype design, historic preservation, and adaptive reuse.

Her research centers on building science and she is a leading expert on double-skin facades, having published the 2019 reference guide, “Bioclimatic Double-Skin Facades.”

Her research is relevant to her courses on sustainable building systems, and her design studio courses provide opportunities for students not only to learn about sustainable systems but also to test these systems in building designs.

“This, for me, epitomizes the ‘teacher-scholar’ model and exemplifies Mary Ben’s success in the classroom,” the nominator wrote.

A background as an architect and designer

Her 12 years in practice with an architecture and planning firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, culminating in the role of senior associate, gave her the opportunity to master a range of professional skills that need to be synthesized into coherent architectural projects.

“Because Mary Ben is connected so strongly with students — often years before they come to Miami and often years after they graduate and return to Miami as project critic, and because she teaches students multiple times throughout their Miami tenure — this allows her to have an enormous impact on their development as students and people,” the nominator wrote.

Bonham centers students in carefully designed, innovative, and applied experiences with substantive and meaningful feedback that leads to outstanding learning outcomes.

The rich learning environment she cultivates is not only highly valued and recognized by her students but also by key stakeholders in design and related fields.

Mollie McNally ’22, who majored in Architecture with a minor in Urban Design, said Bonham “embodies the power and spirit of an innovative educator by fostering students’diverse perspectives on design, assisting in discovery of individual design process, and providing opportunities for experiential learning across a wide variety of courses.”

McNally, an architectural intern I at CORE Architecture + Design in Washington, D.C., called Bonham her “Make It Miami story.”

She wrote in her external nomination letter: “After a picture-perfect depiction of what Miami could be, I found myself overwhelmed by the looming decision of selecting a college. Sitting on the bench in the sun-lit atrium of Alumni Hall, with my head in my hands, a single question changed the trajectory of my personal and professional future: “What are you thinking?”

Bonham had asked the question, she wrote.

“Every subsequent detail of our chat was focused on finding the best possible fit for me, whether that was Miami or not. Mary Ben wanted to see me succeed. A 15-minute conversation and a follow-up email detailing all of my options that she researched told me everything I needed to know about my place at Miami. I belonged here.”

She continued, “From that very moment forward, through every conversation, design critique, assignment, and exchange of knowledge, it was clear Mary Ben is a person and educator of the highest caliber.”

Sophie Zitney ’23, who graduated in December with a BFA in Interior Design and a co-major in Sustainability, said Bonham’s guidance and support in her role as academic advisor as well as “our shared passion for sustainable design drew me to several of her course offerings.”

Now an interior designer at the Kaage Company in Chicago, Zitney wrote in her external nomination letter that Bonham had “a unique and engaging class structure, contagious passion for her field, and unwavering support for her students.”

Bonham earned a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin, and holds several licenses and certifications, including from the Council for Interior Design Qualification the American Institute of Architects, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional from the U.S. Green Building Council.