From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Obituary: Cheryl Lynn Bennett Brought Ergonomics to Children and Schools

Cheryl Lynn Bennett, remembered best in her profession for untiring efforts to extend the benefits of ergonomics to children, passed away on July 2, 2007, at the age of 56. It was a sudden death, from heart failure, during a vacation with her family. She is survived by husband Charles and daughter Caitlin.


After receiving a B.Sc. degree from California State University in 1981 and M.Sc. in Occupational Health and Safety Engineering from Texas Tech University in 1982, Bennett went to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at its Ames Research Center. She moved to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in 1986, there providing oversight for its Ergonomics Program.


Bennett’s interest in what is sometimes referred to as “schoolhouse ergonomics” expanded during her 21 years at LLNL, and she achieved considerable recognition for her work in the specialty. From 2002-2003 she was instrumental in setting up New Jersey’s Ergonomics in Education Study Commission to advise the state on integrating ergonomics into public school curricula. She noted at the time that studies show approximately 80 percent of children ages eight to 18 regularly use computers, yet tables and desks often have no relationship to the sizes of the students using them.

In her tribute, Dr. Valerie J. Berg Rice, co-editor with Rani Lueder of the handbook “Ergonomics for children … Designing products & places for toddlers to teens” commended the late ergonomist’s wide contribution to the profession. “Cheryl wrote articles and book chapters on designing for children. She initiated the technical committee for the International Ergonomics Association on designing Educational Environments for Children, served as the committee chair, and arranged the first symposium at the IEA 2000 conference in San Diego. She worked extensively on their website, putting together the objectives, guidelines, a list of references, and a compilation of on-going research.”

The interest started as Bennett watched her daughter and her daughter’s friends during their school time in computer labs and classrooms, according to Berg Rice, and at home with school work and videogaming. “Her first efforts were to visit her daughter’s school, talk with the teachers, and explain to them how to set up a work station and why it was so very important to their health! From these humble beginnings of reaching out to her own family and friends, she moved to encourage her profession to embrace this new and important … domain.” All the while, Berg Rice added, it was more than a domain to her, and she approached the effort with all the love and belief a devoted mother and professional can bring.

Most of this contribution was made as a volunteer, Berg Rice noted.

Handbook co-editor Lueder first met Bennett at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) meeting the late ergonomist set up “to further her efforts in creating the IEA Technical Committee on Ergonomics for Children. She was quiet, even shy,” Lueder recalled, “but determined to make a difference.” The HFES rejected my suggestion that we add a specialty category for ergonomics for children, Lueder added, because the area was seen as too specialized, and really not what human factors was about. The Society viewed human factors as really being about adults. “Well, since that time, Cheryl has made a huge difference. Ergonomics for children has become mainstream.” 

In 1995 Bennett joined the International Society for Occupational Ergonomics and Safety (ISOES) The president of the society, Dr. Lawrence J. H. Schulze, was closely associated with her during that period, working with her on the IEA’s Educational Environments for Children committee. He expressed his sadness at her passing. “She originated the committee, of which I am a member,” he added, “and grew the committee into a well admired and very respected part of [the Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments technical committee]. [It] has led to legislative changes in the United States and other countries focusing on providing proper ergonomic environments in schools to enhance children’s learning environments.” 

In his tribute, Dr. Roger Jensen, Past President of ISOES, also commended her volunteer efforts. “Cheryl Bennett’s passing leaves a gap in the ergonomics community; especially among those who work to improve the furniture and learning conditions of schools.” He said her contributions to the ergonomics community through volunteer work as Treasurer of ISOES was not as well known. “After serving for about five years, she had to find a successor because of health problems,” Jensen explained. “… We spoke often that year while implementing the change of records. When I reviewed her records, it became apparent how much time she put in to support of the Society. She was one of the most outstanding individuals I had the privilege of knowing. Her participation in the community of ergonomists will be greatly missed.”


Berg Rice sounded the same note. “I will miss Cheryl, as will many others in our field. Not just because of the work she did or the dedication she brought, but because of who she was and what she brought out in each of us. When you met or talked with Cheryl, she listened. She affirmed. She congratulated. She encouraged. She let you know that she admired your work and how you do it.  I left conversations with Cheryl feeling good about her, but also good about our profession, good about cooperatively working with other professions and good about myself. I know others felt the same way. What better legacy could a person leave?”

Like Berg Rice, Lueder was taken with Bennett’s humanity. “She had a huge heart, and the depth of her caring could be felt by anyone who spent any time with her.” Over the years, it became clear that her interest was really an expansion of her own love for her daughter, Lueder added, and a hope that all children could get the attention they deserved. “I will miss her.”


Sources: Dr. Berg Rice; Rani Lueder; Dr. Lawrence J. H. Schulze; Dr. Roger Jensen; IEA; ISOES