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Leading by example

Posted 2 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ronald Sentwali Bakari, ’82 & ’90, will receive the 2024 Graff Distinguished Alumni Award.

Ronald Sentwali Bakari, ’82 & ’90, to receive Graff Distinguished Alumni Award

As a first-generation college student at UW-La Crosse, Ronald Sentwali Bakari found support from a number of staff and faculty he came to know as mentors. 

Over the past four decades, Bakari, ’82 & ’90, has returned the favor by providing support to countless students throughout his distinguished career in higher education leadership. In his current role as vice president for Student Affairs and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging at Adelphi University in New York, he serves as an ambassador and advocate for the student body — something he has done all over the country and at every stop of his career. 

“I am incredibly impressed by Dr. Bakari’s longstanding and continued academic and professional accomplishments and his contributions to advancing the educational experiences of young people, says Troy McGrath, a longtime higher ed professional who has known Bakari for many years. McGrath notes how Bakari has drawn from his own experiences to better connect with students and advocate on their behalf. 

“As a first-generation student from Milwaukee, Sentwali is an excellent example of resilience, persistence and achievement at a high level,” McGrath says. “As a fellow first-generation student, I know firsthand the challenges and struggles that need to be overcome to be successful. In this, as in so many other things, I find Sentwali as a mentor, a role model and a friend.” 

At Adelphi, Bakari oversees nearly 70 staff members across a range of departments and services, including the Career Center, the Student Access Office, Residential Life, Athletics and Recreation, the University CARE Team, the Center for Student and Community Engagement, the Interfaith Center, the Campus Food Pantry, the Multicultural Center, the Student Counseling Center, and more.  

Since joining the university in 2019, Bakari’s accomplishments include spearheading the creation of the University Multicultural Center and Mindfulness Center, establishing the Student Affairs Advisory Board to provide financial support and strategic guidance, and leading a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“(Dr. Bakari) is a passionate advocate for multicultural understanding — of diversity and inclusion, civic engagement and global awareness,” says Christine Riordan, president of Adelphi. “All of our student-oriented services and programs have benefited greatly from Dr. Bakari’s résumé of inclusive, multicultural experiences — opening up our students to new ways of thinking, communicating, problem-solving and learning that will benefit them upon graduation.” 

Before joining Adelphi, Bakari was the vice chancellor for Student Success at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the dean of students at Drake University in Des Moines, assistant dean of first-year programs at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and a Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom in 2013.

From 1990 to 1996, he served as assistant director and then director of Multicultural Student Services at UWL, where he had earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, and his master’s degree in college student personnel administration. 

Every step of his career, Bakari has sought not only to provide a continuity of services, but to connect with students on a personal level, and to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange of experiences. This can be seen in projects like the Brother to Brother mentoring program at Drake University, which Bakari established to support African American and Latino male students. 

Bakari’s colleagues also remark on his engagement and generosity in the community, where he has volunteered his time and resources to organizations including the Colorado Springs Conservatory, the Des Moines YMCA and the Semester at Sea Institute of Shipboard Education. 

Tyler Masure, who recently served as president of the Adelphi Student Government Association, says Bakari set a shining example that he hopes to follow. 

For someone who has dedicated his career to supporting students, there is perhaps no greater compliment. 

“I especially appreciate how Dr. Bakari takes the time to get to know us as individuals and also has let us get to know him as an authentic leader,” Masure says. “Dr. Bakari is a present leader — he is consistently present at student events and spends time in spaces where students are because he wants to best serve their needs. He has taught me so much about the type of leader I want to be, and I know he has made a huge impact on our campus community in the time he has been here.” 

About Distinguished Alumni Awards

The UWL Alumni & Friends Foundation is awarding graduates from the ’80s through 2015 its top alumni awards for 2024. They’re being honored for distinguished service and successful careers. 

The distinguished alumni will return to campus Friday and Saturday, Sept. 20 and 21, to speak with students, take part in a panel discussion and be formally recognized during a ceremony and brunch.

This year's recipients are:

  • Graff Distinguished Alumni Award — Ronald Sentwali Bakari, '82 & ‘90
  • Altman Teacher Education Alumni Award — Jeanne Halderson, '92 & '97
  • Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award — Vickie Sanchez, '07
  • Rada Distinguished Alumni Award — Amanda McAllister Novak, '12
  • Morgan Improving Lives Alumni Award — Shaundel Spivey, '12 & '15


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