Patricia O’Connor, Ryerson University: 2008 IS Awards winner: Toronto Star Immigrant Champion Award

Through a program that is the first of its kind in Canada, Patricia O’Connor is making notable strides toward integrating immigrant social workers into the labour market. She is the Coordinator of Field Programming for the Internationally Educated Social Work Professionals (IESW) Bridging Program at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education.

Launched in 2005, the program has helped more than 100 people move successfully into employment, by offering courses, individual consultations, mentorship, job hunting tips, supervised work placements and outreach to employers. Within a year of completing the certificate program, more than 90 per cent of graduates find employment in hospitals, community health centres, child welfare agencies, women’s shelters, and other community-focused organizations.

Patricia was instrumental in creating the IESW program – she has an extensive resume and three decades of experience as a community worker, teacher, health promoter, and as an advocate for social justice.

IESW graduate Christine Okech is one of the numerous benefactors of Patricia’s work. “I felt for the first time in a long time that nobody was judging or doubting me, and I met social workers from other countries and realized I was not alone.” Christine, originally from Kenya, now works as a child protection worker for the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton. She nominated Patricia for the IS Awards and included testimonials from over a dozen IESW program graduates.

“The most meaningful part of winning this award is that the nomination came from internationally educated professionals who completed the program and are currently working in the field of social work,” says Patricia. “Their patience, courage, efforts, and the trust they placed in us have encouraged us to continue to work with creativity and persistence to build a strong program that delivers on its promises and leads to real change. Their endorsement of our approach inspires me to move forward with renewed commitment and enthusiasm.”

Patricia also coordinates a network of over 550 internationally educated social work professionals, and organizes educational workshops and presentations for employers to raise awareness about the ways in which immigrant professionals can make valuable contributions to their organizations.