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Staff Q&A: Kate Banner, MA, project manager, ISGMH

Kate Banner

Kate Banner, MA, is a project manger at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Well Being (ISGMH), helping design digital tools to improve social networks research.

Read a Q&A with Banner below.

Where are you originally from?  

I was born in Chicago, but spent most of my childhood in the Central Valley of California. My family later relocated back to the Midwest to a small town in southwestern Wisconsin where I graduated high school.

What is your educational background?

I attended a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, earning an undergraduate degree in social science with a minor in Latin American studies. I had the good fortune of being able to travel abroad to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela as part of these studies. In 2011, I finished a master's degree in global politics at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

Please tell us about your professional background.

I have always been driven by social impact work. Prior to joining Northwestern, I worked at Open Society Foundations on transparency and accountability initiatives championed by civil society to keep government accountable. I later worked in a variety of immigrant rights organizations spanning mental health, labor organizing and legal advocacy.

When I came to Northwestern in 2016, I was interested in applying my strengths at managing large, complicated projects to the context of academic research and, in particular, research advancing LGBTQ+ health.

Why do you enjoy working at Northwestern?

Northwestern has been a great professional home for me. I value the breadth of cutting-edge research that takes place across the institution, the enthusiasm for innovation and community-informed initiatives, and the countless opportunities for staff to engage in continued learning — even in disciplines remote from their home department.

I also appreciate the collegial atmosphere across the institution that facilitates collaboration, and the pride staff, faculty, and scholars alike take in their work and commitment to the University's mission.

How do you help scientists or research students at the medical school?

I work closely with an interdisciplinary team of researchers within the ISGMH, working to design digital tools to improve social networks research, with applications in public health as well as social and behavioral studies. As a project manager, I serve as a primary point of contact for most matters that impact day-to-day operation of the research and act to troubleshoot obstacles that impede productivity or the achievement of goals.

What is your favorite part of the job?

The best part of my job is that no two days are ever the same. Due to the breadth of my responsibility, I have the opportunity to work with a variety of offices across the university as well as interact with members of the research community across the U.S. and beyond.

What exciting projects are you working on?

The scientists I work with are involved in too many interesting projects to note in detail here. One study I am particularly passionate about, however, is a newly funded award that will allow our team to conduct a broad needs assessment of HIV Partner Services nationally and use this information to inform the reconfiguration of our software suite, Network Canvas, as a contact tracing tool for public health.

As we did with the development of Network Canvas, our team will be soliciting insight and feedback from practitioners and community members in an effort to produce a tool that is responsive to the needs of both. From my perspective, this work has the potential to transform Partner Services programming, yielding higher quality data to improve our understanding of disease transmission and a better experience for participants.

The project will culminate in a pilot implementation of the Network Canvas software within Partner Services of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and a subset of clinics funded by the city to conduct Partner Services. We are hopeful this preliminary work can lead to a larger-scale implementation across the United States in future years to help modernize and simplify this critical public health intervention.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I love to travel, listen to live music, write letters, and eat and cook new things. I relish getting out of the city and exploring new terrain by foot, bicycle or kayak. I also love supporting the success of other women and gender diverse folks and try to use my time to elevate inspiring people doing great things.

Anything else we should know about you?

I am back in school pursing a Masters in Social Work degree at Loyola University Chicago. I enjoy the challenge and intellectual engagement offered by this opportunity and have been appreciative of Northwestern’s support of my personal growth in this way. I look forward to using my new developing skillset to continue to give back to the community at Northwestern and beyond.