Meet the honorary degree recipients of Spring 2024

Image of red chair with wooden arm rests on a stage.

Philanthropists, scholars, innovators and trailblazers: This year’s honorary degree recipients offer inspiration for a new generation of McMaster graduates.

Climate change. Education. Health, nutrition, scholarship and tech innovation. McMaster’s spring convocation ceremonies will see leaders and thinkers across many disciplines recognized for their tremendous accomplishments and contributions to our communities and our world.

In order of presentation, here’s a look at the distinguished recipients of honorary degrees this Spring:

Marnix Heersink

Faculty of Health Sciences | Wednesday, May 22, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Marnix HeersinkMarnix Heersink started with a modest ophthalmology practice in Alabama, which has grown into a multi-site clinical complex that provides exceptional care at its locations in three states.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the International College of Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In addition to his long track record of volunteer service, Heersink founded the Eye Education Foundation, a non-profit educational institute for eye care professionals.

Heersink’s philanthropic legacy includes scholarships and fellowships in Alabama, as well as the Jan and Mien Heersink Reading Pavilion and the Clinic in McMaster’s Health Sciences Library. In 2020, he and his wife Mary made a pair of landmark donations, one to what is now the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and one to McMaster to invest in global health and in the creation of the Marnix E. Heersink School of Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

David Olds

School of Nursing | Thursday, May 23, 9:30 a.m. 

Circular headshot of David OldsDavid Olds is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado-Denver and director of the Prevention Research Center for Family & Child Health. He is the developer of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), which has proven to be one of most impactful evidence-based preventative interventions in the world, revolutionizing preventive health care services internationally.

Olds has collaborated with McMaster’s School of Nursing and the Offord Centre for Child Studies to pilot our nation’s first NFP program.

In recognition of his innovative research and its influence, he has received more than 20 awards internationally, including the Stockholm Prize in Criminology and the John Stearns Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Clinical Practice from the New York Academy of Medicine. He was also named the inaugural fellow of the Society for Prevention Research.

Kenneth Blackwell

Faculty of Humanities and the Arts & Science Program | Monday, June 10, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Kenneth BlackwellKenneth Blackwell, McMaster’s Russell Archivist, is the world’s foremost Bertrand Russell scholar, serving as both steward for the vast Bertrand Russell Archive at McMaster and an influential champion of Russell studies.

Nearly three decades after “retiring” from McMaster, Blackwell remains unparalleled in his authoritative and comprehensive knowledge of Russell’s work and influence. His expertise, as much as the archive itself, has put McMaster on the map for an immensely diverse breadth of scholars.

Blackwell founded and has edited the journal Russell for over five decades, crafting about 200 articles for it himself. He has also edited two volumes of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell and led the development of a database of more than 130,000 letters written by or to Russell.

Suzanne Kresta

Faculty of Engineering | Tuesday, June 11, 9:30 a.m. 

Circular headshot of Suzanne krestaSuzanne Kresta, who earned her PhD at McMaster in 1992, is a world-renowned expert in Industrial Mixing and one of the foremost researchers in her field.

Kresta is renowned not only for her contributions to teaching and her infectious passion for engineering, but for her relentless pursuit of a more equitable future in the profession, through her tireless work to revolutionize education for Indigenous and Black engineers in Canada.

Kresta was the first female Dean of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. She led the development of RE-Engineered, the university’s program aimed at revamping the first-year engineering program to support Indigenous and Black student success, including the creation of a specialized Indigenous module for first year engineering students, giving context for reconciliation within the engineering profession.

Kresta also co-led the “30 years later — 30 engineers” initiative on the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, showcasing the resilience and achievements of women studying engineering and shifting the narrative to highlight those who triumphed over adversity.

This fall, Kresta will become the University of Prince Edward Island’s first female Dean of Engineering.

Howard Shearer

Faculty of Engineering | Tuesday, June 11, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Howard ShearerHoward Shearer ’77, the chairman of Hitachi Canada, Ltd., is a globally recognized leader, community builder and champion of equity and inclusive excellence.

Shearer has been a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board in the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University since 2014, and served on McMaster’s Board of Governors and the McMaster Alumni Association Board for seven years. He is a past recipient of the LW. Shemilt Distinguished Alumni Award (2016) and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (2019).

As a community builder focused on breaking through racial barriers, Mr. Shearer volunteers his time to causes that promote diversity and inclusion. He serves on the board for GE-Hitachi Canada Ltd., The Energy Council of Canada, Metrolinx, Canadian Nurses Foundation, Independent Electricity System Operator in Ontario, Canadian Nuclear Association, University of Toronto Governing Council and Japan Society.

Tony Dean

Faculty of Social Sciences | Wednesday, June 12, 9:30 a.m. 

Circular headshot of Tony DeanSenator Tony Dean graduated from McMaster in 1980 with a master’s degree in Sociology. After working in collective bargaining he joined Ontario’s public service in 1989. Dean served as Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Ontario Public Service, as well as Deputy Minister of Labour, and as the Deputy Minister in the Cabinet Office responsible for cross-government policy coordination.

After retiring from Ontario public service, Dean advised several national governments and gained renown in academia for his expertise on public service leadership and policy. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2009, and received McMaster’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010.

He was appointed to the Senate in 2016, and has served on its Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee and the Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, focusing his efforts on Senate modernization initiatives.

Catherine McKenna

Faculty of Science | Wednesday, June 12, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Catherine McKennaCatherine McKenna is the former federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change and currently serves as the chair of the United Nations’ High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.

Originally from Hamilton, McKenna attended St. Mary Catholic Secondary School when it was located on the McMaster campus.

McKenna co-founded Canadian Lawyers Abroad — also known as Level Justice — a charitable organization whose mission is to change lives through the law. For a decade, McKenna led its work in providing pro-bono legal services in developing nations. She also served as executive director of the Banff Forum and taught at the Munk School of Global Affairs. She served as a board member of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and was a legal adviser for the UN in East Timor and Indonesia.

McKenna was her Ottawa riding’s first female MP. She created the Run Like A Girl campaign to support girls and young women with aspirations in politics and other fields. During her four years as environment minister, McKenna was a lead negotiator of the Paris Agreement and negotiated and implemented Canada’s first comprehensive climate plan. As Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, McKenna saw more than $100 billion invested in infrastructure across the country.

A passionate advocate for climate action, McKenna founded and became the principal of Climate and Nature Solutions and Women Leading on Climate.

Marcy McCall MacBain

Faculty of Science | Thursday, June 13, 9:30 a.m 

Circular headshot of Marcy McCall MacBain2000 BSc graduate Marcy McCall MacBain is an accomplished health professional, scholar and co-leader of one of the world’s most visionary private charitable foundations.

A lifelong champion of evidence-based practices in medicine and health care, McCall MacBain and her husband, John, turned an ambitious vision into a global philanthropic program. Since its creation in 2007, the McCall MacBain Foundation has committed more than $400 million to international organizations and projects focused on education, the environment and health. These include the $200-million donation to McGill University to create the McCall MacBain Scholarships for outstanding graduate students. McCall MacBain signed the Giving Pledge in 2019, committing to give more than half her wealth to philanthropic causes.

McCall MacBain was inducted into McMaster’s Alumni Gallery in 2017.

Louise Burke

Faculty of Science | Thursday, June 13, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Louise BurkeA sports dietitian with more than four decades of supporting and educating athletes, Louise Burke perfectly balances research, teaching and the application of her research to real-world settings.

The world’s leading global sports nutrition researcher, practitioner and ambassador, Burke has delivered more than 500 professional and public presentations worldwide. She is an accomplished scholar and a seasoned practitioner whose scientific reputation, publications and record of achievement are unmatched in sports science and athlete performance.

Burke has also helped found and support significant initiatives in sport nutrition. The research and education model she established at the Australian Institute for Sport has been followed by the rest of the world. She helped found the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Diploma in Sports Nutrition program, where she is program director. She has also served on the American College of Sports Medicine board, and is a founding member of PINES (Professionals in Nutrition and Exercise Science), an international organization whose goal is to help support sound nutrition and exercise science worldwide.

An exceptional communicator and leader, Burke is known for her generosity when it comes to sharing evidence-based information and insights with athletes and the public, and for her leadership of wide-ranging nutritional support programs and projects.

Claudette McGowan

DeGroote School of Business | Friday, June 14, 9:30 a.m. 

Circular headshot of Claudette McGowanClaudette McGowan is a global information technology leader with more than 20 years of success leading digital transformations, optimizing infrastructure and designing new approaches that improve service and cybersecurity experiences. She is the founder and CEO of Protexxa, a cybersecurity platform that leverages AI to rapidly identify, evaluate, predict and resolve cyber issues for employees.

McGowan is also an active leader in the Canadian innovation ecosystem: She founded the Black Arts & Innovation Expo, and is chair of the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), a group of senior business leaders committed to fighting systemic racism within the innovation economy. She co-led the launch of Phoenix Fire and The Firehood, a multi-million-dollar women-focused angel fund and network for women in technology.

In 2020, McGowan was selected as an honoree at the Jamaican Canadian Association’s 20th International Women’s Day event for her groundbreaking work in STEM. She has also been recognized by Toronto Life as one of the city’s Top 50 Most Influential Torontonians; and Women’s Executive Network recognized her as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.

In September 2019, McGowan moderated a one-on-one conversation with Michelle Obama in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,000-plus at the Elevate Festival.

McGowan also serves on the boards of Air Canada, BlackNorth Initiative, MaRS, Sick Kids Hospital Foundation and the University of New Brunswick Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity.

Walter Schroeder

DeGroote School of Business | Friday, June 14, 2:30 p.m. 

Circular headshot of Walter SchroederBusiness leader and philanthropist Walter Schroeder earned an MBA at McMaster in 1969. A few years later, he developed an idea for a new Canadian-based bond rating agency called the Dominion Bond Rating Service. Starting with $1,000 in working capital, he built the company into one of the world’s premier bond rating agencies, with offices around the globe.

Since the sale of his company in 2014, Schroeder has devoted his time to philanthropy in health and education, particularly helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2015, he and his wife established the Walter and Maria Schroeder Foundation, devoting resources to improving health services for all Canadians.

Their philanthropy includes the establishment of the Walter & Maria Schroeder Institute for Brain Innovation and Recovery with a $20-million gift to the Toronto Rehab Foundation and a $10-million gift in 2020 to McMaster to fast-track research in search of a cure for allergic diseases. This gift established the Schroeder Allergy and Immunology Research Institute to support scientific allergy investigation.

In Winnipeg, where he grew up, Schroeder funds and operates a school cafeteria, which provides subsidized and free breakfast and warm lunches to more than 200 students daily. He has also started a homework club for students who need added attention. Additionally, he funds hundreds of merit awards and post-secondary scholarships each year for Winnipeg youth.

Schroeder also started a production company and works as an executive producer of documentaries and musicals and has invested heavily in the arts in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2022, Schroeder received the Horatio Alger Award, awarded to outstanding Canadians “who have triumphed over adversity and who encourage young people in Canada to pursue their dreams through higher education.”

Click here for stories, videos and highlights from Spring 2024 convocation ceremonies and celebration events

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