‘A truly remarkable group of winners’: Meet the 2022 OISE Leaders & Legends awards winners

By Perry King
September 16, 2022

The 2022 winners of the OISE Leaders and Legends awards have all contributed greatly to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s ongoing mission to enhance the social, economic, political and cultural wellbeing of individuals and communities locally, nationally and globally.

Through their good works, this year’s six winners – nominated by their OISE alumni, faculty, staff, students, and retirees – Ella Karia, Correnda Downey, Xin Wang, Karen Brown, Kamala Jean Gopie and Vidya Shah are recognized for their excellence in leadership in teaching, research and advocacy.

They were celebrated virtually at the OISE Alumni Association’s Biennial General Meeting on June 8 – OISE alumni, the winners’ nominators and friends all in attendance to cheer them on. Professor Kristin Snoddon, chair of the Leaders and Legends Awards Committee announced the winners and spoke about their impact.

“I wish to congratulate a truly remarkable group of winners,” said Snodden, an OISE alumna and professor at Toronto Metropolitan University. “What they have in common is creativity, passion, and leadership in various anti-racism and social justice initiatives, as well as initiatives that support communities in important ways.

“We are celebrating them for the inspiration and guidance they provide.”

To learn more about the winners, and the awards themselves, below. We asked each winner the following questions:

  1. How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of how?
  2. How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Global Service Award?
  3. Who would you like to thank for this award?



Global Service Award
Winner: Kamala Jean Gopie, O. Ont., M. Ed., BA

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.

This year’s winner, Educator and philanthropist Kamala Jean Gopie, is a retired educator, Ontario Human Rights commissioner and community leader. Recognized for her global interactions with an ongoing project in Malawi, Gopie was nominated by the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a federal Minister of the Crown and Member of Parliament.

In 2020, Gopie received the Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award at the Afroglobal Television Excellence Awards in recognition of her work in the African country.

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of how?

I believe that my work in Africa these past six years, exemplifies global service, with an educational and humanitarian focus. I took a chance on supporting a young man, Happy Mussa, whom I met in 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. He expressed a desire to return to Malawi to complete secondary education so that he could go to Teachers College and become a teacher. My work in a poor village in Malawi, an extremely poor country, shows that one person can make a positive difference. A relatively small investment of funds resulted in a school being built for pre-schoolers, who are given a daily meal. Then, two wells were dug, sewing machines and carpentry tools provided so that young adults could learn a skill and a solar panel installed.

The project now supports students, mostly girls, to attend secondary school. The families of these young people are unable to pay secondary school fees for their children. Having girls continue their education helps to delay early marriage, a critical issue in Malawi. These programs have made a significant difference in the quality of life of the villagers. 

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Global Service Award?

While the recognition by OISE, my alma mater, is very special, the satisfaction I get from helping young people get an education Is particularly rewarding. This project is helping to make a generational change in the village as young children are fed and stimulated at school and young people, who graduate from secondary school, will have more opportunities for a better life. 

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I would like to thank my family and friends who have financially supported this undertaking, which is far away in Africa. They have helped to make some dreams come, such as those of Happy Mussa, who is now a qualified teacher. I would also like to thank my nominator and those who wrote support letters on my behalf. Thank you all for believing in me, acknowledging that we can all make a difference.  

ella karia


Excellence Award 
Winner: Dr. Ella Karia, EdD 

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. 

 This year’s winner, Dr. Ella Karia, is an Associate Researcher with the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development and a Postdoctoral Fellow at OISE’s department of Applied Psychology and Human Development. Dr. Karia has demonstrated a strong commitment to student excellence and community collaboration – whether it is in the classroom or in the research lab.   

Dr. Karia graduated with her doctorate degree in 2014 and has since participated as an active alumni mentor in the OISE Mentorship Program – which supports Masters and Doctoral students across various disciplines. 

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of how?  

Looking back, it was through some of my research experiences where I built insightful and impressionable momentum. For example, by working on the project of Women and Leadership in Higher Education at the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice, as well as, being the Early Years Coordinator at the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at OISE significantly carved a pathway for multidisciplinary involvement and a breadth of understanding. 

Leading change by being a part of a board writing team for ‘Transformative Early Years Practices’ or authoring the book Exploring Creativity - Becoming Your Most Empowered Self significantly shifted approaches and opened doors to innovation and creativity. The leadership experiences in educational institutions, along with my classroom and scholarly pursuits established high standards of best practices which then became a instilled value in my endeavours. This fuelled my steadfast pursuit of excellence in education. 

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Excellence Award?

I am genuinely grateful to receive the OISE Leaders and Legends Excellence Award. It truly means the world to me to be recognized with this prestigious honour at Canada’s largest educational research institute. I am thankful to the various academic opportunities to collaborate with world-class faculty at the University of Toronto and the esteemed and established researchers I had a chance to work with and get to know over the past decade. They allowed me to build perspective, grow and strengthen my academic pursuits.

Over the years my interest in life-long learning and embedded value of the high regard for education allowed me to explore innovation, engage in analysis, and establish voice in an empowering way. Continuing to foster progressive pedagogical practices for child development, while being committed to early years research, raised awareness of pressing issues and strengthened my capacity to better serve my communities.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I am thankful to the committee and nominators who selected me for this award. To be recognized as “an individual committed to pursuing and achieving the highest level of performance in their field” is an honour. This award represents much of what I believe. I am appreciative of my family who provided ongoing support as I worked towards my professional goals.

Curious students each unique bringing novel insights propelled me forward. Collaborating with educators and researchers I strived for further enduring excellence in education through my teaching, research, writing and advocacy. To my fellow award recipients' congratulations and many accolades for your sustainable contributions. You are each inspiring.



Emerging Leader Award
Winner: Correnda Downey

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

This year’s winner, Correnda Downey, is an elementary educator specializing in instructional design, decolonizing curriculum, and culturally relevant pedagogies. She is a research assistant at the Childhood Place Pedagogy Lab with OISE’s Dr. Fikile Nxumalo and a CORE Member at OISE’s Centre for Leadership and Diversity directed by Dr. Ann E. Lopez. She has used her years of experience within the education field to found racialliteracy.ca a resource hub and developing consulting firm based in Toronto devoted to building individuals' and organizations' racial competencies.

Downey has dedicated her career, education, qualifications, and research to support racialized students. Her vision to support educators' culturally relevant pedagogies has contributed to dialogue regarding societal issues. By leveraging knowledge mobility within the digital landscape, she is breaking barriers to address social injustices and increase racial literacy.

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of how? 

It is an honour to be the recipient of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto’s Emerging Leader Award for the 2022 Leaders and Legends. When asked: How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? I honestly struggled to answer the question. I have been fortunate to be able to contribute to a field I have a deep respect for.

It is motivating to see the Racial Literacy Club (RLC) develop from an idea to a growing community of 3000-plus individuals. I am incredibly proud of the RLC members and feel excited to be able to explore the many branches within the field and new intersections of interest. If you haven’t already, visit RacialLiteracy.ca for a collection of resources, book seminars, and Racial Literacy Training to support your learning spaces and join a community of both phenomenal and committed learners and organizations growing their racial literacy. 

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Emerging Leader Award? 

It is an honour to be recognized with the Emerging Leader Award as it encapsulates many of the values and commitments I hold dearly. I am grateful to be recognized for my work in a space that I find an incredible amount of joy and respect for. I am deeply appreciative to be the recipient of this award and its celebration of strong leadership. 

Who would you like to thank for this award? 

I am thankful to the committee and nominators who selected me for this award. It is with great appreciation to be recognized for “vision, initiative, and great promise in inspiring and organizing positive change in their community.” I’d like to congratulate my fellow 2022 recipients; it is an absolute honour to be among this year's recipients with incredible accolades and admirable work.



Innovation Award
Winner: Xin Wang

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.

Xin Wang, this year’s winner, is the Director of Treasury Analytics at CIBC and a past winner of U of T’s Arbor Award. As a member of the OISE Alumni Association, Wang contributed greatly to the OISE Mentorship Program, which pairs hundreds of students with an experienced alumni mentor. A large part of the program’s success is due to Wang – whose innovations have greatly advanced the program into the largest one-to-one matching program at the University of Toronto for the past six years.

Before he came along, matching was done manually by a committee of volunteers that included his wife, Celina Cheng – a U of T staff member and member of the OISE Alumni Association. When Xin saw how time-consuming and arduous the process was, he applied his analytic and computing skills to improve the matching system. He continues to volunteer in the program.

He is also a gracious supporter of the Lunar New Year Celebration event at OISE and has dedicated his time to building the OISE community – despite his very demanding professional life.

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of

I’ve been using my knowledge and technical expertise to provide many novel solutions to
work problems and opportunities. One of the examples is that I leverage natural language
processing, graph theory and optimization techniques to design a unique software for the
OISE Mentorship Program. This customized software can sort through hundreds of mentor
and mentee profiles and create the best possible results with one click of mouse. I’ve also
been improving the software program year over year based on the feedback of the past
participants and the OISE Mentorship committee. It’s a great customized software program
for OISE’s Mentorship program now.

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Innovation Award?

I really appreciate and feel very honored to be recognized with the Innovation Award in
OISE. I greatly appreciate OISE Alumni Office gave me such a great opportunity to use my
technical expertise in the OISE Mentorship Program, which is the largest mentorship
program at U of T. I am so glad that I can contribute to the matching process and help build
a collaborative OISE community.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I would like to thank my wife Celina, who worked with me on the use of coding in the
mentorship matching process and introduced me to the OISE Mentorship Program. With her
understanding of OISE’s vision and values, we can assess the different results when placing the
weights on the variables to find the best possible results of matching. I would also like to thank
OISE Alumni Office, especially Sim and Natalia, for their trust and great support in the
innovation process. They are very open to accept new ideas and technology, and give us as
much support as they can. I really appreciate that.

karen brown

Distinguished Service Award
Winner: Karen Brown, M. Ed.

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

Karen Brown, an educator and organizer who was appointed as the current President of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, is this year’s winner. Appointed in 2021, Brown is the first Black president elected to a provincial teacher affiliate union in Ontario.

Brown’s lifelong service and advocacy for public education, and her inspiring examples of outstanding leadership have had a profound impact. Her commitment to equity and social justice are evident in all she does, and she consistently models the principles of openness, fairness, and inclusivity. Karen leads by example, with passion and continues to impact others within the teaching profession and the community as a whole.

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of

I believe I best encapsulate the award through the work I have been doing to ensure that women and individuals from marginalized groups not only sit at key stakeholder education tables, but lead those discussions and drive transformative change. Representation is critical and it’s important that the lived experiences and contributions of many are reflected in all spheres of education, from the classroom, administration and senior levels at school boards, the trustee level and the union.

I have spent the last 30 years of my career promoting equity and social justice, and believe that in the face of systemic racism, educators must lead the charge for inclusive workplaces. I believe that we must oppose using race, religion, ancestry, gender, or sexual orientation to build a wedge within our communities. We must strive to create schools that are safe, inclusive classrooms for all learners.

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Innovation Award?

This award is an enormous recognition of the work that is done out a passion for the profession and a love for students and a desire to preserve publicly funded public education. I was very surprised and humbled to receive the award.

I am still in awe of being recognized this way by my peers. I never imagined being recognized at this level for advancing and leading issues that are important to me and have a significant impact on the future of educators, students, and public education. I hope I inspire a new generation of teacher, educator and union activist.

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I would like to thank my nominators Sylvia VanCampen and David Mastin worked on the submission and gathered letters of support. I would like to thank my union ETFO for the leadership and training opportunities that have helped to strengthen, and develop my leadership skills.

I would like to thank my family for their enormous support on this journey; and my parents who have always inspired me to aim high, and believed that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I want to thank them for modelling community engagement social justice activism. I also want to thank my elementary and high school teachers who inspired me and encouraged me to be my best and challenge me to explore paths outside my comfort zone. All of these experiences have helped to shape the leader I am today and for that I am forever grateful. 



Mentor of the Year Award
Winner: Dr. Vidya Shah, EdD, M.T.  

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

Dr. Vidya Shah, this year’s winner, is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University. Dr. Shah teaches in the Master of Leadership and Community Engagement, as well as undergraduate and graduate level courses in education. She has worked in the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program in the Toronto District School Board and was an elementary classroom teacher in the TDSB.

Dr. Shah has exemplified the qualities of excellence, leadership and mentorship through her scholarship, work in the community and school boards, and her engagement with junior scholars. She has been generous with her time, advice and feedback. She is actively engaged in equity work demonstrated through her scholarship, work on committees and in community.

How do you believe you best encapsulated this award? Can you provide one example of how?

Mentorship is such an important aspect of my life as someone who has amazing mentors and who in/formally mentors others. It reinforces the idea that achievements and acknowledgments are never individual, isolated experiences. We are because of all of those around us, whose labour and wisdom, both seen and unseen, have paved pathways, built bridges, and opened doors. Mentorship that is multi-directional and flexible helps us remember that we are part of collectives and communities. There is tremendous power in that​. Respectful and reciprocal mentoring relationships are beneficial for all involved and invite us into deeper awareness of who we are and who we might be.

Aside from formal mentoring relationships, people reach out to me for support because they have read my work, seen a webinar, or engaged with me on social media. These connections are so important to me because they keep me connected to classrooms and communities, push my thinking, and invite opportunities for new relationships and collaborations.

How grateful are you to have been recognized with the Mentor of the Year Award?

I am very grateful to receive an award that recognizes the importance of relationships in this work of movement building and liberation. 

Who would you like to thank for this award?

I would like to thank Jocelyn Shih for nominating me. As we have worked on The UnLeading Project, we have had the opportunity to play with ideas of leadership and be in the questions of leadership together. Such a beautiful experience! I would also like to thank Professor Joseph Flessa and Professor Sue Winton for writing nomination letters. It is such an honour to be nominated for a mentorship award by two of my amazing mentors. 

Awards, OISE Staff
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