Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education Celebrates Class of 2024

May 11, 2024

During a Commencement ceremony held on Saturday, May 11, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education bestowed baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees on more than 120 graduates.

A graduate of the Ed.D. program shakes hands with President Rooney.

Retired research scientist, activist, and educator Dr. Walter Cooper was awarded a President’s Medal in recognition of his leadership and impact on the Rochester community and field of education.

A pillar within the community, Cooper is the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester. Joining Eastman Kodak Co. in 1956, he rose from research scientist to manager of research innovation and of technical communications. He published more than 25 scientific papers and obtained three patents in polymerization during his three decades with the company.

In the 1960s, Cooper emerged as a key African American leader in the Rochester community and beyond, and advocated for community development, civil rights issues, and educational opportunities for students of color throughout his career. He was respected across divisions in the community and wrote the original proposal that secured funding for Action for a Better Community and became the organization’s associate director in 1964. He was a founding member of the Urban League of Rochester.

In recognition of his engagement in civil rights, Cooper was asked to serve on the New York State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. To open opportunities for African American students, in 1973, Cooper helped found the city’s Urban-Suburban transfer program, which still operates today. From 1988 to 1997, he served as a New York State regent. For decades after, he continued to lend his expertise to regent committees, including the Interstate Migrant Education Council, which advocates for the educational rights of migrant workers’ children. In 1999, he chaired the planning group that restructured Benjamin Franklin High School and established the city’s only public Montessori school. Cooper served on the mayor’s commission on literacy, and on the Board of Trustees for the Norman Howard School, Nazareth University, and Washington and Jefferson College, his alma mater.

“I stand here as a beneficiary of the educational aspirations and achievements of family members who came before me. Receiving this honor today honors that legacy,” Cooper said. “You, esteemed St. John Fisher graduates, will leave here with an understanding of how to construct the best curricula, and how to deploy the best pedagogical practices money can buy. But please don’t neglect the vitally important role family plays in helping children learn.”

Cooper encouraged the future educators to treat all students with dignity and respect and demonstrate an appreciation for national and cultural differences.

“I can’t imagine any better mission than the one you’re about to undertake: educating our youth,” he said.

During the ceremony, two members of the School’s faculty were honored for their impact in the classroom. Dr. Jeffrey Liles, associate professor of education, was given the Award for Teaching Excellence at the undergraduate level, while Dr. Guillermo Montes, a professor in the executive leadership doctoral program, was given the Award for Teaching Excellence at the graduate level. Honorees for these awards are chosen by students, and are given annually to full-time faculty members for outstanding work in the classroom. Award recipients demonstrate thorough knowledge of their subject matter, solid preparation for class, clear and effective communication, and genuine enthusiasm for their job.

Since 2004, Liles has been on the faculty in the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education where he has taught courses in history and philosophy of education, adolescent development, inclusive adolescent social studies education, and social justice education.

Montes teaches doctoral-level leadership and research methods courses in the program, conducts research, supervises doctoral students in field-based experiences, provides dissertation advisement for doctoral students, and chairs dissertation committees that study contemporary educational or leadership issues employing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. He has an extensive background in quantitative research methods and evaluation.

In addition to bestowing degrees upon baccalaureate and master’s degree candidates, graduates from the doctoral program’s three sites at Rochester, Syracuse, and Iona, were hooded. Dr. Eileen Fineman, a doctoral degree recipient, offered remarks on behalf of the graduates.

“As you step into the next chapter of your lives, remember these tenets: be an engine and not a caboose, champion social justice, cherish relationships by expressing gratitude, and never stop learning,” she said. “The world awaits your contributions, your leadership, and your unwavering commitment to making it a better place for all.”