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IF ANDRA Ackerman, JD ’99, is a product of her experiences, her community and clients—among society’s most vulnerable—have surely been the beneficiaries. Throughout her career, she has drawn on her personal history with the social services system to effect change.
Among Ackerman’s roles have been prosecutor, district attorney’s special victims unit bureau chief, and director of human trafficking prevention and policy for New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. This January, Ackerman joined Erie (N.Y.) County’s D.A’s office, going back to her roots as a prosecutor for special victims—most often children and women who have suffered physical and/or sexual abuse.
If you could have had one technological advancement/device here now that
wasn’t around in the 1990s, what would it be?
Devices on cell phones for recording “controlled” calls—conversations between a victim and perpetrator that can help uncover evidence and are legal to record.Andra Ackerman
Everything, however, circles back to her special knowledge: “I experienced the foster care system at a young age, and it has helped me to understand and connect with kids who enter the system. This understanding has been very helpful in making a trusting connection that allows many of these kids to talk more about what has happened to them.”
—Grace Lazzara with photo by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Proudest moment since graduating?
There’s no better professional feeling than to participate in a process that holds perpetrators accountable for abusing a child, especially when he didn’t believe he would be caught. It’s equally rewarding to support a victim who has been hurt—to help someone believe in themselves when up until this point oftentimes no one else has. Most victims have lived their whole lives not believing in themselves, and they can leave court feeling empowered.
How did UB influence your career?
The drive to help people who might not believe in themselves was affirmed at UB. The feeling at UB wasn’t about how much money we would make. It was about the difference we could make.
What advice do you have for current UB students? “If I knew then what I know now…”
Be the best “you” that you can be. UB opens up doors and can help you find out in which area of law your passion lies. Be the best professional you can be. Invest in yourself and your future. If you love what you’re doing, it’s a gift.
What do you miss most about your time as a student?
I miss having less responsibility. I’m 40 now, and people expect me to do well!
What do you think is different (both better and worse) for students today compared with when you went to UB?
Things are tougher for them because of the economy. But I tell people the same thing I was told: “Make sure this is what you want.”
How did you do your homework and/or research papers before Google or the Internet?
I did lots of research on Westlaw.
Favorite UB class or professor?
Professors Susan Mangold and Suzanne Tomkins ran clinics that offered practical experience. The clinics helped me define what I wanted to do with the rest of my career.
Would you still select the same major if you had to do it all over again?
Absolutely, hands down.
Do you keep in touch with UB friends today?
I don’t, but I should have.
What’s your impression of the university today?
I smile when I find out what UB is doing today, especially when I see pictures of students now and remember what it was like. I’d be curious to know what the current [New York State] Bar passage rate is now—it was around 94 percent when I was there.
Last book read? Do you use an e-reader?
“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I don’t use an e-reader.
Any distinct memories about Buffalo winters?
During my first Buffalo winter, I was driving my red Toyota Tercel on the I-290 in whiteout conditions. I pulled over to the side of the road and, within minutes, you couldn’t see my car. I didn’t think my car would survive. A really nice tow truck driver gave me a ride to a hotel that was offering reduced rates during the storm. He called me the next day, and we got the car and towed it to my house.
David Dorsey is a Rochester-based freelance writer whose credits include Esquire and Fast Company (Dilek Cindoglu, Dexter Johnson, Atif Zafar); Grace Lazzara is a Buffalo-based writer and public relations strategist (Andra Ackerman, Gwen Howard, Bridget Cullen Mandikos); Mara McGinnis, BA ’97, is executive director of communications at Pratt Institute and a New York City-based freelance writer (Randy Asher, Steve Marchese, Rodney Sharman).