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Remembering Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson

view of the graduate commons at the wilson college of textiles

By Sarah Stone

Colleagues, students, family and friends are mourning the passing and celebrating the life of Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson. 

The faculty member, born and raised in Scotland, taught at NC State University for three decades, both at the College of Design and the Wilson College of Textiles, from 1976 to 2006. A little over a year into his time as a faculty member at NC State, he made history at the then-School of Textiles — Donaldson was the first professor of the new textile design program (at the time a joint program with the College of Design).

There are no words to express my sincere appreciation for his valuable guidance.
– Associate Professor Kavita Mathur

He not only played a crucial role in establishing the Wilson College’s textile design program, but also helped ensure its reputation on an international stage. In 1978, the Royal Society of Art designated the then-School of Textiles as one its U.S. centers for the Silver Medal in Design in recognition of “Design Excellence” among Donaldson’s students.

Throughout his career, Donaldson earned a reputation for identifying what was “next” in textile design. He played a crucial role in introducing the American industry to computer-aided design (CAD) by founding NC State’s CAD-CAM Conferences, which were held from 1984 to 1992.

Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson speaks at his retirement party in 2006.
Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson speaks at his retirement party in 2006.

Selected Faculty Awards and Memberships 

  • Associate of the Textile Institute (Chartered Technologist)
  • Member of the Chartered Society of Designers
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)
  • 1980: Designated “link” in NC State’s Golden Chain society
  • 1982: Fellow of the North Carolina Japan Center
Alan Donaldson circa 1990s

Influencing Generations of Textile Professionals

For all of his academic contributions to the college, Donaldson’s influence on its people will remain an even more enduring legacy. 

Associate Professor Kavita Mathur, now herself a faculty member at the Wilson College, says Donaldson had a profound impact on her education and career.

“I had the privilege of working with Professor Donaldson for three years when he served as my Ph.D. committee member. There are no words to express my sincere appreciation for his valuable guidance,” Mathur (Ph.D. Fiber and Polymer Science ’07) says. “Some of the best memories that I will always treasure are the delightful discussions and the hearty laughter we shared during my research meetings. His inspiring creativity and love for textile design is ingrained in our weaving lab – a true reflection of his profound and lasting legacy. He will be deeply missed.”

Of course, not all of Donaldson’s mentees followed in his footsteps to academia. Many others used his support and expertise to enter the textile industry. 

Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson with students (including Kathy Dotterer, bottom left) on a class trip to New York City in 1985.
Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson with students (including Kathy Dotterer, bottom left) on a class trip to New York City in 1985.

“Professor Donaldson truly was and is my mentor. He instilled in me my passion for textile design,” Kathy Dotterer (B.S. Textiles ’85) remembers. She’s now a textile designer for Brentwood Textiles. “It’s hard to put into words the importance of his devotion to his students.”

He is also credited with starting the bookmark competition, one of the college’s most beloved traditions. Donaldson oversaw both the competition and the production of each year’s winning bookmark from 1977 until his retirement in 2006. 

An Impact Beyond Retirement 

Donaldson truly embodied the Wilson College of Textiles’ dedication to a lifelong community. 

Even in retirement, Donaldson contributed to textile design research as a professor emeritus at the college. The impact of his research continued to be recognized at a national level; in 2016, the Smithsonian Institution invited him to speak. During the presentation, “The Natural Idea,” Donaldson discussed how nature had influenced his body of work as well as his contributions to product development. 

Additionally, he became heavily involved with NC State’s Association of Retired Faculty and served as its president from 2013 to 2015. 

To share your memories of Professor Donaldson or give in his memory, you are welcome to visit his obituary page.

Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson at his retirement party in 2006.
Professor Emeritus Alan Donaldson at his retirement party in 2006.