The University of Arizona

Ben’s Bell Award for UA Engineering Professor

By Pete Brown, College of Engineering | January 21, 2011

Supapan Seraphin, a materials science and engineering professor, received a Ben's Bells award for her work with students. She makes a famous Thai lunch for them, providing an opportunity to discuss academic concerns.

Professor Supapan Seraphin, right, and some of her students have some fun in the kitchen preparing vast quantities of Thai curry for hungry students.
Professor Supapan Seraphin, right, and some of her students have some fun in the kitchen preparing vast quantities of Thai curry for hungry students.
Professor Supapan Seraphin, left, takes a break from making curry to show her Ben's Bell, and Jennifer Horner, who nominated Seraphin for the award.
Professor Supapan Seraphin, left, takes a break from making curry to show her Ben's Bell, and Jennifer Horner, who nominated Seraphin for the award.
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Professor Supapan Seraphin of the University of Arizona department of materials science and engineering is this week's recipient of the Ben's Bells award.

Seraphin received her Ben's Bell on Friday, Jan. 21 while she was in the kitchen of UA's Maricopa residence hall preparing her famous Thai lunch for students.

As students and guests bustled around the kitchen, helping prepare more than 60 pounds of rice, chicken, tofu and veggies, and Seraphin stirred a giant pot of chicken curry, Ben's Bells co-founder Jeanette Maré walked in and presented Seraphin with the bell in recognition of the care and kindness Seraphin brings to her students and colleagues.

Seraphin said she was "super surprised" by the unexpected honor. "I'm extremely happy and grateful for the recognition of what I do for fun," she said. "I am happy when students eat healthy and enjoy a little community."

Seraphin's Thai lunches are something of a legend on the UA campus, and she uses the lunch gathering as an opportunity to discuss academic concerns with her students. It also allows engineering students from different disciplines to mingle and discover more about the academic interests they share. "These lunches make a connection between students," she said.

She has been organizing the lunches for 10 years as part of the UA Faculty Fellow program. At one point they became so popular that hundreds of students lined up around the block for a bowl of curry or pad thai. "Because it was so popular, I had to make it by invitation only," Seraphin said. Now only Maricopa Hall residents, her students and special invitees get to sample the spicy lunches.

Jennifer Horner, an adjunct lecturer in the systems and industrial engineering department, nominated Seraphin for the Ben's Bells award. "Supapan embodies the traits of caring and kindness for the students as well for as the staff and faculty with whom she comes into daily contact," Horner said.

Horner herself has been on the receiving end of Seraphin's kindness. "I'm fairly new to the UA and College of Engineering, and I appreciate the guidance and support Supapan has provided. She has gone out of her way to make me feel part of the UA community and has helped increase my confidence as an instructor."

Maré and her husband, Dean Packard, founded the Ben's Bells project in 2003 in memory of their son, Ben, who died of croup at 2 years old in 2002.

On the first anniversary of Ben's death, hundreds of bells were hung randomly throughout Tucson, tagged with a message asking the bells' finders to take the bells home and pass on the caring and kindness. Each week a person who betters Tucson is "belled."

Seraphin, an expert in electron microscopy and carbon nanoclusters, directs the electron microscopy and X-ray facility in the materials science and engineering department. She is recognized throughout the college for her dedication to students and as an outstanding student mentor, working with students from middle school to graduate school.

Each summer she leads a group of students and K-12 teachers on a research and summer study program at King Mongkut's University of Technology in Thailand. Seraphin makes special efforts to support minority students, training them in electron microscopy and engaging them in her lab's research efforts.

Seraphin won a UA Science & Engineering Excellence award in 2009. The SEE awards recognize individuals and organizations at the UA who have exhibited an outstanding commitment to increasing diversity and inclusiveness in science, technology, engineering and math.

The UA College of Engineering named Seraphin the 2007 da Vinci Fellow. The fellowship is sponsored by the College of Engineering philanthropic society, the da Vinci Circle, and fellows are selected for their distinguished and sustained records in teaching, research and service.

Contacts

Pete Brown

College of Engineering

520-621-3754

pnb@email.arizona.edu