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The Banks Center opens its doors

September 18, 2008

The basement of the Davee Library now houses an innovative new center for learning that through teaching and research is intended break through the boundaries between different disciplines at UW-River Falls.

The Banks Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry is named after UWRF alumna, Joanne Banks, who broached the idea and made a generous donation. A state grant covered the rest of the cost.

The Banks Center includes a classroom, a conference room and a director’s office. 

Depicted in tile on the floor in the hallway of the Banks Center is an abstract, nongender version of Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.” The hands of the figure point to the classroom and the conference room. The figure is meant to be a constant reminder that all disciplines have their origins in humanity, Interim Provost and Chancellor for Academic Affairs Terry Brown said.

The classroom is based on circular design. A strip of red carpet leads to the center of a compass-like design in the middle of the room. Like a room inside of a room, there are circular walls that “create a feeling of community,” Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Science Brad Caskey said.

The right-hand wall in the front can be moved to convert the classroom to fit the needs of the different professors. Behind the left wall is storage space. Whiteboards are on nearly every wall.

“[The Banks Center is] designed to excite students and faculty about teaching and learning,” Brown said. “I cannot wait to teach in that space.”

A director for the Banks Center should be selected by spring. Once a director takes the job he or she will promote more multi-disciplinary courses, coordinate the classes and bring speakers, Caskey said.
There is a push to develop more multi-disciplinary courses for the 2009-10 school year.  The conference room is the place where faculty from the different disciplines can meet and discuss new ways to collaborate and create new courses, Caskey said.

One such course in the talking stages is a class on the year 1968. This tulmotious year in America’s history enables a plethora of disciplines to become involved: political science, history, psychology, art, music, biology and physics.

The classroom is not completely finished – the temporary technology should be replaced with the permanent in a week – but classes are taking place, Caskey said.

During homecoming week, Oct. 4, a dedication ceremony is planned at 11:30 a.m. to mark the Banks Center’s official opening in the Library.

“I’m excited to see the development of the Banks Center in the Library. The Library provides resources and services to support all students and faculty across campus,” Library Director Valerie Malzacher said. “We aren’t identified with a particular discipline in the way that some buildings on campus are, so we really are a neutral area where interdisciplinary study can flourish.”

Interdisciplinary methods of teaching are one of the hallmarks of Banks’ career. Penn State University’s College of Medicine offered Banks a position in 1972 position that used literature as a new way to look at medical knowledge. 

“Sometimes I think my brain is badly wired,” Banks said in the October 2006 issue of “Falcon Features.” “It’s true. Never in my life have I sort of been comfortable staying in one discipline as universities have traditionally imagined them.” 

She died of ovarian cancer in May 2007, but her inspirational legacy lives on through the Banks Center.