Buffalo State and the State University of New York will bestow two SUNY honorary doctorates during the college’s 2013 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 18.
Carl Wilkens, activist, humanitarian, and founder of World Outside My Shoes, will receive the honorary doctor of humane letters and Donna M. Fernandes, president and CEO of the Buffalo Zoo, will receive the honorary doctor of science.
Wilkens will deliver the commencement address at the morning and afternoon ceremonies, while Fernandes will deliver the address at the evening ceremony.
Donna Fernandes is a noted scholar, educator, and community leader in Western New York who has enriched the cultural vitality of the City of Buffalo as president and CEO of the Buffalo Zoo. Since arriving in Buffalo in 2000, she has been credited with transforming the nation’s third-oldest zoo into one of the premier zoological parks in the United States. Under her leadership, the Buffalo Zoo has completed an exciting new master plan, raised more than $44 million in capital funds, and opened several new popular exhibits, including the M&T Bank Rainforest Falls, Sea Lion Cove, and Otter Creek. Fernandes is widely respected for her compassionate approach to zoo leadership and for the care and attention she provides to zoo staff, guests, and animals, including the recently debuted polar bear cub that has captured the world’s attention.
Fernandes will receive the honorary doctor of science from the State University of New York and deliver the commencement address during the 6:00 p.m. master’s hooding and C.A.S. ceremony.
In addition to her extensive duties at the Buffalo Zoo, Fernandes serves on the board of directors of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, an organization devoted to advancing the economic vitality of Western New York. She shares her expertise with the next generation of biologists and anthropologists as an adjunct assistant professor in the University at Buffalo’s Department of Anthropology and as a part-time instructor at Canisius College. She also teaches in the Harvard Business School Club of Buffalo’s management and nonprofit management programs.
Fernandes has been recognized with numerous honors, including Buffalo Niagara Business Executive of the Year and a Girl Scouts of Western New York Woman of Distinction. She is also a Western New York Women’s Hall of Fame inductee and has been honored as a Friend of Veterinary Medicine by the Western New York Veterinary Medical Association.
A native of Norton, Massachusetts, Fernandes has been interested in animals all her life. After graduating from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she went on to earn a master’s degree in biology and a doctorate in ecology, evolution, and behavior from Princeton University. Following a year of postdoctoral study at the University of Liverpool, Fernandes became curator of research and then oversaw education and volunteer programs at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. She went on to the Prospect Park Wildlife Center in Brooklyn and, as part of the Wildlife Conservation Society, led two teacher safaris to Africa and served as National Public Radio’s resident animal expert. Fernandes left Prospect Park to attend the Simmons School of Management, where she received an M.B.A. just before joining the Buffalo Zoo.
Activist and humanitarian Carl Wilkens is the former director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda and founder of World Outside My Shoes, an educational nonprofit organization committed to raising awareness about genocide and intolerance.
Wilkens will receive the honorary doctor of humane letters from the State University of New York and deliver the commencement address during the 10:00 a.m. baccalaureate ceremony. He will also deliver the commencement address during the 2:00 p.m. baccalaureate ceremony
As a humanitarian aid worker in Rwanda, Wilkens was the only American to remain in the country when the Hutu extremists’ genocide of Tutsis began in 1994. His family was evacuated, but he stayed behind, and his courageous efforts helped protect a group of children and adults seeking safe haven in three orphanages around the capital city of Kigali. When militia prepared to attack the largest orphanage, Wilkens secured protection from the Rwandan prime minister, and he negotiated directly with militia leaders to get food, water, and aid to people trapped throughout the city. His tireless, courageous vigilance during the Rwandan genocide helped save the lives of hundreds. He succeeded where countless others had failed.
Following the genocide, Wilkens continued his aid projects in Rwanda, returning to the United States in 1996. As he continued his humanitarian work, he began traveling the country in 2004 to raise awareness about genocide and human rights. In 2008, he and his wife, Teresa, established World Outside My Shoes to further their efforts in empowering others to stop genocide around the world.
A steadfast advocate devoted to building global human networks to fight injustice, Wilkens has been a featured speaker at Buffalo State, where he has shared his personal experience of the Rwandan genocide and the courage and resilience he witnessed. He has also become engaged in the college’s Anne Frank Project, including serving as a guide for two student educational trips to Rwanda. In addition to his work with Buffalo State, Wilkens partners with Buffalo’s Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies, which is organized by the group Buffalo for Africa.
Wilkens’s selfless, valiant efforts in Rwanda were featured in Frontline’s “Ghosts of Rwanda” and in the documentary The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide. His humanitarian work has been recognized with several awards, including the 2004 Dignitas Humana Award from Saint John’s School of Theology Seminary and a 2005 Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
A graduate of Walla Walla University in Washington, Wilkens earned an M.B.A. from the University of Baltimore.