Acker, Carolyn

Degree conferred: Doctor of Science (D.Sc.)

Orator: Mason, Gordon

to be Doctor of Science

It is a fundamental truism that education is a building block in reducing poverty and enabling a better way of life. But few have the vision and dedication to translate such building blocks into productive social programs. Carolyn Acker is one of those rare individuals who identifies and leads such initiatives, and she has therefore directly and indirectly touched many thousands of lives.

Carolyn Acker began her career as a nurse, subsequently graduating from York University; City University, Seattle; and Harvard with qualifications in health administration, organization development, and non-profit management respectively. Years of working within community health with the Saint Elizabeth Visiting Nurses’ Association of Ontario took her from managing a budget of $15 million, a staff of 230, and a patient load of 240,000 in the 1980s to being executive director of the Regent Park Community Health Centre in Toronto between 1992 and 2006.

The Regent Park Community Health Centre offers a range of medical, social, and educational, services to approximately 26,000 disadvantaged or homeless people annually in Canada’s oldest and largest public housing project. As executive director, Carolyn Acker not only managed operations but also demonstrated strategic leadership in advancing the centre’s directions — including listening, with her staff, to the needs of a community facing the challenges of low incomes, violence, drugs, and, perhaps most importantly, absence of hope for its children’s future.

By 2000, motivated by a commitment to serve others, and often with tenuous private and public funding, she and her colleagues began Pathways to Education, an initiative working with at-risk youth to help them complete their high school education and move on to post-secondary education. The Regent Park program saw a drop-out rate of 56 per cent from high school lowered to 10 per cent, and attendance in post-secondary institutions rise from 20 to 80 per cent.

Since 2006, Carolyn Acker has served as chief executive officer, and, more recently, as founder, of the Pathways to Education Foundation created to replicate the Regent Park Community model in other Canadian sites. Bringing her values and passion, as well as her strategic fund-raising and knowledge-transfer experience to the project, Carolyn Acker has helped initiate Pathways in two other Toronto sites, and in Ottawa, Kitchener, Montreal, Hamilton, and Scarborough. Winnipeg, Kingston, and Halifax are in the process of implementing the program. Calgary is applying.

A frequent speaker on mentoring to improve the educational success of marginalized youth, Carolyn Acker has also served on such key Boards as the Wellesley Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital, and the Saint Elizabeth Health Care Foundation. She has won awards for being a “Woman on the Move,” for “Urban Leadership,” and for being one of the 32 most “Inspiring Canadian Women of Italian Origin”. In 2009 she received “The Joe Leonard Memorial Award” for outstanding contributions to Community Health in Ontario. But the most significant recognition of her successful leadership lies in the young lives and communities changed forever by the initiatives that she has spearheaded.

Citation written by Dr. Gwendolyn Davies

From: Honoris Causa - UA Case 70, Box 4

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