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Michele O’Keefe wins prestigious CICan Award of Excellence

Niagara College's Director of Athletics and Student Engagement presented with silver award

For the second time in two years, a member of the Niagara College community has earned a prestigious national award recognizing exceptional leadership and significant contributions to student success.

Michele O'Keefe, Director, Athletics and Student Engagement, was presented with a silver Leadership Excellence Award for Managerial Staff from Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) on April 30 during its 2024 CICan Connection Conference in Calgary.

Honourable Mentions also went to Niagara College for the Excellence in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award, and to Reginald (Reggie) Williams for the Leadership Excellence Award for Students.

O'Keefe, formerly the CEO and president of Canada Basketball, joined Niagara College in 2018--the same year she was awarded the Leadership in Sport Award at the Canadian Sport Awards, Canada's premier event for national sport achievement and leadership recognition.

In the years since, O'Keefe's commitment to promoting sport as a tool of empowerment--especially for women--has remained steadfast. At Niagara College, she's been a constant source of encouragement for students, athletes, coaches and employees who are motivated by her genuine and inspiring leadership style.

O'Keefe, however, credits the college for creating an environment where she can help student and staff flourish.

"I feel very fortunate to work at Niagara College," she said. "The special environment we have allows me to have influence in building an atmosphere where our students and staff can participate in programs, events and teams that will help them for life. The collaborative nature of Niagara College--combined with the staff we have in Athletics and Student Engagement--naturally builds programs that put our students in the spotlight.

"I'm very grateful to Niagara College for nominating me for this prestigious award," she added. "To know that the Knights family feels that my leadership is valuable is a tremendous feeling."

Highly respected in the field of sport, O'Keefe has received numerous accolades and awards for her visionary leadership, including the City of Welland's esteemed H.L. Cudney Memorial Award for her contributions to basketball, and an Executive Award of Merit in 2020 for her role formalizing a structure for the development of basketball officials. In 2020, she was also a runner-up for the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Awards.

O'Keefe is the past Board Chair of the Ontario Sport Network (OSN) and is among a small group of Canadian athletic leaders to sit on world sports boards. From 2014-2023, she served on the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Americas Board and the FIBA Central Board, making her a top female policymaker in international sport.

Throughout her career she has played an integral role in shaping sport policy and continues to build capacity for sport excellence at the local, provincial, national and international levels through her volunteer work.

Among O'Keefe's recent accomplishments is a partnership with the City of Welland to launch the first-ever Girls Sport Day in 2022, which provides girls between the ages of six and 12 the opportunity to try a variety of sports to build confidence and instill a sense of belonging in sport.

She also held a spot on the board of directors and served as Chair of the Legacy Committee for the Niagara 2022 Summer Games.

Niagara College President Sean Kennedy said O'Keefe's leadership at the College is shaping a legacy of excellence in sport and a passion for community building.

"Michele's unique ability to bring people together and drive collaboration in support of students is infectious," Kennedy said. "Like any great coach, she leads by example, nurturing talent and leveraging connections to build people up and bring out their best. Michele embodies Niagara College's welcoming, passionate and trailblazing characteristics. She is warm, approachable and pragmatic, and her leadership inspires trust and serves as a magnet for new partnerships and connections."

The CICan Awards of Excellence recognize and promote excellence within Canadian colleges and institutes, while showcasing the extraordinary contributions of individuals to their college/institute communities.

"The impact of the college and institute sector is felt in the success of our students and the partnerships we build across our communities," said CICan President and CEO Pari Johnston. "The exceptional leaders within our institutions are the key drivers of that impact. Congratulations, Michele, on your Leadership Excellence Award for Managerial Staff."

CICan's Leadership Excellence Award for Managerial Staff recognizes an individual or team who has made an exceptional contribution within their institution and within the community it serves.

O'Keefe was presented with the award at the silver level on April 30 at CICan's Awards of Excellence Luncheon.

Niagara College has a full-time enrolment of more than 10,000 students from over 95 countries, who study in 130 diploma, certificate and bachelor degree programs at specialized campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara College is also involved in educational projects and partnerships around the world and is consistently ranked among Canada's top 10 colleges for research funding. Learn more at



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