St. John Fisher College’s 65th Commencement to Honor Three Community Champions

March 29, 2019

More than 1,000 undergraduate, master's, and doctoral candidates will graduate from St. John Fisher College during its 65th Commencement on Saturday, May 11. Before they cross the stage to receive their diplomas, the College will honor three individuals for their lifetime commitment to advocacy on behalf of the Rochester community.

William G. Clark ’78, Hilda Rosario-Escher, A. Dirk Hightower

Fisher alumnus William G. Clark ’78, outgoing president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Rochester, NY, Inc., will receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and deliver the keynote address during the ceremony. Also during the ceremony, Hilda Rosario-Escher, past president and chief executive officer of Ibero American Action League, and A. Dirk Hightower, executive director of the Children’s Institute, will receive President’s Medals in recognition of their impactful careers in human services.

“We are so pleased to honor Bill, Hilda, and Dirk – these community champions – for their strong leadership in our community, the commitment they have demonstrated in their respective roles, and the broad impact of their work,” said Dr. Gerard J. Rooney, president of the College. “We know our graduates will see in them people they would like to emulate in their lives after Fisher.”

Founded in 1965 in the wake of racial unrest in the community, Rochester’s Urban League has supported African-Americans, Latinos, and disadvantaged community members in the areas of education, healthy and economic parity, housing, and employment. Clark’s career with the League spans 37 years, and during his tenure, he served in many and sometimes multiple capacities. In 1981, he joined the Urban League in a leadership position in finance and administration and his impact since has been indelible, guiding the agency to today, where it offers more than 30 programs across a range of services for youth, families, and adults.

As the chief financial officer, he was responsible for the oversight and management of the agency’s annual operating budget and Black Scholars Endowment Fund. In 1983, he became vice president for finance and administration, assuming the duties of chief program officer and personnel administrator. He served in his multiple roles until January 1994, when he was promoted to interim president and chief executive officer, and was confirmed to that role six months later.

Clark saw the League’s annual operating budget increase to over $6 million per year. He led the purchase of the Urban League headquarter building at 265 North Clinton Avenue and was instrumental to the $750,000 Capital Campaign drive to renovate the building.

He currently serves on the Monroe County/Rochester Workforce Investment Board, Trillium Health, and Project EXILE. He is a past member of the JPMorgan Chase Bank National Community Advisory Board; YMCA of Greater Rochester Board of Directors; University of Rochester Medical Center Board of Trustees; and Greater Rochester Health Foundation Board of Directors.

Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in management from Fisher and a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in accounting from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

After more than 40 years with Ibero, a dual-language human services agency that provides programs and services to the Latino community, Rosario-Escher retired from the agency at the end of 2018. Throughout her career, she has built an extensive background in human services, which includes work in developmental disabilities, foster care, adoption, day care, and employment and training services. At Ibero, she substantially increased services for the developmentally disabled by focusing on infrastructure improvement. During her tenure in the foster care program, Rosario-Escher succeeded in decreasing the length of stay for children by implementing the model approach “Partnership in Parenting” training for foster parents.

In January 2019, she joined The Strong’s Board of Trustees, and was a past-president of the Rochester Psychiatric Center Board. She has also served on the executive committee for the Council of Agency Executives; the University of Rochester Center for Community Health and the Primary Care Development Corporation; and is a member of the Regional Economic Council. She is the past-chair of Coordinated Care Services’ Board of Directors.

Rosario-Escher holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and education from the University of Puerto Rico, and she completed the Not-for-Profit Leadership Program at Roberts Wesleyan College.

As a school and community psychologist, from 1982 until 1991, Hightower was the research director, and since 1991, has been the executive director of Children’s Institute and a senior research associate at the University of Rochester. He will retire from the executive director role in June after 28 years of service in that role but will remain a senior research associate to the Institute.  Children’s Institute supports those who work with children by building bridges between theory and practice through programs and services grounded in research.

Under his leadership, the Institute has collaborated with schools and community agencies to strengthen the social and emotional health of children and assists in the implementation of evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs.  In addition, it provides a range of trainings and services to educators and those who work with children, and conducts research and evaluations to continuously improve that support.

Fisher has had longstanding partnerships with the Children’s Institute through the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education and Wegmans School of Nursing. Dr. Dianne Cooney Miner, dean of the School Nursing, currently serves as vice chair of the Children’s Institute Board and the School is involved with Project GROW, where senior nursing majors provide valuable early screenings to three-year-olds in pre-kindergarten to ensure they are ready for school and started on a healthy path in life.

In addition to serving on numerous local and state boards regarding children’s services, Hightower is past president of the New York Association of School Psychologists and past president and trustee of the Rush-Henrietta Board of Education. He is also a co-founder of COMET Informatics LLC.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine, Orono. After earning a master’s degree in school psychology, he also pursued a doctorate in philosophy degree in school and community psychology, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The Commencement ceremony is the culmination of a weeklong series of events and activities celebrating members of the Class of 2019. For more information about the ceremony, which begins at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 11, at the Blue Cross Arena, visit the College’s Commencement website.