Alumni News

October 20, 2019 at 10:51 am

Notable Alumni | Jack Marchbanks Is Jazzing Things Up in Ohio’s Music, Transportation Scenes

By Regina Yoong

Graphic for College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Award

Editor’s Note: The College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Awards honor alumni for broad career accomplishments, commitment to community service, and valuable contributions to Ohio University and the College of Arts & Sciences.

Jack Marchbanks ’18 Ph.D. History

Jack Marchbanks is Director of the OHIO Department of Transportation and part of Columbus’ Smart City initiative—and a longtime role co-host of Jazz Sunday, a weekly, three-hour radio program on WCBE (90.5 FM).

Marchbanks LinkedIn profile describes his “lifelong interests in American and African American history, the performing arts, visual arts and astronomy,” noting that he has “volunteered my time and talents to neighborhood self-help organizations, public radio and community arts programs for over 25 years.”

Recently, Marchbanks earned a Ph.D. in History and a Certificate in Contemporary History from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University and took the helm at the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Marchbanks has worked for ODOT for the last 28 years, serving as deputy director of District 6 and then as assistant director for business and human resources, where he managed the department’s 5,000 employees and developed its $3.3 billion budget.

In the early 2000s, Marchbanks helped reconnect downtown Columbus with the expanding Short North as part of the freeway caps and gateway ramps project, designed to fix safety problems along the Interstate 70/71 downtown corridor and reconnect neighborhoods torn apart by the freeways.

He currently is part of the Columbus Crossroads project, an effort to ease the congestion along the Interstate 70-71 corridor in downtown Columbus.

Marchbanks (far right) with Canada infrastructure officials Assistant Deputy Minister Gerard Peets and Canadian Smart Cities Challenge Director, Jenny Tremblay.

Marchbanks (far right) with Canada infrastructure officials Assistant Deputy Minister Gerard Peets and Canadian Smart Cities Challenge Director, Jenny Tremblay.

Columbus has received grants to reinvent transportation and evolve with technology. In late 2018, ODOT partnered with SMRT Columbus and the Columbus Partnership to deploy an autonomous shuttle on a “try-it-and-see-how-it-works”  basis on the city’s riverfront. Transportation is playing an outsized role in the reshaping of the city.

Jack Marchbanks, portrait

Jack Marchbanks

Jazz and Intellectual Curiosity

Maintaining some form of creative output has kept Marchbanks curious, something that is high on his list of character qualities.

“One thing I’ve prayed to be all my life is remain intellectually curious,” he said. “I feel sad for people who are not, because they’re letting so much that is wonderful about life pass them by because they don’t inquire. It’s better to know than not know, isn’t it?”

The Columbus Dispatch writes about Marchbanks in a feature article headlined “ODOT director Jack Marchbanks’ knowledge, passion drive jazz radio program.”

The back wall of Jack Marchbanks’ rectangular office is mostly bare, aside from a poster of blues great B.B. King and a smaller concert poster with a young Stevie Wonder smiling wide.

An adjacent wall, the one above his desk, holds an enormous photograph of snowplows burrowing their way through an Ohio road.

Marchbanks is the corner crease between the two, nimbly finding intersections between his new job as the director of the Ohio Department of Transportation and his longtime role co-hosting Jazz Sunday, a weekly, three-hour radio program on WCBE (90.5 FM)…

Marchbanks’ doctoral dissertation was on “Pride and Protest in Letters and Song: Jazz Artists and Writers during the Civil rights Movement, 1955-1965.”

Director Jack Marchbanks recognizes the Northwest Ordinance of 1787's human rights' significance to the nation while speaking in the First Congregational Church in Marietta, Ohio

Director Jack Marchbanks recognizes the Northwest Ordinance of 1787’s human rights’ significance to the nation while speaking in the First Congregational Church in Marietta, Ohio. Photo by Janelle Patterson Ohio Department of Transportation

OHIO Memories

Marchbanks reminisces his three favorite memories at OHIO—from attending a concert, teaching a class using Hamilton, to an act of kindness by a fellow Bobcat.

“On Sept. 22, 2014, my wife and I attended a concert by Youssou N’Dour with my African History Professor, Dr. Assan Sarr, and several of my African classmates. Dr. Sarr extended the invitation to us. It was an unforgettable evening in which African Americans and Africans came together to appreciate the artistry of the Senegalese Afro-pop superstar,” he says.

As a doctoral fellow at OHIO’s Contemporary History Institute, Marchbanks worked as a teaching assistant. He recalls one of his more exciting lessons in Fall 2015.

“I taught an early morning discussion section for Dr. Brian Schoen’s class on Early American History. I was having difficulty engaging the sleepy undergraduates. It was a challenge to get them to appreciate the everyday experiences of the late 18th-century Americans.

“My epiphany was to share a video outtake of the Broadway sensation, Hamilton, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. The rap-meets-post Revolutionary War musical riveted the students. They were then eager to debate what it must have been like to live in those times. It just goes to show the communicative power of hip hop. Shoot your shot, indeed.”

For his graduation, Marchbanks remembers the kindness of a fellow Bobcat.

“It was late April 2018. I was bone-tired from work, but had to dash down to Ohio U-Athens campus to secure my cap and gown. There was a winding line at least 200 yards long, and I had to be back in Columbus for an important meeting within two hours. One of the student managers of the cap-and-gown pick-up process saw the distress on my face and asked me what was the matter. I told him my predicament.  He called me to a side table and told me to wait there. He returned, in no more than three minutes, with my graduation package in hand. I thanked him sincerely. His act of goodwill spoke volumes about his humanity and made me proud to soon be a Bobcat alumnus.”

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