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Founding Health Dean wants to empower change agents

Good health depends on leaders who are empowered to put bright ideas into action, and few people understand this better than the founding Dean of York University’s Faculty of Health, Harvey Skinner.

During his tenure from 2006-2016, Harvey pursued his vision of making the Faculty a centre of teaching, learning, research and community engagement in the areas of health promotion, prevention and healthcare at the local and global levels. He introduced “Agents of Change,” a guiding motto and operating model to support innovative student-led health initiatives. It shaped the Faculty’s culture, influenced curricula and inspired many students to positively impact wellness and health-care for all.

“Being an agent of change is about using leadership, vision, interdisciplinary teamwork, courage and a passion for social justice to build and implement health solutions that can transform lives and communities,” says Harvey, a registered psychologist and fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Ten years ago, Harvey’s efforts to cultivate health changemakers at York attracted the support of a major donor, resulting in the establishment of the Agents of Change Program. The program has funded more than 25 student-run wellness and health-care start-ups to serve vulnerable and marginalized community

members. To date, the start-ups have provided homeless youth with oral hygiene supplies, addressed period poverty, provided free and accessible first aid and CPR certification training, and enhanced social opportunities for teens with autism.

To continue this tradition of recognizing and supporting the promising projects of current as well as future Health students, Harvey created the Skinner Agents of Change Leadership Awards. Made possible by his donation of $50,000, plus another $50,000 he will gift through his Will, the annual award grants $500 (and eventually $1,000) each to four recipients: an incoming undergraduate student, a continuing undergraduate student, a graduate student and an alum. The award is open to applicants from programs in all five Health units: Psychology; Kinesiology & Health Science; Nursing; Health Policy & Management; and Global Health.

“It’s important to offer this kind of support. When these individuals apply to graduate school or medical school, or their first job, being an agent of change differentiates them, and reflects that they have a broader skill set and strong values,” Harvey says. “Once someone is recognized as a change agent, they’re never going to stop—it becomes part of who they are, and a lifelong aspiration. They’ll keep growing in this identity and increasingly make an impact.”

Dr. Harvey Skinner, Founding Dean,
Faculty of Health