A Local Hero: Dr. Stacey Benson '90

Dr. Stacey Benson ‘90 always knew she would become a Dragon but could not have ever guessed where her career path would lead.

“Dragon blood runs through my veins,” Benson says proudly.

Growing up, she never considered another option for college. Her siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins were Dragons and always had positive experiences to share. Her family celebrated the 4th of July watching fireworks at MSUM every year, and her great uncle, Arthur Storms, was the very first person to graduate from Moorhead Teachers College with a 4-year degree. There is a study room in the library named after him. She says she remembers walking on campus with her older sister in 4th grade, thinking, “Someday I will get to go here!”

When it was finally time for her to tour colleges, MSUM truly felt like home for Benson. It was familiar and was a part of her life long before she enrolled. She was awarded the MSU Alumni Scholarship in 1986 and committed when she accepted that “someday, MSU will be proud to count me among their alumni”. The Distinguished Alumni award is the fulfillment of that commitment she made nearly 40 years ago.

Stacy Benson and Heidi Heitkamp
Stacy Benson and Heidi Heitkamp

Hailing from nearby Dilworth, Minn., Benson only spent one semester living on campus. But she says one campus memory that will always be etched in her memory was how the Student Union was always brimming with students over the noon hour… not for lunch, but to watch Days of our Lives on the TVs there.

She started her college career as a mass communications major (chosen by her parents, she says) but found herself reading her psychology books when she should have been studying for mass comm tests. Benson was enthralled with what she was learning and quickly became a psychology major.

Benson embarked on her career journey after graduation starting at Luther Hall, working with children who had experienced sexual trauma. Her affinity for working with kids was undeniable, and she felt a calling to continue this path. Grad school became the next stop.

To better understand her clients' experiences, she ventured into the world of perpetrators. A role at Project Pathfinder in the Twin Cities exposed her to individuals who had committed acts of sexual violence. Then came an internship at a federal prison in Tallahassee, Fla., an experience that couldn’t have been farther from her upbringing in Dilworth.

Benson says that through her experiences in St. Paul, Minn. and Florida, her eyes were opened to the kinds of things individuals go through to get where they are.

Stacy and fellow Dragons out to eat

“Working one day a week in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, and four days a week in a federal prison, was a very different experience from growing up in the Red River Valley,” she says.

The work was challenging but rewarding. Benson considered working for the FBI or staying with the federal prison system. However, her heart longed for home. Armed with a Fargo-Moorhead phonebook, she set out to make her mark, cold-calling places in search of opportunities.

Because of her unique background, she found herself in a position evaluating sex offenders for the State of North Dakota at the Southeast Human Service Center in Fargo. She also worked as the center’s chief psychologist for 10 years and taught human sexuality classes at NDSU.

Benson started Benson Psychological Services in 2005, and gradually phased out of working for the state as her private practice grew into the busy clinic it is today. As a forensic psychologist she frequently testifies in court regarding many issues, but sexual violence is her specialty. She has been invited to speak on this topic many times on tv, radio and in person, and has been hired by multiple states to train their department of corrections on how to assess sexual offenders for their likelihood to reoffend.

In 2014 she co-founded a non-profit (STAND) that provides sex offender treatment throughout the state of North Dakota. The organization works with individuals who are transitioning from prison into the community and their mission statement highlights their commitment to the improved safety of North Dakota communities through the provision of high-quality, evidence- based treatment and other services for individuals convicted or adjudicated of sexual crimes. Remarkably, her organization boasts a recidivism rate of less than 2%, a testament to the profound impact they're making on lives and the community's safety. They are rewriting stories and reshaping futures by helping people make choices incompatible with causing harm.

While her focus is on offenders, Benson maintains a victim-centric perspective. It's a career path she didn't foresee, but she wouldn't have it any other way. In her own words, "I may not be putting out the fire, but I'm taking away the match."

Benson Psychological Services Staff

She has been a board member of the North Dakota Psychological Association for 18 years, serving as president, as well as North Dakota’s representative to APA in Washington for six years and in 2016 she was nominated by NDPA for the national State Leadership Award. She has been nominated Teacher of the Year three times by the psychiatric medical residents of UND and in 2018 she was awarded YWCA’s Woman of the Year in the category of Health and Wellness.

Dr. Benson has met with Senators Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, Heidi Heitkamp and Representative Earl Pomeroy to lobby for issues regarding access to quality mental health care for North Dakota citizens.

In recognition of her tireless dedication to transforming lives and her immense impact on the community, the MSUM Foundation is proud to bestow upon Dr. Stacey Benson a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. Her journey from Dragon to life-changer is a story that truly defines the spirit of MSUM and that inspires all who hear it.

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