Dartmouth native completes PhD and wins national award for her dissertation

Mar 5, 2024

As an alumna of Dartmouth High School, UMass Dartmouth and (most importantly) Dartmouth Week, Morgan Banville is a bona fide Dartmouth native. 

So when she returned to the South Coast with a new teaching position at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, it felt like “coming home.”

“I was like, thank goodness, it’s meant to be,” Banville said.

Dr. Banville returned from four years at East Carolina University, where she completed her PhD in Rhetoric, Writing and Professional Communication, for which she wrote a 336-page dissertation. 

Her paper, “Am I Who I Say I Am? The Illusion of Choice: Biometric Identification in Healthcare,” recently won a national award from the Conference on College Communication and Composition for Outstanding Dissertation in Technical Communication, which is given to just one graduate a year. 

“It didn’t actually feel real when I opened up the [award] email,” Banville said. “There's a long list of people on CCCC’s page that have won this award, and I respect and admire all of them so much.”

Banville’s dissertation investigates and advocates for transparency in biometric surveillance technologies, such as facial recognition or fingerprinting, and specifically considers the technology’s application in healthcare settings. 

A key part of her dissertation involved surveying 12 neonatal nurses and “seeing how they use and perceive biometric tech in their daily responsibilities,” she said. 

In her research, Banville noticed a contrast between how the nurses discussed biometric technology with their patients compared to how they talked about its use with their own children. 

While surveillance itself isn’t always “nefarious,” Banville said, surveillance technologies like biometrics are often sold as “safe or convenient or efficient,” and those assumptions should be questioned.

After completing her dissertation and graduating with her doctorate, Banville looked toward teaching positions across the country, landing at Massachusetts Maritime Academy as an assistant professor. 

This job has been a dream for Banville her entire life: “I was 12 years old when I had said, ‘I want to be a professor.’”

To that end, she also earned a masters degree in secondary education at UMass Dartmouth, as part of a progressive degree program. 

Throughout all three degrees, Banville said the support of her family and the local community was critical, especially as a first-generation college student. 

She also relied on friends and educators in Dartmouth for guidance along the way. 

“This local area too is really interesting,” she said. “I appreciate the breadth of knowledge that is [here] outside of the academic space.”

Past educators like Katie DeLuca at UMass Dartmouth and Will Higgins at Dartmouth High School were “instrumental,” Banville said, in providing insight into academia and journalism, respectively. 

Another former professor, Dr. Timothy Walker at UMass Dartmouth, recently became a collaborator when Banville invited him to speak at Massachusetts Maritime Academy for “Privacy Week,” a global privacy initiative that she helped steer locally. 

“I owe a lot of gratitude and thanks to the people around me,” Banville said. “There's always an army behind every person, of support and guidance.”