Banks is a diplomat with a ‘black belt in red-tape cutting’

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susan webSusan Noblitt Banks is to go-to person, the fixer, the woman with all the answers and a smile to boot. She is, as one colleague fondly called her, “The Grad School Google.”

Banks is director of UAB’s Graduate School operations and the 80-plus graduate degree programs that reach throughout all schools and the college on the UAB campus. Her unbounded knowledge, consistent performance and general helpfulness during the past 10 years led to her nomination and selection as UAB’s Employee of the Month.

An alumna of the Collat School of Business finance program, Banks has deep roots in the Graduate School. “I was a work-study student there for all four of my undergraduate years at UAB,” she said. After a brief period trying her hand in her field after graduation, she returned to UAB as assistant director for operations in 2005 — a job for which she felt passion.

A large stack of letters attest to her value to the constituencies she serves. But Banks is quick to deflect the praise to the Graduate School team. “Tons of credit goes to our staff who continue to press through an ever-growing work flow. I’m proud of the whole team and what we are able to accomplish,” she said.

And the work they are able to accomplish is managing admissions, registration, retention, graduation and more for the graduate student body in traditional and online programs.

Former Graduate School Dean Bryan Noe isn’t the only one to describe her as a “go-to person for all policy and procedure questions from program faculty and administrators,” but as her direct supervisor for more than nine years, he said he was the one to receive “numerous unsolicited compliments” about her work.

The praise comes from people who recognize the magnitude of the work she does in the state’s largest graduate school.

Each month, UAB recognizes an outstanding employee for their dedication, hard work and contributions to the university’s success. If you know of a great employee, nominate them at

“Her job is challenging — working with program directors, program managers and faculty from the numerous graduate programs on the campus is a daunting prospect based on volume alone, but the complexity of the programs’ needs adds a component that is almost unimaginable,” said Professor Donna Slovensky, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Health Professions. “Nevertheless, Susan does her job skillfully and with grace and aplomb. She has earned the respect of her peers and colleagues and others with whom she interacts.”

Kristi Menear, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of Human Studies, agrees it is a massive undertaking. “Susan works day and night to meet everyone’s needs, respond to a huge volume of phone calls and emails each day, implement new processes/systems/procedures as times change and represent UAB and the Graduate School with her kindness through her knowledge, skills and abilities,” she said.

Praise also comes from people such as Amanda Dorsey, director of the School of Health Professions Health Informatics Program, and Joy Ptacek, Health Informatics program secretary, who appreciate that limited time and peculiar circumstances can demand ingenuity.

“Susan has mastered the fine art of diplomacy while adhering to rules and, in our opinion, earned a black belt in red-tape cutting,” they said. But what really sets her apart “is that she catches problems before they have consequences. An ordinary employee might alert you to a problem and tell you to handle it, but she goes the extra mile and proposes solutions we might consider.”

When in doubt, people turn to Banks and are happy they did.

“I’m usually mired in policy and a special situation when I call upon her for help (often exasperated),” said Associate Professor Patricia Drentea, Ph.D., graduate director for the Department of Sociology. “She usually replies with a straightforward answer or solution within 15 minutes.”

The answers aren’t always obvious, some say. “We present her with at least one unusual challenge each semester, and she always takes it in stride, helping us to help the student,” said Associate Professor Mary Warren, Ph.D., director for the Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation. “What I appreciate most about Susan is that she puts the student first, considers their needs, forgives their odd responses and behaviors and helps us figure out the best solution.”

“Susan’s knowledge and counsel allow me to better manage my program; I couldn't do it without her,” said Christy Manning, program coordinator in the Collat School of Business Graduate School of Management. “I imagine that the administrators of all other programs on campus echo my sentiments.”

The confidence others expressed in her with this award is both flattering and a little overwhelming, Banks said. “I like that they think I have the right answers, but I know we have a highly competent staff they also can turn to for help.”

The real reward in doing this job may sound a little corny, Banks said when asked to define it. “I enjoy helping people. I find satisfaction in that. Some days everything goes on, but nothing goes right. But if at the end we can help a student who is struggling and provide a service for them, it’s a good day.”