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Letcher Co. native picked as new leader of Texas A&M

MS. BANKS

MS. BANKS

A Letcher County native is set to become the second woman ever to be named president of Texas A&M University later this month.

Margaret Katherine “Kathy” Banks, a native of Colson who grew up in Whitesburg, has been the dean of the university’s College of Engineering for 10 years. The university’s Board of Regents announced on Thursday that she is the only finalist for president.

Banks is the daughter of Peggy Banks of Lexington and the late Estill Banks, Sr. and a granddaughter of the late Lucky and Katherine Banks of Colson. She is a 1978 graduate of Whitesburg High School.

The president’s position was vacated December 31 when Michael K. Young retired to lead the university’s Institute for Religious Liberties and International Affairs within the Bush School of Government and Public Service. John Junkins has been interim president since January 1.

Texas law requires the board to wait at least 21 days before naming a president from the list of finalists, even if the list includes only one name. She is expected to take over June 1, when Junkins returns to his previous position as a professor of aerospace engineering.

A graduate of Whitesburg High School and the University of Florida, new Texas A&M University president Kathy Banks received her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, and her doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Duke University.

A graduate of Whitesburg High School and the University of Florida, new Texas A&M University president Kathy Banks received her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, and her doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Duke University.

Banks emerged as the only finalist after a nationwide search for a president. In addition to being Dean of Engineering, she is Vice-Chancellor of Engineering and National Laboratories for The Texas A&M University System, Director of the university’s Engineering Experiment Station, University Distinguished Professor, and Harold J. Haynes Dean’s Chair Professor.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Banks said. “The core values of Texas A&M, its rich traditions, unique culture and commitment to the greater good is the very foundation of this great university and resonates deeply with me. I hope to build upon that framework in our pursuit of preeminence, without losing what makes Texas A&M so special. Texas A&M is one of a kind and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

During her time at the university, she spurred unprecedented growth in the College of Engineering while also being a leader in some of the A&M System’s greater accomplishments, including recruiting the Army Futures Command to the RELLIS Campus and winning a federal contract to help manage Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Last Wednesday, Chancellor John Sharp recommended Banks as sole finalist and the Board approved.

“The Board was excited to know the search yielded tremendous interest and many qualified candidates,” said Elaine Mendoza, Chairman of the Board of Regents. “This speaks to the stellar reputation, credibility and positive momentum of Texas A&M University. The board is confident that Dr. Banks will lead the university to even greater heights while celebrating the traditions and spirit that make Texas A&M unique.”

Chancellor Sharp said Banks’s decade-long record at Texas A&M prompted the decision.

“Where is there a dean in the U.S. who has accomplished what Dean Banks has accomplished?” asked Chancellor Sharp. “If she can do for the university what she did for engineering, imagine what the university can achieve.”

Banks is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Florida in 1982, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, and her doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Duke University.

When she was hired as Vice-Chancellor and Dean in 2011, the enrollment in the College of Engineering was 11,113 students, with about 425 faculty members. Today, there are 21,250 engineering students and 710 faculty members.

That growth has been intentional. Banks sought to enhance educational delivery, expand research and teaching facilities and improve faculty recruitment and retention.

A prodigious fundraiser, Banks doubled engineering facilities to two million square feet, including the reconstruction of the Zachry Engineering Education Complex. That 525,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility allows for hands-on, experiential undergraduate engineering education, including a 65,000 square foot maker space.

Through her growth program, Banks increased access to qualified engineering students while reducing the number of students in each class. No engineering class has more than 100 students and more than half of the classes do not exceed 50 students.

Banks also addressed the cost of higher education by creating engineering academies with community colleges around the state. Students are co-enrolled in Texas A&M engineering courses while taking their basics at their local community colleges. By living at home, the students can shave thousands of dollars from their education costs before transitioning to College Station.

Banks said faculty and staff engagement was critically important to the college’s success. She increased the number of faculty advisory groups and created the first engineering staff advisory council providing input to college leadership.

In addition to leading the College of Engineering at the flagship campus, Banks as vice-chancellor also oversees engineering educational programs at seven universities throughout the A&M System, as well as three state agencies: the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), the Texas A&M Extension Service (TEEX) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

In 2020, engineering program research expenditures were more than $300 million – an all-time high – as the college transitioned from mostly small research grants to successfully securing large, multi-partner strategic opportunities.

Banks led the A&M System’s competition to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory. In 2018, a bid by the Texas A&M System, the University of California and Battelle Memorial Institute won the management contract worth $2.5 billion per year.

A year later, Dean Banks was critical in developing the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex on the RELLIS Campus in Bryan, and facilitating research and testing partnerships with the Army Futures Command. The complex includes what will become the nation’s largest hypersonic testing tube, one kilometer long and two meters wide.

Building upon engineering research expertise in hypersonics, Banks helped position the Texas A&M System to become the nation’s hypersonic research capital, as recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense’s selection of TEES to lead its national hypersonics consortium with $100 million in funding over five years.

In addition to being named President, she will retain the title of Vice-Chancellor of National Laboratories and National Security Strategic Initiatives. In that role, she will continue to serve on the board of Triad National Security, LLC, which manages the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and provide oversight for the Bush Combat Development Complex at the RELLIS Campus.

Kathy Banks and her husband Paul Schwab, a soil and crop sciences professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have six children and four grandchildren, with a son, daughter-in-law, and son-in-law who were graduated from Texas A&M.

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