Two smiling people stand on a stage holding an award. A screen in the background reads New Pathways.

At the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit luncheon presentation on November 27, Chris Whitaker, former president and CEO of Humber College, was recognized with a Minister's Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to post-secondary education in Ontario. Whitaker, who retired in 2022, spent more than three decades championing post-secondary education and guiding transformational changes across the sector.

“Chris set the example of what is possible with a steady hand, a calm head and a committed heart,” said Ann Marie Vaughan, Whitaker’s successor as President and CEO of Humber College. “From professor to president, he set the foundation and left behind a legacy of innovative partnerships, diverse and flexible academic offerings, and spaces and services that put students first.”

During his tenure, Humber experienced growth of approximately 40 per cent enrolment, along with the establishment of several notable infrastructure projects at the College’s North and Lakeshore Campuses. These projects include the opening of the Learning Resource Commons and Welcome Centre, as well as the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation. He also oversaw the groundbreaking of the Humber Cultural Hub, which is set to open in the spring of 2024, and the Humber International Graduate School in downtown Toronto.

“While there have been many highlights during my career in post-secondary education, I am most grateful for the opportunity to have had an impact on the lives and educational journey of learners,” said Whitaker. “I am proud of their accomplishments and the role my extraordinary colleagues played in supporting their success.”

Whitaker strongly believed in the power of innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. His engagement and leadership opened pathways for young people from equity deserving groups and helped to establish an international alliance of like-minded institutions to support the next generation of global citizens.  

Under Whitaker’s leadership, social and cultural awareness was advanced at Humber and across the Ontario College system. Humber was among the first colleges to sign the Okanagan Charter, Indigenous Learning Protocol and the Black North Initiative. During his presidency, Humber launched its Indigenous Education Plan and Equity Diversity and Inclusion Framework and Strategy and installed Indigenous Cultural Markers at the North and Lakeshore Campuses.

To best prepare Humber graduates for success, Whitaker supported a change to the College’s academic structure, creating six faculties, which could respond to labour market changes and needs. While President and CEO, he also oversaw the launch of Humber’s Centres of Innovation network, which aims to solve real-world, often interdisciplinary problems with industry and community partners and provide hands-on learning opportunities for Humber students.

When he joined Humber in 2012, he said, “I’m most inspired by people who want to be successful, whatever success means to them; by people who work to overcome their personal challenges in order to make themselves better, and by those who help others seeking to make a difference in their or someone else’s life.”

More than 10 years later, he is still motivated to help others to reach their goals.

“I look back fondly on my decade at Humber and the progress we were able to make,” said Whitaker. “In the years and decades to come, I believe Humber is well-positioned to continue to lead the sector and open up doors to empower learners and put them in the driver’s seat to meet their career and life goals.”

Whitaker was also instrumental in the advocacy that led to colleges being granted the opportunity to offer four-year degrees. One of his key accomplishments was the establishment of independent nursing degrees offered by Ontario colleges. As a result, Humber was the first college to receive approval to offer a standalone nursing degree in Ontario.  

Prior to joining Humber College, Whitaker served as President and CEO at St. Lawrence College.