A dedicated leader of numerous charities and nonprofit organizations and a student with a passion for mentoring his peers have won this year’s Alfred L. Davis Distinguished Public Service Awards.
The awards will be given at a public ceremony at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, in the University Gallery, Booth Hall.
James Watters, Rochester Institute of Technology’s senior vice president of Finance and Administration and treasurer, will receive the 2017 Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award.
Watters joined RIT in 1994 and currently serves in key leadership positions with many RIT and community-based organizations. Locally he has served on boards and committees of the New York Wine & Culinary Center, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, United Way, George Eastman Museum, American Heart Association, Excell Partners, Rochester Area Multiple Sclerosis, Seneca Park Zoo and The Strong National Museum of Play. Watters’ extensive volunteer work at RIT includes creating and imlementing the Student Care and Relief Fund for students lacking proper winter clothing and the Campus Family Fund to help staff members struggling to cover medical expenses.
“Volunteer work is an important aspect of my life because I have been blessed in many ways and understand that the majority of these good tidings came to me through the sacrifice of others or the opportunity that someone created for me,” said Watters. “My parents were incredible role models in this regard. My mother, at 88 years of age, still volunteers several times a week feeding the homeless and driving the elderly to healthcare appointments.”
Watters will receive $2,500 as part of the award to give to a charity of his choice. He will donate the fund to the New York Wine & Culinary Center, where he serves as chair of the human resources committee.
“The New York Wine & Culinary Center organizes a summer camp for the Rochester Boys and Girls Club that provides children from the City of Rochester with intensive personal training in nutrition, wellness, knowledge on local farm foods and, most importantly, real culinary skills,” said Watters. “This summer camp has been extremely impactful for many of these young women and men. At the annual summer fundraiser, attendees meet and sample the foods prepared by these young chefs. The pride and sense of accomplishment reflected in these children is palpable.”
The award holds special meaning for Watters because he worked alongside Davis and knew him well. “During an early conversation on university funding, I once told him that the way we spend every nickel is important to me so we could honestly tell parents and donors that we are worthy stewards of their money,” recalled Watters. “He came to see me in the last stages of his life and brought me a large metal replica of a nickel. It still sits on my desk.”
Wilson Darko, a fifth-year electrical engineering technology student from Bronx, N.Y., will receive the 2017 Bruce R. James Award.
Darko currently serves as chapter president for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. – Mu Sigma Chapter, participating in the Alpha Mentor Program, which helps to develop future leaders academically, socially and professionally. Among the various programs that he has organized is Project Discovery, a college preparatory event for dozens of Rochester City School District high school juniors and seniors, including some of whom now attend RIT. He served as Unity House club president, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) fundraising chair, Gray Matter committee representative and was a member of the first cohort of Men of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA). He is a McNair Scholar, an Multicultural Center for Academic Success Scholar and has been involved with the Stand Strong & United initiative, serving as an adviser to the students who organized the campus event which connected students, faculty and staff with the law enforcement officers who serve them.
Darko learned the importance of public service early on in life. “My dad is a pastor and both of my parents have always stressed service and having a positive impact on communities,” he said. He also recalled a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Darko said: “That is a quote I heard when I was really young and it stuck with me for most of my life.”
Much of Darko’s volunteer work focuses on mentoring his fellow students and prospective students. “There have been a lot of positive opportunities I’ve been offered, people who have shown me kindness, and I’ve had the ability to go to college, which I know many don’t get. I recognize that someone else helped me get here. It only serves me right to pass on positive experiences to the next person.”
He will donate the $1,000 he earned from the award to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, which his fraternity has partnered with on events such as the annual Bowling for Kids fundraiser.
Darko’s main wish is that those he has helped pay it forward. “I charge anyone I have interacted with to pass it on. Whatever you have that can help the next person succeed, spread that. None of us are on an island, we all had people hold us up when we were young.”
About the awards: