Educational Studies Professor Cherry A. McGee Banks. (Marc Studer photos)
By Douglas Esser
When the University of Washington Bothell started about a quarter-century ago in a business park office, the entire faculty could sit around a conference table.
“We were literally building an institution from the ground up,” said Professor Cherry A. McGee Banks, one of the three founding faculty members in education along with Jane Van Galen and Pat Phelan.
When the three wanted to explore an issue in education “we could sit down and talk about it and implement it the next day,” said Banks, who retires at the end of this school year. “It was really an exciting and wonderful time.”
The first students — many of them working teachers or women pursuing a master’s in education before returning to work — were excited to attend the University of Washington at a location that worked for them, she said.
“They were just thirsty in terms of education. We could recommend books or talk about authors, and they would run out and buy the books,” Banks said.
Banks said she remains excited about UW Bothell and the School of Educational Studies.
“We are an institution now that is beginning to put its mark on higher education. We’re doing some exciting things, and I’m very proud of our faculty in the School of Educational Studies,” said Banks. “Our faculty members are individuals who are active in national organizations. They are recognized as scholars who are contributing to conversations in their disciplines. We are really doing the things we hoped to be able to do in those early days.”
Banks is known for expertise in multicultural education and the idea of teacher self-knowledge, a process to help teachers recognize personal characteristics, often invisible, that influence interactions with students. Self-knowledge also could apply outside the classroom for people of differing values.
“I think the civility that is missing from our society today is something that self-knowledge can generate,” said Banks.
Banks will share details in January at a UW Bothell Encore Lecture, “Self Knowledge: A Powerful Vehicle for Preparing Transformative Teachers for Diverse Classrooms.” The popular Encore series features distinguished longtime faculty. Last year’s Encore speakers were Chancellor Emeritus Warren Buck and Alan Wood, another founding faculty member.
Banks has been a cornerstone for the Bothell campus and the School of Educational Studies, said Dean Ed Buendia.
“The campus’ values of inclusion and excellence have taken form as a result of her work over the years. The alums from the School of Educational Studies with whom I have met all come back to the transformative moments that they have shared in Dr. Banks’ courses. She has left an indelible mark on students and her colleagues when it comes to global education and the possibility of education,” Buendia said.
Banks received the UW Bothell Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997 and in 2000 was named a Worthington distinguished professor. In 2013, she was named a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. Banks also chaired UW Bothell's General Faculty Organization (GFO) and gave generous amounts of time to GFO committees.
Giving up an office picked from what was at the time just a blueprint for the UW1 building, Banks will part with some of the books that line the walls, donating them to students and colleagues. But, leaving UW Bothell won’t end all endeavors. Banks plans a tenth edition of “Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives,” written with husband James A. Banks, a professor in the College of Education at the UW in Seattle.
Academic and home life melded so smoothly for the family that two daughters have also become professors. Patricia is an associate professor of sociology at Mount Holyoke, and Angela is a professor of law at Arizona State University.
Recently returned from Shanghai, Banks may continue to lecture in China on global perspectives in multicultural education. Dozens of ethnic groups, language differences and the rural-to-urban population movement make diversity a pressing issue for the Chinese.
“They are facing head-on some of the same challenges we are.”
Banks said she leaves with confidence in the future of the UW Bothell School of Educational Studies because of “incredible” faculty who are engage in high-level research and teaching.
"I think the University of Washington Bothell is a wonderful institution that has provided an opportunity for so many people who wanted to have access to a high-quality education and may not have been able to gain that access without this institution,” said Banks. ”So I’m very proud to have been a part of helping to create this place.”