From Social Work to Social Impact: How Scott Ackerson is Bringing Positive Change Through Architecture

June 15, 2023

We are excited to announce that Scott Ackerson has joined WestEast to lead our Social Impact Studio. As a licensed social worker with extensive experience in community development and social justice, Scott brings a wealth of expertise to our team. His passion for creating spaces that promote equity, inclusion, and sustainability aligns with WestEast's values, and we are thrilled to have him on board. With Scott at the helm, we look forward to expanding our reach and impact in the communities we serve. We took a few minutes to sit down with Scott and get to know more about him.

Q: How would you summarize your work history?

A: The first 15 years of my career was working in child welfare in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. Then I was with Casey Family Programs for 10 years where I worked with young adults emancipating from foster care and I also did program development for them. Then I was recruited by the local children’s shelter here in San Antonio. I put together their residential treatment center and threw away the industry standard at the time, which was predominately behavior modification. I developed all the programming around trauma-informed care.

Once I finished that project, I was recruited by SAMMinistries, who at the time was the largest provider of homeless services in San Antonio. I took the job because I heard about this place called Haven for Hope that was coming, and I knew SAMM was going to be a big part of it. I worked at SAMM for three years while Haven was being developed, and that’s where I met James Andrews. Once that campus was open I started working there just on the residential side, and about 3-4 months later I was asked to join Haven to oversee all of the services.

I initially turned the position down because I did not agree with much of the programming, as it was primarily behavior modification. Ultimately, because of a conversation I had with a colleague, I accepted the position.

So, I took it, and it was a difficult three years of my life because the behavior mod modality was very embedded. However, over the next several years, I was able to shift the behavior modification programming and transform it into evidence-based practices. Systems change is difficult work, and I was very proud of my team and me for making the shifts. While at Haven, I also taught as an adjunct instructor at OLLU.

Then I was recruited by Health Management Associates, which is a large national healthcare consulting firm. I worked predominately outside the state of Texas around homeless systems and care and housing and their intersections with healthcare systems. One of my local clients was Prospera. I worked with them for six months as a consultant, and they then offered me a job. For the past four years, I was there doing affordable housing and services and then James and Chris started talking to me about WestEast’s Social Impact Studio and voilà, I now work for an architectural firm, a career move I never would have imagined.

Q: What brought you to WestEast?

A: I like innovation. The caliber of work that is being done by James and the team. James and I had worked together for 10-15 years informally but on similar projects. Just knowing James and the work we did on Trauma Informed Design locally, it’s a fit, and I like the vision of incorporating-instead of looking at things from just an architectural standpoint, really looking at them from a social impact standpoint. Social workers can’t do that by themselves because we don’t design buildings. Architects can’t do it because they don’t understand the human service side, so it’s kind of a perfect merger. The innovation, the opportunity, and the fact that I’ve looked across the United States, and I’ve only seen one other firm that has a social worker on staff is what brought me to WestEast.

Q: What do you anticipate will be unique about this role for you?

A: I think there are a lot of uncharted waters. There are opportunities to really create different types of multidisciplinary systems to work on these complex issues and projects. And frankly, that’s what it’s going to take to solve these complex problems that don’t have a simple solution. We need a multidisciplinary approach to address these problems, and that’s why I was attracted to the Social Impact Studio.

Q: What stood out to you about the WestEast management team?

A: The commitment to social change and social impact. As a social worker, that’s in my code of ethics to be a change agent. And that’s in my DNA too. To see a for-profit company that is committed to that level of social change, not just in lip service, but in resourcing it through social work and other means.

Q: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

A: My students used to ask me, “you’re a social worker, how did you become an executive at nonprofits?” and my only response was “shit happens”. I never set a career path, I just go with the flow and see where it leads. The only thing I can say with certainty is in five years I’ll be 63 years old. Other than that, I try to let things happen organically. I don’t have a clue where I’ll be five years from now.

Q: What skill do you think everybody should learn?

A: Be able to view the world through more than just your own lens. Be able to empathize with other people, their experiences, and situations, and not look at it through a myopic lens.

Q: What motivates you?

A: The opportunity to create social impact. That is my career, it is why I became a social worker, and that opportunity is what motivates me. I also became a runner years ago, so I run half marathons. That’s what motivates me to get up at 4 am.

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