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Alumna Establishes New Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry

By Meghan Dusek
UWRF University Communications

DEC. 7, 2006-- University of Wisconsin-River Falls alumna, Joanne Belfiori Banks, a 1962 graduate and the 1981 UWRF distinguished alumna, was never comfortable with the tradition academic boundaries that divide knowledge into discrete disciplines.

With her achievements as the American editor of the six-volume edition of the letters of Virginia Woolf, Banks found her perspective a little like Mrs. Dalloway, the title character in Woolf's landmark novel. In the novel, Dalloway ponders interconnectedness: "But to go deeper, beneath what people said...What did it mean to her, this thing she called life? Oh, it was very queer...She felt quite continuously a sense of their existence and she felt what a waste; and she felt what a pity; and she felt if only they could be brought together; so she did it."

That's exactly what Banks had in mind when she gave a generous gift to the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences for the creation of a center that will promote and support interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship across the humanities, arts, social sciences and natural sciences.  

Terry Brown, dean of the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences is excited to be part of the groundwork in creating the new Banks Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry. "The center will help support faculty development in interdisciplinary studies, and it will provide physical space for interdisciplinary exchange," says Brown.

Plans include moving to a renovated area in what was known as the Orange Lab in the basement of the Chalmer Davee Library. The center will house the director's office and reception area, as well as a state-of-the-art wireless classroom designed specifically for multidisciplinary inquiry and team teaching equipped with moveable tables and chairs, multiple whiteboards, and multimedia equipment.

Another part of Bank's gift is allocated for supporting sabbatical funding for interdisciplinary teachers and an annual lecture series. The lecture series will bring nationally recognized thinkers to campus while bolstering the intellectual life on campus and significantly raising awareness of UWRF as a center for academic excellence and dialogue in the region.

"This will be devoted to bringing different disciplines together and into dialogue," says Brown, who knew Banks through Woolf academic circles. When the pair met, Brown found much kinship with Banks as both were science majors before switching to literature, and both are cancer survivors.

The act of bringing different disciplines into concert is central to Banks's life work as she started out teaching humanities to engineering students and taught humanities courses for physics majors at Drexel University. Her work installing a literature aspect to the medical program at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine led to the founding an interdisciplinary field that is now a part of many medical programs across the nation.

Banks has also served as co-founder of the Journal of Literature and Medicine ; and a consultant and grant reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Having dedicated a life to interdisciplinary academic pursuits, it is only natural that a center devoted to the same would be Banks's legacy to UWRF.

"Jo is one of the most intelligent minds that I have ever been privileged enough to meet," says Bryan Sanders, who was UWRF's major gifts officer when the gift was coordinated. "She has combined both her heart and life-long learning experiences into this extremely generous gift to the university."            

While Banks looks back at her past and ponders her legacy, she also recognizes that interdisciplinary education presents several ways at looking at the same subject as Mrs. Dalloway did, she did it.


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:07:51 Central Daylight Time


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