Editor’s note: The following story appeared in the Feb. 4 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
During the past decade, the number of students at the University of Arkansas has grown from 19,000 to almost 28,000. Private philanthropy and fund-raising make possible much of the recruiting and retaining of faculty, the addition of and improvements to facilities, and scholarships needed to keep pace with that growth.
The College of Education and Health Professions is no exception. The number of students admitted to and graduating from the college’s Eleanor Mann School of Nursing has doubled since 2008.
At the helm of responding to the demand for educators and health professionals is one key employee who calls herself “insanely grateful” for the job: Jamie Banks. At age 47, she’s devoted 16 years to the College of Education and Health Professions. During that time, annual gifts have risen from about $3 million to almost $13 million in 2018.
“I don’t like to measure what we do in numerics, but I’m proud of that,” Banks said.
The college is home for all educational fields and all health fields including nursing, kinesiology, athletic training and speech pathology, as well as the Autism Support Program and the Empower Program, which imparts independent living and employment skills to the learning disabled.
As the third-largest college on campus, it serves 5,200 students — just under 20% of the student population.
In 2008, Banks was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class. At the time, she was director of development for the college, overseeing a two-person team responsible for major gift fundraising. Annual gifts were about $8 million then.
As senior director of development and external relations, she now oversees a team of five — still responsible for major gift fundraising, but also for internal and external communications and media strategies.
“Our work is to help identify needs and resources, and pair them together,” Banks said. “Major gift fundraising is rarely something one aspires to get into. But what I find most fulfilling is building relationships.”
Her first job was fundraising for U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. “I developed many contacts. This has helped me maintain those contacts and add to them,” she said.
Ten years ago, the college’s classes were held within its own buildings, but today the campus has centralized classroom management and shared facilities.
“Physical space is the toughest obstacle,” Banks admitted.
Another challenge is making sure graduates meet staffing needs across the entire state.
“In education, a job posting in Northwest Arkansas might get 50 to 60 applicants, especially at the elementary and middle school level, whereas in the Delta and south Arkansas a posting might have no applicants,” she said. “Most graduates want Northwest Arkansas, Dallas, Tulsa. They’re not wanting to take jobs where there are openings, but the rest of the state truly needs them.”
One response is creating additional paths for nontraditional students, such as helping a classroom aide in south Arkansas secure credentials to become the lead teacher of record.
“To fulfill the land grant mission, we must be an agent of service and change for the entire state,” Banks said. “This issue is also true for engineers, accountants and healthcare practitioners. It’s an economic development conversation occurring in communities across our state.”
Healthcare is of particular concern, she said. “We’re on the fringe of being not able to respond to healthcare needs in Northwest Arkansas. How do we collaborate and respond to something that could raise our community and increase revenue generation?”
Banks was born in Germany (her father was in the military) and later lived in Fort Smith and Little Rock. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Westminster College of Fulton, Mo., before moving to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas.
Banks has three children. She also serves on boards for the Donald W. Reynolds Boys & Girls Club and the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation.