The head of Purdue University’s civil engineering school was picked Friday as dean of Texas A&M’s engineering college and overseer of all of the A&M System’s engineering programs.
M. Katherine Banks was selected by the A&M System Board of Regents as dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering and vice chancellor for engineering.
Banks will be the first woman to head Texas A&M’s largest college. She begins on Jan. 10.
“I’m drawn to universities that have a land-grant mission,” she said in a phone interview Friday after the unanimous vote. “The engagement with both the educational community and the broader community is very important to me.”
Banks, 51, replaces G. Kemble “Kem” Bennett, who stepped down at the end of August from the post, which is one of the busiest jobs in Aggieland.
She’ll also be director of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, an A&M System state agency, and overseer of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and the Texas Transportation Institute, both state agencies.
The department she headed had around 1,000 students and 59 faculty members. A&M’s engineering college had more than 11,000 students last fall and nearly 400 tenured or tenure-track faculty members.
“I enjoy challenges,” Banks said. “My husband and I have six children, so we’re used to the chaos.”
Banks grew up in a Whitesburg, Ky., a coalmining town of about 1,200, and never even met an engineer until she moved away. “I enjoyed math and physics,” she said. “A friend of mine in college convinced me to try it and I was hooked.”
Her field of study is wastewater and water treatment.
Banks earned her bachelor’s in environmental engineering from the University of Florida in 1982, a master’s in environmental engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1985, and doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from Duke University in 1989.
She has more than three months to study her new position. She said her primary focus at first will simply be wrapping her arms around the job and meeting as many people as possible.
“I will have to learn the system at Texas A&M,” she said.
Banks was one of four finalists narrowed down by a search advisory committee that began its work 10 months ago and was chaired by Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Hussey could not be reached for comment.
Bob Strawser, a former Faculty Senate speaker and a search committee member, said all the finalists were excellent, but Banks was “confident, listened, reacted well and had done her homework.
“She displayed all the qualities we were looking for,” Strawser said. “The No. 1 criteria was leadership and vision.”
The other three finalists were Mark J. Lewis, the University of Maryland’s aerospace engineering department chair; Wesley Harris, an aeronautics and astronautics professor and associate provost for faculty equity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Stephen Holditch, head of Texas A&M’s petroleum engineering department.
The search advisory committee forwarded two names to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. The president and A&M System Chancellor John Sharp jointly recommended Banks to the board.
“She brings to us a stellar academic and leadership background as well as a wealth of experience that will be highly beneficial,” Sharp said.