A celebrated six: Meet the 2023 Leaders & Legends Award winners

By Perry King
August 8, 2023
leaders and legends 2023
The 2023 Leaders and Legends award winners, front row, received their trophies at a ceremony on May 30, 2023. All photos courtesy Chris Kasparov.

The 2023 Leaders and Legends award winners, a group of six women, have gone above and beyond to be impactful leaders and exceptional educators.

The awards celebrate alumni and friends of OISE who exemplify the Institute's mission for excellence in education.

This year’s winners – Dr. Njoki Wane, Dr. Marissa Largo, Dr. Certina Ho, Dr. Kelly A. Gallagher-Mackay, Dr. Francine S. Menashy, and Dr. Agnes Santhosh Thomas – were celebrated in-person at a May 30 awards ceremony at OISE’s Nexus Lounge. Fellow alumni, nominators, friends and supporters were all in attendance to cheer them on as Sim Kapoor, director of OISE’s Office of Advancement, Communications and External Relations, announced their names and spoke of their impact.

“What an extraordinary group of exceptional women,” said Kapoor. “Our 2023 Leaders and Legends awards winners are a thoughtful, creative, determined group who care deeply about their field, their peers and making an impact in a world experiencing many challenges.

“Today, and every day, we look up to them and are in awe of their accomplishments. Congratulations on your award wins!”

To learn more about the winners and the awards themselves, we asked each recipient the following questions:

  1. In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?
  2. How does it feel being recognized with this award?
  3. Who would you like to thank?

njoki wane
Each winner is photographed here with Professor Michele Peterson-Badali, OISE's Associate Dean, Research, International & Innovation, and Dr. Edward Thompson, Chair of the Executive Awards Committee. 

Excellence Award
Winner: Dr. Njoki Wane

In recognition of the impact of leadership, this award honours an individual who is committed to pursuing and achieving the highest levels of performance in their field.

Dr. Wane, professor and chair of OISE’s department of social justice education, has demonstrated exemplary leadership over many years, and made significant contributions to her institution, community, and field. She promotes diversity and inclusiveness and focuses on critical issues such as cultural knowledges, Black feminism, and indigenization. She has also been actively involved in community outreach, mentorship, and advocacy, demonstrating her commitment to social justice and public service.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

I have organized my academic work to reflect community engagement, creating awareness, creating knowledge, advancing knowledge created, and disseminating the knowledge. I do not engage in academic work for the sake of it. I search for where the gaps are and try to fill them in.  

For example, when I got hired, I carried out an environment scan on issues pertaining to Black women at the University  of Toronto and found that there was not a single course dedicated to Black women’s histories, experiences or even contributions to nation building.

Once I identified this gap, I created a course on Black feminist thought in Canada and secured a SSHRC grant that enabled me to interview over 200 Black women across Canada. I published my findings and presented at conferences. Last year, in 2022, I organized a two-day national conference on Black feminisms in Canada which attracted over 200 participants.

Another example is my current research on Black women in leadership positions within the academy which is the first of its kind. 

How does it feel being recognized with this award?

I do not take being a recipient of this award for granted; I am grateful. There are many people who have achieved more than me, yet the committee selected me as a recipient.

Who would you like to thank for this award? 

I would like to thank my family for being always there for me. I would also like to thank the University of Toronto for providing me with the opportunity to carry out this work. 

In addition, I thank the funders of my various projects. Without their support, it would have been difficult to do this amazing work. I thank my ancestors whose shoulders I stand on. They laid the foundation for me. I am also grateful to my Creator.

marissa largo 2023

Emerging Leader Award
Winner: Dr. Marissa Largo

This award recognizes an individual who has shown vision, initiative and great promise in inspiring and organizing positive change in their communities.

Dr. Largo is an award-winning curator, educator, artist, and researcher of Asian diasporic visual culture. Currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies, in the Department of Visual Arts and Art History at York University, Dr. Largo was a secondary school educator. Since finishing her PhD in 2018, Dr. Largo has become a national leader in the emerging field of Filipinx/a/o Studies in Canada – where her and her colleagues continue to build-up the field and its intersectionalities with visual culture, transnationalism, and queer and trans studies.

She is a highly sought-after professor by graduate students of all levels to supervise and/or serve as a member of their committees and she continues to push for equitable change as a member of the TCDSB Race Relations Advisory Committee.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

I am honoured and humbled to be the recipient of the 2023 Emerging Leader Award. While I am not new to the field of education, having been a secondary teacher for 13 years with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, I am now “emerging” as an Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies of York University. As one of the founding faculty members of the Creative Technologies program for York University’s new Markham Campus, I am working to establish an Indigenous Advisory Council to help ensure that our program is grounded in Indigenous knowledge, culture, and partnership.

As a graduate supervisor York University, I largely mentor masters and PhD students who come from equity-seeking communities and are invested in Asian diasporic and community-engaged research. I guide them in navigating institutions and systems that were not made for them and support them in their cutting-edge research and research-creation. During my time at OISE, I learned to ask critical questions, work for positive transformation, and to seek justice in our educational contexts. I carry these lessons with me in all my decolonial work as a professor, educator, curator, researcher and parent.

How does it feel being recognized with this award?

I am most grateful to the academics, artists, and activists from equity-seeking communities who have nurtured me over the decades, particularly those in the Filipinx Canadian community. I am particularly grateful to those who have collaborated with me over the years, and who have envisioned and worked for better and just futures through their scholarly and cultural work.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I am eternally grateful to my OISE supervisor Dr. Roland Coloma, who inspired me to be a socially engaged educator and leader in Filipinx Canadian Studies. I am thankful to my nominators Mr. Kenny Ho, a current EdD student in OISE’s Educational Leadership and Policy program and teacher at the York  Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) and Aileen Santiago, who is a much-needed brave and bold voice for equity in the TCDSB.

I am also indebted to Dr. Fritz Pino, my fellow OISE Social Justice Education PhD alum and a co-conspirator on several research projects that involve Filipinx studies, cultural production, and queer and trans theory and justice. I would also like to thank my family: my partner Sean Bennell and my parents Teresita and Jacinto Largo, who have encouraged my academic and creative risk-taking, as well as my children Carlo and Lorena, who continually motivate me to push for positive change in education.

certina ho 2023

Innovation Award
Winner: Dr. Certina Ho

This award is given to those who have fostered novel ideas, approaches or solutions in their field, and celebrates outstanding performance, resulting in new or improved innovations.

Dr. Ho, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream at OISE, has a research focus on experiential education, educational scholarship and medication safety initiatives related to community pharmacy practice. She uses a mixed methods approach to understand the number of medication errors that occur, as well as the reasons behind these errors, in order to develop practical and effective safety initiatives.

Among her achievements, Dr. Ho has had significant contribution to patient/medication safety for over 15 years. Her leadership in developing the first online Community Pharmacy Incident Reporting program (CPhIR) in Canada in collaboration with researchers and pharmacy professionals was well recognized by provincial pharmacy regulators. CPhIR program is now used by over 1,000 pharmacies in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and PEI.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

I believe there are two aspects related to my pharmacy practice and scholarship that have contributed significantly to patient and medication safety in the past 15 years.

In my pharmacy practice, I had the opportunity to lead the development of the first online Community Pharmacy Incident Reporting program (CPhIR) in Canada through my work at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada (ISMP Canada) in collaboration with researchers and pharmacy professionals in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The CPhIR Program was well recognized by provincial pharmacy regulators and is now used by over 1,000 pharmacies in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Manitoba and PEI.

As well, my concurrent teaching engagement at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy (LDFP/UT) has inspired me to be an innovative pharmacy professional, linking student involvement in a Patient/Medication Safety elective course to real-life pharmacy practice. Together with pharmacy learners, I have led practice-based research projects to advocate for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (QIPS). This includes, for example, the SMART Pharmacist Podcast, the Leading with Quality Podcast and Patient/Medication Safety Virtual Interactive Case Teaching Modules, which are available for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to learn more about Disclosure of Medication Incidents, Root Cause Analysis, and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.

How does it feel being recognized with this award?

I am extremely grateful to have been recognized with the Innovation Award. Upon reflection, I am also happy to realize that my patient/medication safety related pharmacy practice and scholarship are very much aligned with one of the OISE’s mission: “Discover and mobilize knowledge through leading-edge research, pedagogical and technological innovation, creativity, and scholarship-driven local, national and international collaboration.”

The part that I enjoyed the most was the fact that throughout this journey, I was very fortunate to have mentors who are always there to provide me with advice and constructive feedback to my work and endeavours, and also learners who have been instrumental in providing support and assistance to many of my projects. The Innovation Award would not be possible without the support from my mentors and my learners.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

There are many people I would like to thank for this award. First of all, I would like to thank the OISE Alumni Leaders and Legends Award Committee who selected me as this year’s Innovation Award recipient. I would also like to thank my husband and my family who are always there for me and never questioned why I was pursuing my dreams and projects. They always have trust in what I do.

To my mentors from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, OISE, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, I want to offer my sincere appreciation for their patience in listening to my requests and all their advice and feedback throughout the years.

Finally, none of my “innovations” or “innovative” achievements would be possible without the support and assistance from the many learners and students I met at the LDFP/UT, ISMP Canada, and the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, etc.

kelly gallagher-mackay 2023

Mentor of the Year Award
Winner: Dr. Kelly A. Gallagher-Mackay

This award honours an individual who has offered exceptional support, guidance and encouragement to members of the OISE community.

Dr. Gallagher-Mackay, an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator, Law and Society, Wilfrid Laurier University, is being praised for her exceptional mentorship of graduate students and emerging scholars at OISE and Laurier alike. Everyone she engages with feels seen and valued, regardless of their experience or identity. Every project Kelly touches is imbued with her strong sense of values and informed by her experience as a human rights lawyer, educator, academic, parent, and activist.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

As an interdisciplinary scholar working in education, law and public policy, I see a deep reciprocal benefit in working with students, both at OISE and my home institution of Laurier. Leveraging research funding, I am able to help students gain experience with different stages of the research process, from conceptualization and execution through to knowledge mobilization. Wherever possible, I try to create opportunities for students to present and contribute as co-authors. I really enjoy supporting the students’ own work alongside my projects and helping open up students’ eyes to different ways that research can contribute to public conversations and great professional opportunities.

How does it feel being recognized with this award?

I am humbled to have been recognized for this award, particularly because I learned so much about mentorship from my own experiences with exceptional OISE faculty, especially Joe Flessa, Jane Gaskell and Karen Mundy

Who would you like to thank for this award?

It was very meaningful to me to have faculty and students from OISE and Laurier so willing to contribute such eloquent support to my nomination, citing work with graduate and undergraduate students and staff. I am particularly grateful to my current research assistants Christine Corso and Racheal Kalaba, both from OISE’s Department of Leadership, Higher & Adult Education, who initiated and coordinated the nomination.

francine menashy 2023

Global Service Award
Winner: Dr. Francine S. Menashy

The Global Service Award recognizes community members who celebrates an extraordinary individual for commitment to addressing the world's social and humanitarian challenges with notable global impact. The winner generally promotes global citizenship, builds networks and global connections and promotes diversity, among other criteria.

Dr. Menashy, an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, has worked to improve global education policy, with a focus on marginalized students, including emergency/humanitarian crisis contexts. Through her tireless global mentorship, advocacy and research, she has made notable global impact in research, policy, and practice.

Among her achievements in advancing equity and justice agendas in global education, Dr. Menashy has established equitable and participatory policy-making processes, reduced power asymmetries and decolonization, and promoted racial, gender, and class equity.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

I’m a researcher of global education policy, and often critically analyze the work of organizations that fund, design, and implement education programmes across the Global South. But I also aim to go beyond critique and help make some tangible change, so a major part of my professional service has been advising global education organizations and actors on how to reform and think through alternative ways of designing and enacting policies. For example, I’ve advised UN agencies, multilateral banks, country governments, non-governmental organizations, and philanthropies on their education policy-making and reforms. This award, I think, reflects all those efforts, showing that while researchers like me should of course offer critiques, it’s also important that we help to make some change, too, through our service.

How does it feel being recognized with this award?

In academia, faculty service activities are often considered the least significant aspect of our work, and generally go unrecognized. But I’ve always felt that serving the global community is how my research truly makes an impact. Receiving this award acknowledges that such service is indeed crucial and deserving of recognition. It means so very much to know that the awards committee views these sorts of activities as important, and it validates all the time and effort that I and other scholars have spent on professional service throughout our careers. I’m immensely grateful.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I’m so very appreciative to those who nominated me, who are all fellow OISE faculty members: Dr. Carly Manion, Dr. Elizabeth Buckner and Dr. Claudia Diaz-Rios. I consider these three brilliant scholars not merely colleagues, but also incredibly supportive friends, and I thank them for taking time out of their very busy schedules to write letters for me. I’m also very grateful to the many research partners I’ve had over the years who have collaborated with me in many of my global service activities, and those representatives of global organizations who have sought my advice with genuine openness to new ideas. And I know that I could not have achieved nearly as much without such a wonderful, supportive family.

agnes santhosh thomas 2023

Distinguished Service Award
Winner: Dr. Agnes Santhosh Thomas

This award honours exceptional individuals for longstanding or distinguished service in an area of public importance.

Dr. Santhosh Thomas, the executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, is a thought leader, collaborator, and change maker. She operates within an equity, diversity and inclusion framework.

Her professional and community accomplishments have been recognized by multiple awards, including the Canadian South Asian Trail Blazer award on Gender Equity (2019) and the Champion and the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award (Finalist)(2020). Her award-winning thesis shed light on the experiences of immigrant women workers in the cash economy.

In what way do you believe you most exemplify the essence of this award? Can you provide one example of how?

In reflecting on how this award represents my work in the public service sector, both as a leader and a teaching scholar, I find it multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary. My leadership approach is influenced by adult education and transformative learning practices, with a focus on anti-oppression and equity work. I have implemented systems that incorporate frontline staff and community voices into organizational strategies, policies, and practices. For instance, I have developed a mentoring program aimed at facilitating leadership development among BIPOC frontline staff and young women, which has also contributed to a broader GTA-wide mentoring initiative in collaboration with six other organizations.

In my role as an educator, I teach courses on social and community transformation, as well as transformative learning theories. These courses are designed to showcase the strengths of the community and address the critical needs of marginalized communities, particularly those affected by systemic marginalization. With over twenty years of experience working with various marginalized communities and individuals, I have developed impactful practices that have influenced program designs and implementation practices in the GTA and beyond. I have had the privilege of sharing my knowledge through teaching, lectures, and participating in policy and practice development discussions at local and international levels.

How does it feel being recognized with this award? 

I am incredibly grateful for this recognition and the honour of receiving this award. It is truly wonderful to be acknowledged in this way. To me, this is also a recognition of the work many others like me are doing it in the sector. Thus, it feels like a recognition of the collective that I am privileged to represent. This award not only highlights the impactful work taking place outside the confines of academia but also emphasizes the profound influence of adult education and community development programs on society. I believe this recognition will serve as inspiration for other leaders and change-makers in their endeavours. For all these reasons, I feel humbled and deeply appreciative to receive such significant recognition. While I am the one being recognized, I stand on the shoulders of many who have spent hours building and contributing to who I am. This reflects a collective, community effort that I feel grateful to be receiving on behalf of many.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I thank Dr. Adriana Berlingieri, one of my best friends and colleague from my OISE days, for nominating me and staying behind the scenes as an encourager. I also want to thank Sree Nallamuthu, co-executive director at the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres and Dr. Jennifer Sumner for their kind support letters. I also want to thank my daughter Esther Thomas for ‘conspiring’ with Adri to surprise me with the nomination and the rest of the family for being pillars of support in my work which made this recognition possible.

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