Three Members of the A&S Community Receive Honorary Degrees
Alumnae Kathleen A. Walters and the late Cerri A. Banks, and Community Folk Art Center co-founder David R. MacDonald, receive the prestigious designation at 2023 Commencement.
Three members of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) community have been recognized by Syracuse University with honorary degrees. Alumnae Cerri A. Banks (pictured left) and Kathleen A. Walters (pictured center), and Community Folk Art Center co-founder and professor emeritus David R. MacDonald (pictured right), are honored for their outstanding achievements and commitment to the University.
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: 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 University wide 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.
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.
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 A&S 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.
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.
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 A&S’ Department of African American Studies.
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.
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.
This article was originally published in SU News on May 4, 2023.