Leaders, mentors and ambassadors: Meet OISE's 2022 Arbor Award winners

By Perry King
December 1, 2022
Gina Valle, Henry Ssali and Liliana Campagnone are three of OISE’s Arbor Award winners for 2022. All photos courtesy of Gary Beechey.

Liliana Compagnone, Henry Ssali and Gina Valle, OISE’s recipients of the 2022 Arbor Awards, have served as excellent organizational leaders, mentors and ambassadors of the Institute.

As the award recipients were honoured at a special presentation and reception held on Nov. 28, their roles in creating a vibrant global alumni community shone the brightest.

“Their selfless service to the OISE community has helped deliver key programming and services to our global community of over 100,000 alumni,” says Sim Kapoor, Director of Advancement and External Relations at OISE. “We are extremely grateful to be working with some incredible leaders, who are invested in fostering growth in our mentorship and volunteer programs.”

“I send my heartfelt congratulations to Liliana, Henry and Gina for being bestowed an Arbor Award.”

The Arbor Awards are the University of Toronto’s highest honour in recognition of exceptional and longstanding volunteer service. The awards were created in 1989 to recognize volunteers for outstanding personal service to U of T. Since then, the University annually acknowledges the alumni and friends whose loyalty, dedication and generosity have added substantially to the quality of the University of Toronto experience for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Speaking on behalf of our global OISE community, I am deeply grateful for our three Arbor Award winners this year,” said Professor Normand Labrie, Interim Dean of OISE. “Liliana, Henry and Gina have all demonstrated selfless leadership and, through their excellent volunteer work at OISE, have become an example for their peers, future students and alumni.”

To celebrate our winners, we share their Arbor Award citations. We have also asked our winners the following:

  • What does it mean to receive the Arbor Award, recognizing your achievements?
  • Why do you think volunteerism is so important to you? How did you want to elevate university life?
  • What have been your most memorable volunteer opportunities?
  • How do you want to instill this volunteer spirit in others?



Liliana Compagnone

At the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Liliana has worked with alumni on job search strategies and supported holiday festive socials for mentors and mentees. Her other volunteer contributions include mentoring and coaching students, creating newsletters, and facilitating professional development opportunities. Each year, she accepts additional grad student mentees and is an active member-at-large of the alumni association.

What does it mean to receive the Arbor Award, recognizing your achievements?

I am incredibly honoured to be selected as an Arbour Award recipient for 2022.  I am humbled to be acknowledged for a career dedicated to higher education, community service and helping others achieve their highest levels of potential.

The University of Toronto fostered my passion and belief in service for the greater good. To me, receiving this Arbor Award attests that my volunteering is creating a real difference for the students at the University of Toronto. I cannot express how grateful I am for this acknowledgement. 

Why do you think volunteerism is so important to you? How did you want to elevate university life?

Volunteerism is an incredible lever to insert leadership, experience motivation, focus and direction toward a concern with tangible and often incredible outcomes. To observe the benefits of volunteerism to students and others is an exceptionally rewarding experience and one that I am lucky enough to experience through my volunteering. I have been blessed throughout my life to have benefited from the help of volunteers and mentors and I would like to give back in the same way and encourage others to do the same. 

For many students, university is a time of great change, knowledge building and independence, but also challenges. I feel a sense of personal fulfillment in helping others to overcome challenges, expand knowledge, increase confidence and self-esteem, in their quest for greatness. I wanted to elevate university life by becoming a caring person that students could turn to for advice on both everyday matters and overcoming challenges. Students can sometimes feel isolated or unsure who to turn to, and I wanted to be the person they could rely on to ask any questions or receive feedback. Through this, I hoped that students would become more confident in themselves, and through building this confidence, achieve their full potential. 

What have been your most memorable volunteer opportunities?

My most memorable volunteer opportunity has been directing the University of Toronto Mentoring Program as a mentor and senior mentor coach. Providing guidance and support to over 500 undergraduate students, watching the growth and development of these future community leaders has truly fulfilled me and has been a highlight in my over 35 years in education. Watching and mentoring the next generation of leaders has given me renewed hope and I am blessed to have met so many wonderful young people through this volunteer opportunity. 

How do you want to instill this volunteer spirit in others?

Encouraging students to participate in selfless acts or activities that have an impact on lives in our community is so important - and often opens a pool of opportunity while doing so.  

Becoming involved isn’t just a one-way street as one derives as much benefit to ourselves as we give to others. Communication, leading by example, reaching out to our empathetic inner selves and setting a standard of lifelong expectation for volunteering is what I hope to instill in others. I want them to recognize how much they gain through giving and how much joy they can bring to others through using their talents and expertise to support others. I have always believed that the best way to encourage others is by leading by example and therefore I hope to instill the volunteer spirit in others by continuing to volunteer and demonstrating the many advantages and benefits that come with volunteering and giving of yourself to others. 



Henry K. Ssali

Henry was a highly-engaged student who turned into an exemplary alumni ambassador for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. His impact includes serving as a member of OISE’s alumni association and founding the U of T African Alumni Association. He has also been a keen supporter of initiatives that recognize community members of African descent, such as the annual Black Graduation Celebration, which he helped organize in 2019.

What does it mean to receive the Arbor Award, recognizing your achievements?

Oh, wow what a loaded question! The Arbor Award is not just for me alone. As a person of African Descent, I believe in Ubuntu. “I am because we are and because we are, therefore, I am”. I represent my community as an Indigenous Muganda from Buganda Kingdom situated in current-day Uganda. I am East African. I am African. I am an immigrant. I am an accented African Canadian. I am Canadian. Most importantly I am an OISE alumnus. I am OISE!

What it means to receive this award is as multifaceted as my identity. It is complex. It means different things to the different communities that I represent. For instance, a young black Ugandan striving to complete their high school in Toronto gathers different motivations from this Award than a recent immigrant who is contemplating returning to university because their credentials from back home are not recognized in Canada.

The impression that this achievement is mine alone is paradoxical to the idea of the community within which I serve. I am inseparable from my community and I think receiving U of T’s most notable Arbor Award means that my community is seen, honoured, and celebrated. It is humbling.

Why do you think volunteerism is so important to you? How did you want to elevate university life?

Well, I grew up with my mom and I remember seeing her volunteering with Mothers Union at Namirembe Cathedral, one of the historical churches in Uganda. Mothers Unions are structured entities in Ugandan churches whose aim is to mobilize women to serve their communities. Mom also introduced me to “Bulungi Bwansi” loosely translated as “work for the good of community” where we would join other community members to tidy up our neighborhoods.

These activities would introduce me to community members that I would otherwise have no access to on a regular basis. It’s a form of networking while learning to do things out of one’s predictable daily scope. Volunteerism is also a mechanism for identifying community leaders and that’s why it’s important to serve others. It fosters servant leadership.

Elevating university life requires building thriving communities. Whether one is interested in serving on a policy committee or participating in the mentorship program, OISE provides the opportunity to build various communities of servant leaders.

What have been your most memorable volunteer opportunities?

All volunteer opportunities at U of T are equally humbling in their own realms. However, leading the creation of the African Alumni Association was unusually sobering. Established in 2014, the UTAA was the first of its kind in North America and offers an inclusive space for peoples of African Descent. We are humbled to be one of the most active volunteer alumni groups with comprehensive programming that caters to our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the wider community members. Through the African Scholars Awards program, we have recognized over 65 exceptional African scholars through various awards and have inspired several new similar creations across the GTA and beyond. The Refugee Awareness Week (RAW) project has facilitated several important discussions, offering a positive space to many Scholars at Risk Fellows, researchers, community leaders, and several migrants. We are thankful to Massey College and the University of Toronto Affinity Groups who have been key sponsors for many of our events.

How do you want to instill this volunteer spirit in others?

I hope that many members of our community can get inspired by this achievement and join us in the trenches and the frontlines of volunteer service. I think the most effective way to motivate others to volunteer is to offer them an opportunity to contribute their ideas to the work we do. I encourage all my peers to ask me about OISE and how to become actively engaged. Luckily I am currently privileged to serve as Vice President, Internal for the OISE Alumni Association and I know we are always looking for volunteers.



Gina Valle

Gina represents the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on U of T’s College of Electors and is member-at-large for OISE’s alumni association. Gina also sits on the alumni association’s Global Education & Diversity Committee where she is committed to engaging OISE’s Francophone community, which includes delivering seminars during Francophonie Month. She has facilitated mentor-mentee workshops and brings her expertise in writing, publishing, and documentaries to alumni association initiatives.

What does it mean to receive the Arbor Award, recognizing your achievements?

As a daughter of immigrants, I was able to access higher education at a reputable, world-class, publicly funded institution. This makes me very proud, that our country ensures that publicly funded higher education is available to all Canadians, and hence that is the principal reason why receiving the Arbor Award from U of T/OISE is so meaningful for me.  Few countries in the world have a robust publicly funded education system like ours in Canada, and as such, being recognized as an Arbor Award recipient, as an extension of the formidable work that U of T/OISE undertakes, is heartwarming for me.

Why do you think volunteerism is so important to you? How did you want to elevate university life?

No one person, organization, community can do anything alone, and ultimately be successful in the long run. I have understood that since I was a young child. To give, and contribute in kind, will always be a good thing for everyone involved. When I volunteer, it is my way of saying thank you to Canada and thank you, of course, to U of T/OISE for the future they have been able to grant my parents, family and children. 

What have been your most memorable volunteer opportunities?

I represent OISE at U of T’s College of Electors, which I was selected to do, after having submitted an application. 

My husband and children are Francophones in southern Ontario, where French is a minority language, and not always easy to maintain and uphold the minority culture. I was always pleased to be able to share perspectives on the Francophone community in the GTHA with my OISEAA peers.

Also, because of my work in equity, belonging, inclusion, I am a member of the Global Education committee at OISEAA. 

How do you want to instill this volunteer spirit in others?

Instead of having quiet dinners at home or buying new furniture for our place, I participate in a host of volunteer initiatives, at U of T/OISE and elsewhere,  from documenting the stories of immigrant women, safeguarding the representation of ethnocultural minorities in the media, refugee sponsorship, enhancing multifaith dialogue, stripping away at racism in our society.  I help my children with homework, prepare dinner, carpool to soccer practice and attend many meetings for the volunteer work I am involved in. I do this for my parents, and I do this for my children, as it is my small way of honouring my parents’ love and commitment to this country, and, I do it for my sons, as it is my way of giving them a strong sense of belonging to a place we all call home.

When we volunteer, we feel part of something bigger than us, and that of course gives us meaning in life.

Read more about Gina’s achievements on our website.  

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