This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Erikson on Children under the headline “Investing in young children: A conversation with Cari Sacks, ’91, Erikson trustee and alumna.” More from this issue

Last spring, Cari Sacks celebrated a milestone birthday with her closest friends and family. Her husband, Michael, had a huge surprise for her: he wanted to create the Cari B. Sacks Scholarship at Erikson Institute in her honor.

We talked with Cari Sacks about her graduate school days and the scholarship, which supports students who demonstrate the highest potential for leadership in the field of early childhood.

What brought you to Erikson?

After college, I was working in public relations, but I didn’t find it satisfying at all. I really missed working in the world of children, which I had done all through college. I started researching graduate programs in early childhood education and discovered that the best school for what I wanted to do was right in my backyard. I was so lucky.

Tell me about your student days here.

I loved every second of it. Aside from the depth of knowledge I gained about young children and families, Erikson was a very nurturing place. My professors — including Fran Stott, Joan McLane, and Barbara Bowman — were very encouraging and made me feel very valued. When I graduated, the ceremony was in Barbara’s backyard, and I walked down the aisle with my son on my hip. He was born in the middle of my graduate program and really gave a deeper meaning to my studies.

What was your reaction to the scholarship in your honor?

It was the best gift I could ever get. I had asked people not to bring gifts to my party, but if they wanted, they could support Erikson’s Center for Children and Families. Then my husband surprised me with the scholarship. I was very touched. It doesn’t happen many times in your life that you get a gift that will do good for others for a long time. It’s really an amazing feeling.

I hope the scholarship will help attract the best and brightest people to the early childhood field by giving them the opportunity to go to Erikson and learn from the best. No one has ever gotten rich by working in the field. We pay the people who take care of our children the least amount of money, which isn’t the way it should be.

Why do you support Erikson and by extension the early childhood field?

I believe that the work that Erikson does is the most important work, and that early childhood education is the key to a lot of society’s problems. Everyone is worried about the gun violence in Chicago and around the world, especially violence by young people. You have to look at the big picture and realize that this is not something that starts when these kids are teenagers.

Often the problems start before these kids were even born. By the time they start school, some children are so far behind and don’t have the support they need, they begin to feel hopeless. Eventually they drop out of school because they are failing. We need to help these children feel from the beginning that they have promise and somewhere to turn, not a dead end.

Through its policy work and work in the community and in schools, Erikson tries to get kids on equal footing. This is so important. Early childhood is the key to making the world better for kids and eventually better for every human being.