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Donation funds interdisciplinary center

November 2, 2006

A generous donation made by a UW-River Falls alumna to the University last May will result in the creation of a distinctive educational facility on campus.

Slated to be completed by the end of the academic year, planning for construction of the new Joanne Banks Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry is now underway.

The center, which will be located in the basement of the Davee Library, will operate as a classroom and meeting place for members of the UWRF community to engage in interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

“I see it as a magnet for interdisciplinary cooperation between faculty and students,” Chancellor Don Betz said. “I think it will actually be a very strong generator of new options and new learning possibilities [because] it’s the only place on campus that’s dedicated to this purpose.”

The $234,000 gift from Banks will also provide support for faculty growth in interdisciplinary studies, as well as an annual lecture series that brings to campus prominent speakers in the field.

“Our hope is that we’ll have a... space that’s suitable to host seminars and colloquia on interdisciplinary topics,” College of Arts and Sciences Dean Terry Brown said.

The former Yellow Lab of the Davee Library will be utilized for the center, but space adjoining the lab may be included in the center’s overall floor plan.

“The question now that we’re determining is whether or not it will be the Yellow Lab and an adjacent space or just the Yellow Lab,” Brown said.

Frisbe Architects, a River Falls-based firm, has been contracted to provide designs of what the center may look like.

The actual construction will likely be performed by “a combination of Facilities Management on campus and off-campus vendors,” said Dan McGinty, director of development and alumni relations.

A center planning committee headed by Brown and composed of faculty representatives from each college is working to develop the center’s purpose and mission. Formed last spring, the members were chosen based on their proven commitment to the field of interdisciplinary studies, Brown said.

A 1962 English graduate of UWRF, Banks was a pioneer in bridging the gap between the humanities and sciences in classrooms.

By teaching literature to medical students at Pennsylvania State University, Banks became one of the co-founders of the interdisciplinary field of literature and medicine. 
According to the fall 2006 issue of Falcon Features, the University’s alumni magazine, the field has had such an impact on medical school curriculums that it is now commonplace to see literature instructors employed by medical schools.

Banks, who is currently battling ovarian cancer, was unavailable for an interview.

Brown said the alumna credits UWRF for instilling in her the value of interdisciplinary knowledge.

“She says that it was teachers here who taught her to see the world in much broader terms,” Brown said.

Banks was also the American editor of The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf, a multi-volume compilation of correspondence penned by the English writer.

Exploits such as these earned her the honor of being named a Distinguished Alumnus of UWRF in 1981. 

According to Falcon Features, the award was given “in recognition of her accomplishments as an educator, author, and pioneer in bringing medicine and literature together as ‘healing arts.’”

Last November, Banks contacted former Major Gifts Officer Bryan Sanders in the University Advancement office with the intention of making a donation to UWRF.

As Banks was an alumna of CAS, Brown was notified of the tentative gift and met with department chairs in the college to discuss a proposal for the funding. An agreement was reached to use the donation for the interdisciplinary center, Brown said.

“There was a pretty clear consensus that this was what we wanted to ask for,” she said.

After getting the go-ahead from Betz on the terms of the proposal, Brown and Sanders visited Banks at her home in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla., to hammer out the details of the plan.

“We went down like a week after we heard from her,” Brown said.

Banks took some time to ponder the proposal and agreed to make the donation, which the University received last May.

“She seemed to be very pleased with it, and then took some time, but then decided to fund it,” Brown said.

The UWRF community will be able to benefit from Banks’ vision.

“My hope is that it becomes recognized regionally as an incubator of innovative teaching and research, and nationally as a model for interdisciplinary studies,” Brown said.

Betz said he believes the purpose of the center is in alignment with UWRFs mission.

“We want [students] to be successful citizens, successful leaders, and to have a broad international perspective,” Betz said. “And I think [the center] will play right into all of that."