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Syracuse University to Present 4 Honorary Degrees at 2023 Commencement
A noted thought leader in student affairs, a transformative higher education president, a celebrated ceramic artist and a global business executive and philanthropist will be recognized with honorary degrees from Syracuse University at the 2023 Commencement on Sunday, May 14, at the JMA Wireless Dome.
The late Cerri Banks ’00, G’04, G’06, who served as the University’s vice president and deputy to the senior vice president of student experience; Michael Crow G’85, president of Arizona State University; David R. MacDonald, artist and professor emeritus of ceramics; and Kathleen A. Walters ’73, retired executive vice president of Georgia-Pacific and the first woman to serve as chair of the University Board of Trustees, will be honored for their outstanding achievements in their professional careers and the difference they have made in the lives of others.
Cerri A. Banks ’00, G’04, G’06
Doctor of Humane Letters (posthumously)
An outstanding leader in student affairs and a scholar-practitioner of education, Banks dedicated her life’s work to the betterment of the student experience. Banks passed away on July 31, 2022; Banks’ parents, Deryk and Cynthia Banks, will be accepting her honorary degree at Commencement.
Banks had a lifetime legacy at Syracuse University: as an engaged alumna, a staunch supporter of her cherished School of Education and the University, and a beloved leader and mentor in the Student Experience division. She was a thought leader in the field of student affairs, recognized for her work at the intersection of scholarship and practice, teaching and research, academic affairs, and student affairs.
A three-time graduate of Syracuse University, Banks earned a bachelor’s degree in inclusive elementary and special education, a master’s degree in cultural foundations of education and a Ph.D. in cultural foundations of education, all from the School of Education, along with a certificate of advanced study in women’s and gender studies from the College of Arts and Sciences. Her doctoral research focused on student engagement and belonging, examining how Black women undergraduates found ways to succeed on predominantly white college campuses.
From there, her research, scholarship and leadership continued to develop and deepen into an exemplary professional life of service to student affairs and success. Before returning to Syracuse University in 2021 as vice president for student success and deputy to the senior vice president of student experience, Banks had been Skidmore College’s dean of students and vice president for student affairs for nearly five years, overseeing all student services, serving on the president’s cabinet and overseeing the bias response group and the COVID-19 campus planning and response. She served in similar positions at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and at William Smith College in Geneva, New York, where she was also director of the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence.
Once at Syracuse, Banks quickly made an impact on the student experience and on Universitywide initiatives through leadership roles involving critical initiatives. In addition to her role with Student Experience, Banks served as a member of the three-person interim leadership team charged with advancing the University’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility priorities and strategic planning efforts. She co-chaired the search for a new chief diversity officer and played a crucial role in creating open lines of communication between students and administration, serving as a fierce advocate and a mentor for students. As an alumna, she established a national mentoring presence and skillfully chaired the School of Education Board of Visitors for eight years, playing a key role in the school’s redesign.
Banks was a highly respected and internationally recognized academic leader and a prolific scholar. Among her published works were “Black Women Undergraduates, Cultural Capital and College Success,” “Teaching, Learning and Intersecting Identities in Higher Education” and “No Justice! No Peace! College Student Activism, Race Relations and Media Cultures,” as well as numerous articles, book chapters and presentations on culturally relevancy, identity and learning, and other subjects.
Michael Crow G’85
Doctor of Science
A knowledge enterprise architect and science and technology policy scholar, Crow has led Arizona State University (ASU) through a transformation of academic innovation and educational accessibility that has made him known nationwide as a leader in the evolution of higher education. Crow became the 16th president of Arizona State University in July 2002 and since then the university has seen rapid growth in traditional, online and international student enrollment, retention and research—all while evolving the academic enterprise to meet the changing needs of students, especially those from underrepresented groups.
During his now more than two decades at ASU, the University’s enrollment grew from 55,000 to 80,000 students, with a dedicated commitment to increased diversity. Its substantial Hispanic enrollment has earned it a Department of Education designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Under President Crow, ASU, which is a Carnegie R1 University, has seen a nearly fivefold growth in research expenditures, and currently ranks 17th in federal expenditures. For its dramatic growth and modernization, ASU has been recognized as one of the top 100 most prestigious universities in the world by Times Higher Education, and a top 100 position in Shanghai Jiao Tong’s 2018 Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Under Crow’s leadership, ASU has established 25 new transdisciplinary schools, including the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and launched trailblazing multidisciplinary initiatives, including the Biodesign Institute, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, and initiatives in the humanities and social sciences.
Crow, who earned a Ph.D. in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a bachelor’s degree in political science and environmental studies at Iowa State University, began building his distinguished academic career in various roles at Iowa State and Columbia University. At Columbia, he served as director of the Earth Institute, a collaboration of dozens of research centers and programs at the university and one of the nation’s leading resources on climate change, university vice provost and associate vice provost for science and engineering. At Iowa State, he was director of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology and director of the Office of Science Policy and Research. Throughout his career, including now as ASU president, he continues to teach and conduct research, staying grounded in the mission of higher education.
Crow has been recognized by his peers as an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published numerous books and articles analyzing knowledge enterprises, science and technology policy, and the design of higher education institutions. His expertise has been tapped by the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce and Energy, as well as defense and intelligence agencies.
David R. MacDonald
Doctor of Fine Arts
An internationally renowned artist and professor emeritus of ceramics in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), MacDonald uses clay as a medium for exploring the form and function of utilitarian vessels, his African heritage, themes of anger and injustice, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
A professor in the School of Art and Design (currently the School of Art) from 1971-2008, MacDonald has taught art and ceramics to legions of Syracuse University students, mentored both students and fellow faculty members, and co-founded the Community Folk Art Center, a cultural and artistic hub committed to artists of the African diaspora, housed in the University’s African American studies department.
MacDonald received an undergraduate degree in art education from the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia) in 1968 and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1971. He fell in love with pottery as an artform at Hampton under the mentorship of noted African American ceramic artist Joseph W. Gilliard and was heavily influenced by ceramicists Bob Stull and John Stephenson while studying at the University of Michigan.
In his early years as an artist, MacDonald’s work was influenced by the social and political issues of the time, including the Civil Rights Movement, producing ceramic work that reflected his anger and frustration as a young Black man. As he expanded his study of East and South African culture, MacDonald became more interested in and influenced by the strength of his cultural heritage.
His abstract paintings and sculptures fuse the art of the ready-made with assemblage, minimalism and postminimalism using unremarkable materials such as raw and painted wood, bricks, paper, cement and plaster. Surface decoration, mark making and the use of carved patterns are all hallmarks of his ceramics work.
MacDonald has held the distinction of professor emeritus since retiring from the VPA faculty in 2008. His work is housed in the permanent collections of the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York), Montclair Art Museum (New Jersey) and Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse). He has been honored with the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts’ Excellence in Teaching Award and the National Crafts Council’s Master Craftsman Award, and presented a solo exhibition at the Everson titled “The Power of Pattern: New Work by David MacDonald,” all in 2011. He also received the Trailblazer Award, which celebrates those who personify exemplary leadership, selfless acts and dedication to Syracuse University, from the University in 2017.
MacDonald’s pottery was featured in the nationally televised PBS series “A Craftsman’s Legacy” in 2016. He continues to create art in his home studio and occasionally returns to VPA as a guest lecturer.
Kathleen A. Walters ’73
Doctor of Humane Letters
An accomplished alumna, retired global business leader, committed philanthropist and the first woman to serve as chair of the Syracuse University Board of Trustees (2019-23), Walters has been one of the University’s greatest ambassadors for the past 50-plus years.
She launched her pioneering career in the consumer products and paper industries after receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1973 and an MBA in finance and strategic planning from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1978.
Rising to prominence in a male-dominated industry during the final decades of the 20th century, Walters held international and North America leadership positions with Scott Paper Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., SAPPI Fine Paper North America and Georgia-Pacific. She retired from Georgia-Pacific in 2019 as executive vice president and group president of its consumer products group, the largest retail and commercial tissue and tabletop businesses in North America, spanning more than 20 manufacturing locations and 15,000 employees.
Known for her strategic business competency, Walters has a proven record of leading companies to improved earnings from growth through innovation, revenue improvement and cost-efficiency strategies. As chair of the Syracuse University Board of Trustees, Walters has leveraged her unmatched business acumen and tenacity on behalf of the University, navigating the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, championing historic investments on campus—including the National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building, the renovated Schine Student Center, ongoing enhancements to the JMA Wireless Dome and Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collection Research Center—and organizing and serving on the Board Special Committee on Campus Climate, Diversity and Inclusion. During her tenure, the Board has diversified significantly to include more women and people of color than at any other point in the University’s history.
Walters, along with her husband, Stan ’72, has provided lead gifts for the establishment of the Maxwell X Lab Support Fund which, among other initiatives, supports the Walters Community Partnerships providing funding for graduate and undergraduate student research. In addition, they have established the Kathy and Stan Walters Endowed Fund for Science Research and, most recently, the Kathy and Stan Walters Endowed Professorship for Quantum Science, both in the College of Arts and Sciences. They support a wide range of University priorities, including the Barnes Center at The Arch, where they have funded the Kathy ’73 and Stan Walters ’72 Pet Therapy Room. They have supported other initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University Athletics and Libraries, and alumni relations.
Walters concludes her tenure as chair this month. In addition to providing ongoing oversight and leadership as chair, Walters serves on the Board Executive Committee, Board Organization and Nominating Committee and serves, ex officio, on all standing committees. She also serves on the National Campaign Council Executive Committee; the Advisory Committee on University Climate, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (an outgrowth of the Special Committee on Campus Climate, Diversity and Inclusion); and the Free Speech Trustee Advisory Group. She was also Vice Chair of the Board from 2018-19 and chair of the Ad Hoc Workgroup on Volunteer Boards. In 2017, Walters received the Dritz Rookie Trustee of the Year Award. Her Syracuse University service includes memberships on the Atlanta Regional Council and the University Libraries Advisory Board.
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