Honorary Degree Recipient
Doctor of Science
College of Design, May 17, 2014
Susan M. Watkins, exemplary model ofthe academic teacher-scholar, transformed the field of apparel design nationally and internationally through her pioneering work in the area of the design of functional and protective apparel. She is considered to be the founder of the field of functional apparel design. Watkins earned her bachelor of science degree in consumer services in business and a master’s degree in textiles and clothing from Pennsylvania State University. She joined the faculty ranks of Cornell University in the Department of Textiles and Clothing in 1967 where she remained until her retirement in 1998. The focus of her discipline at Cornell was largely a practice-based program on transitioning from training individuals to manage the clothing needs of a household to training the next generation of designers of fashion and consumer goods. However, a lecture given by the Quartermaster of the U.S. Army inspired Watkins to realize the potential that the skills, methods, and insights of apparel design had to transform the way in which functional and protective clothing was designed and produced. Because of her work on protective clothing, the lives of many have been saved and significant injuries have been prevented for those who work as firefighters, in asbestos abatement, and in pesticide application. Her contributions have also improved ballistic protection for women, space-suits, and sports protective equipment. In 1991, Watkins became a Fellow of the International Textiles and Apparel Association (the organization’s highest honor). Her book, Clothing: The Portable Environment, was considered groundbreaking in 1984 and to date is still the book on functional clothing.
Biographies are as-of time of award presentation.