First published in Vantage Point
Growing up in rural Kansas can have an effect on a person. The lessons learned here are simple: do what is right. Work hard. Finish what you started. Be grateful. These lessons are taught in a place where on an oppressive summer afternoon, the sweat drips from a glass of cold water just a little more desperately and the sun stings your neck just a little deeper. Everything is earned and nothing is handed to you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going. In turn, with hard work comes reward and appreciation – the glow of a prairie sunset illuminating the house your father built from the ground up. Running your fingers through a bin of fresh wheat grains on the final day of a back-breaking harvest. A sense of pride that you finished a job – and you did it well.
This is Sylvia, Kansas – the world in which Martha Banz, the new associate dean of the College of Liberal Studies, was raised. Yes, growing up in a place like this does have an effect on a person. Banz, who assumed duties as CLS associate dean last October after Trent Gabert’s retirement, carries these lessons with her each day.
Prior to joining OU, Banz served as vice provost and dean of the Undergraduate College at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., since 2006. Banz served in other capacities at SNU since 1985, starting as an assistant professor in External Programs (now Adult Studies). She also served as academic coordinator for SNU’s first cohort-based degree completion program, Management of Human Resources. Additionally, she was the founding director of two additional programs, one of which was multi-disciplinary in nature (Family Studies and Gerontology) and one of which was a graduate program (Counseling Psychology). Banz later served as dean of the Bresee College of Professional and Social Sciences. After 25 years at SNU, what brought her to Norman? Banz said although she hadn’t been actively pursuing new opportunities, she had been keeping an eye open for interesting possibilities for a couple of years before actually coming here.
“There had been quite a lot of administrative turnover at the cabinet level at SNU during the previous five-year period, so I’d felt it important to provide some degree of stability for our academic endeavors during that time,” she said. “However, those changes had settled somewhat, so it seemed like a good time to consider the possibility of a change. I actually just happened across the announcement last summer quite unexpectedly, but when I did see it, I was quite intrigued in that it brought together almost all the various threads of experience I’d had throughout my career.”
While Banz’s career has centered on academia, that wasn’t always her plan. As a child, Banz recalled enjoying learning about many different subjects. However, as a first-generation college student, the only professionals she knew who had completed college were doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
“I thought those were my only options,” she said. “So, through most of my childhood and adolescence, I aspired to be a doctor. After a couple of semesters of G-Chem in college, though, I knew that medical school wouldn’t really be my cup of tea. So, I went from being a pre-med major to accounting to music to pre-law, and finally landed in psychology during my junior year. In hindsight, I think that changing majors half a dozen times was simply an indicator that I really do have wide-ranging interests and having to pick just one was quite difficult.”
In 1979, Banz graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in psychology from Bethany Nazarene College (now SNU). She furthered her education by pursuing a graduate degree, earning an M.S. in quantitative psychology from OU in 1983. In 1986, she received her Ph.D. from OU in quantitative psychology/higher education administration.
“Attending graduate school right after college, I had both T.A. and R.A. opportunities through that venue, and it was in those settings that my choice to pursue a teaching position in a college or university setting as a life vocation was solidified,” Banz said. One of the things Banz said she likes most about working at CLS is that no two days are the same. “There’s certainly no time to get bored or into a rut!” she said.
It takes a driven person to fill the shoes of an associate dean, and perhaps Banz’s childhood days conditioned her to the multi-tasking nature of the job. Her parents were the ultimate examples of how to simultaneously master several trades. Her father, a World War II Navy veteran, when he wasn’t traversing rural routes as a mail carrier, farmed wheat and other crops, raised sheep and cattle, and built several homes around Sylvia. Her mother, before taking on the full-time job as a stay-at-home-mom to four kids (Banz being the youngest), worked various clerical jobs, including a stint for an ophthalmologist and another at a munitions plant where she met Banz’s father. Banz credits her father as being her first “boss” since she was assigned various projects starting even before elementary school, doing everything from clean-up work to carpentry to herding sheep.
“It was through these kinds of activities that I learned the importance of follow-through, of tenacity even when the job wasn’t glamorous, of doing any job well, where I developed the discipline to work independently, and where I learned the value of owning – and learning from – my mistakes,” she said. “I now recognize that many of the life lessons that I learned were formed in the crucible of my childhood in that small Kansas town. I learned both the value and expectation of hard work, and to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. I learned what it means to take responsibility and to fulfill one’s duty. I learned to give priority to faith, family, and community. I learned the importance of self-sacrifice, of sharing, of putting others first, and of perspective-taking. I learned perseverance, sticking to the job at hand until it’s done, even when it isn’t fun anymore.”
Yes, growing up in Sylvia did have an effect on her. And CLS is a much better place because of that.