Texas A&M University’s flagship campus will soon have a new leader at the helm following the Board of Regents’ Wednesday confirmation of M. Katherine Banks as president.
Banks, currently vice chancellor of engineering and national laboratories and dean of the Texas A&M College of Engineering, assumes her duties as the 26th president of the university on June 1.
She also will be the vice chancellor of national laboratories and national security strategic initiatives, continuing her involvement with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bush Combat Development Complex at the RELLIS Campus.
In a Wednesday interview, Banks said she is honored and humbled to be selected for the position.
“This university is amazing,” said Banks, 61. “It’s unique. Texas A&M is a special place. The core values, the respect of tradition, is truly the foundation of this great institution. And building upon that foundation to reach preeminence — in my opinion, there’s no other university in the country that can have a larger impact on the world today than Texas A&M.”
Laylan Copelin, A&M System vice chancellor of marketing and communications, said contract details are being finalized but that the duration will be for five years. Copelin said that while Banks was offered the same financial package as former President Michael K. Young, due to “tough economic times” she negotiated to be paid less, settling for $925,000 in base salary.
As he told the Board of Regents about Banks negotiating for lower pay, Chancellor John Sharp said he respected her decision. Overall, Banks’ financial package is $350,000 less than Young’s was, Sharp said, as she reduced her deferred compensation, her salary and declined a housing allowance.
“It’s not about money with her,” Sharp said. “She’s focused on taking A&M to greater heights.”
Banks is the second woman president in A&M history. Elsa Murano was the first woman and first Hispanic American president, serving from January 2008 until June 2009. Banks is also the first woman to serve as dean of engineering.
As she moves into the new position, Banks said her three main focus areas for the near future include launching a “listening tour” to address concerns of units across campus, ensuring a safe environment in the fall as students return to in-person classes, and developing a vision for preeminence in which dreams for the university community are outlined in a comprehensive document.
Encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations is important to keep the campus safe next school year, she said. The comprehensive document outlining a vision for campus will hopefully be put together in the fall, she added.
On March 3, the Board of Regents announced that Banks was the sole finalist for president, but per state law had to wait for at least a 21-day period to meet again and consider final approval.
Banks earned her Ph.D. at Duke University. She is a distinguished professor and member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
At the start of her time as vice chancellor and dean in 2011, there were 11,113 students in the College of Engineering and 425 faculty members; today there are 21,250 engineering students and 710 faculty members. Last year, the engineering program research expenditures reached an all-time high of $300 million, according to a press release.
She has played a role in doubling the campus’ engineering facilities, creating engineering academies to address the cost of higher education, forming the first engineering staff advisory council and developing the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex on the RELLIS Campus with research and testing partnerships with the Army Futures Command.
While much of her work led to growth in A&M’s engineering programs, Banks said Wednesday that the goal was always to enhance education and make it more accessible to students. She said that perhaps some of the programs that she implemented to make engineering more accessible could be applied more broadly across the university.
Reducing the amount of debt per student and raising more money for scholarships is important, Banks added.
Banks said that since she has “served in almost every role” in a university or an academic setting throughout her career she is able to connect with faculty, staff and students in a personal way.
In total, she has spent a decade at A&M. Banks said that she enjoyed her work but added that she has an interest in a “more comprehensive university” that could help solve “complex world problems” through multidisciplinary research.
“It takes groups of people to solve these problems,” Banks said. “I have been located in engineering and been focused on the technology side of research as well as education. I am so looking forward to broadening that and learning more about the rest of campus and how we can all come together to truly make an impact in the world.”
Chairman of the Texas A&M Board of Regents Elaine Mendoza led the search committee for a new president. She told regents Wednesday that the committee reviewed a plethora of high-quality candidates before recommending three people to Sharp, who selected Banks.
“We are expecting great things to happen under your leadership,” Mendoza said of Banks after the regents voted that she be president.
Looking ahead even beyond her upcoming time as president, Banks said she can see herself staying in Aggieland.
“I love it here,” Banks said. “I am absolutely thrilled to be in Texas and at Texas A&M University. I can’t ever imagine leaving. This is my home, and I think it will be for many years to come. After I’m president, I could see myself going back into the classroom and interacting with students like I did when I first started as an assistant professor, many, many years ago. It is my first love — teaching.”
Young stepped down in December, moving up a previous plan to retire at the end of May. A&M aerospace engineering professor John L. Junkins is currently the interim president.