Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Leon Banks
Leon Banks knows his path to becoming an assistant professor has been a bit unconventional. He also knows that it reflects a career of hard work for the communities he’s served.
Banks, the former BSW Program Director, has been a member of the University of Georgia School of Social Work for more than 15 years, but he was hired for a new role this year as a tenure-track assistant professor. He sees the new role as a culmination of stops along his professional career.
“My journey is a little bit different from the average person who goes into academia,” Banks said. “I think it is more of a journey of self-discovery where a lot of people come out and have an idea where they want things to go. I started doing practice and from practice decided I wanted to do something different.”
During his 12 years as a practicing social worker, Banks served a number of populations, including the incarcerated. He studied mental health in prison populations, diving into the lack of present fathers in this community. His findings led him to focus intently on fatherhood and the involvement of fathers in certain populations.
This work led Banks to the U.S. Department of Defense, where he traveled to different installations and studied the trauma experienced by soldiers and their families during wartime. He examined the adjustments that families make when soldiers are deployed and when they return home from combat.
Banks went on to complete his doctorate in social work from UGA in 2007, joining the academia ranks and teaching master’s level courses in his final year of classes. Since then, he’s worn many hats for the school. He’s taught more than 15 different courses of varying levels throughout the years, holding titles of lecturer, instructor and senior academic professional as well as several administrative ones.
As the MSW Admissions director of admissions, Banks oversaw a growth of diversity in the student population as well as the doubling of students at the Gwinnett Campus. Later, Banks served as the BSW Program Director, and during his tenure, the School of Social Work added a social work minor program, completed the accreditation process, increased the diversity of student populations and introduced the BSW ambassador program.
“To sum it up, for me the highlights mostly had to do with, hopefully, creating a better environment for our students,” Banks said.
In his new role, Banks is most excited about researching the intersection of sports and social work. He wants to study the mental health of athletes as they participate in sport and as they transition out of it. He’s also interested in sports and social justice, particularly how athletes can use social media to promote social justice themes.
“This is fairly a new and growing field, and I believe that UGA School of Social Work is uniquely positioned to be a frontrunner in that particular field, given the fact that we are in the Southeastern Conference and that Athens is strategically an hour or so from Atlanta where you have all of these professional and college teams,” Banks said.
In addition to studying this specialization, Banks wants to allow students to immerse themselves in it. He developed a course on the intersection of sports, athletics and social work, and is looking to develop additional courses that build on it. He hopes to continue to build and craft relevant coursework in the area to challenge and inspire students for many years to come.
“I’m pretty passionate about this, so I’ve pretty much found what I want to do and how I want to grow it so when I do leave or retire, there are folks who can come in, take the mantle and push it to another level,” Banks said. “My role at this particular time is to build it.”
As he enters into the role of assistant professor, Banks embraces his latest iteration of tasks at the School of Social Work, calling upon the tenets he holds dear to help others.
“For me it’s about being challenged, and I felt at this point in my life I wanted to go to the next challenge,” Banks said. “The next challenge was basically having an impact in sort of a different way and delving into some of the things I find really interesting and that I think will be beneficial to the social work community and the larger community itself.”