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Extraordinary donation reaches out to those for whom a university education may be out of reach

By Antoinette Mercurio

Rona Abramovitch, left, Ryerson's Advisor on Outreach and Access and founder of Spanning the Gaps, gives William Waters a grateful hug. Dr. Waters and his wife recently made a generous donation of $1 million to Ryerson's Spanning the Gaps access program.

William and Phyllis Waters' generous gift of $1 million to Ryerson's Spanning the Gaps access program is truly a transformative donation. By providing financial support for students and enhancing program opportunities, the donation will help transform lives and create educational opportunities by opening the door to post-secondary education for many marginalized youth and adults. 

"It is a privilege to express heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Bill and Phyllis Waters," President Sheldon Levy said. "Spanning the Gaps reaches out to students who are rarely typical and need their confidence raised in a way that makes the next steps possible to take. The investment requires faith, but the return is incalculable for each and every student whose life will change so dramatically. The leadership of Bill and Phyllis in advancing the well-being of our community is an inspiration. Ryerson is proud to partner with the Waters to encourage a remarkable group of students to aim high."

A highly successful entrepreneur and respected academic who is Professor Emeritus of Finance and Economics at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, Bill Waters understands what it means to be a non-traditional student who is struggling financially. He received his first degree in his late 20s because economic circumstances only allowed for part-time studies.

"My life experience has taught me that fate and chance play roles in shaping everyone's life but for some incredibly more than for others," Dr. Waters said.  "It was my good fortune to have a mother who encouraged and supported me quietly with little thanks every step of the way to high school graduation and beyond. Now I reflect on those who don't have such a mother, or have had no real opportunity because of their familial circumstances or have just lost their way. 

"Our society is coming to the understanding that these young and some not-so-young people deserve more than a favourable beckon from the fickle finger of fate to shape their destiny. I am very pleased that Ryerson University has created its Spanning the Gaps programs and that Phyllis and I can contribute to further its exemplary endeavours."

"Bill and Phyllis Waters' support will have a tremendous impact on the program," said Rona Abramovitch, Ryerson's Advisor on Outreach and Access and founder of Spanning the Gaps. "Their philanthropy will help many terrific students receive an education they didn't think was accessible before."

Spanning the Gaps has a variety of paths that people can take to bridge the gap between them and post-secondary education. Abramovitch describes the kind of programming she creates as scaffolding: "Scaffolding is basically providing a means of support. It holds people up just at the points where they need it, then eventually it can be taken away and they are able to stand on their own, stronger than before."

One of the ways of supporting people is through Ryerson University Now (RUN) which offers a Ryerson University credit course to marginalized high school students who may not complete high school or if they do may not consider continuing their education. The goal is to motivate these students to consider post-secondary education as a genuine option by making this level of education familiar, accessible, non-threatening and successful.

Another example is the Second Chance or Bridges to Ryerson program, which serves adults whose first attempts at education didn't work out. Many adults lack the credentials to enter university programs because they may not have completed high school, or have been out of school for a prolonged period of time, or they may have had negative experiences with past education. They may also have very little money and limited time to do anything other than work to pay their current living expenses. Through course work and support offered through The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, these adults can span the gaps in their education and gain admission to particular Ryerson programs.

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