Howard M. Benson '’80, Hon. '15

Howard Benson’s gift to support the construction of a recording studio at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design may seem like an unusual choice for a graduate of Drexel’s metallurgical engineering program. But the highly successful music producer has been fusing his passion for music and his background in engineering for years.

As a student, Mr. Benson would slip away between classes to play the piano in the Creese Student Center or the lobby of Calhoun Hall. He would balance his engineering coursework with playing gigs with his band in New Jersey shore towns. His engineering degree eventually gave him an edge in the highly competitive music industry.

"When people started using computers in music production, I was totally prepared," says Mr. Benson. "Thanks to my Drexel degree, I understood what digital music was." Mr. Benson knew he would someday give back to the University in a significant way - when the timing was right and when he had the means to do so.

"Learning about Drexel’s music industry program was a great opening for me to get involved," says Mr. Benson who, in addition to his support of a new recording studio, established the Benson Operation Outreach Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2011.

"The URBN Center is shockingly unbelievable," says Mr. Benson. "There was nothing like that at Drexel when I was a student."

Since graduating, Mr. Benson has been nominated twice for Grammy awards, produced numerous multiplatinum albums and worked with major rock and pop stars like Santana, Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson. In 2011, he was inducted into the Drexel 100, the University’s alumni hall of fame celebrating those who have made a significant difference in the world. And in 2015, he was granted an honorary degree, the highest honor bestowed by the University.

Despite all of his professional success, Mr. Benson says that he didn’t come by his engineering degree easily, and he came close to not graduating at all. "It was always really important to me to finish what I started," he says. "I remember how emotional I was when I got my degree."

When people started using computers in music production, I was totally prepared. Thanks to my Drexel degree, I understood what digital music was.

Mr. Benson credits faculty like former Dean Richard Woodring at the College of Engineering for investing in him and understanding that he wasn’t a "typical" engineering student.

"We combined music and engineering for my senior thesis project," he recalls. "Combining my interests like that is what kept me going."Mr. Benson feels it’s important for today’s students to have that same kind of guidance and mentorship. In addition to his financial contributions over the years, he also serves as a mentor to Drexel’s music industry students. He hires a co-op student every summer, and also teaches a wildly popular music industry production course to Drexel students via Skype.

"Most of my co-ops have moved forward in the music business," says Mr. Benson. "I’m really happy that they’ve gotten something out of this."

Mr. Benson gives back to Drexel in part because he comes from a family of "givers" and was raised to understand the importance of philanthropy. He also gives back because his identity is still rooted in his Philadelphia upbringing, even though he’s lived on the West Coast for the past 35 years.

"It just wouldn’t feel right," he says, "if I didn’t do something to help my city and my University."