Distinguished grad honoured for transformative EDI initiatives

It’s been 18 years since Jane Omollo (MEd ’07) first stepped onto the Brock campus to begin her studies in the Faculty of Education. Omollo had recently moved to Canada from Kenya and wondered what her future would look like in a new country.

On Saturday, Sept. 16, Omollo returned to Brock to receive the Faculty of Education Distinguished Graduate Award as part of Brock’s Homecoming 2023 celebration.

“Winning this award is so special. I feel immense humility and honour,” she said.

Since graduating from Brock, Omollo has become a leader in building inclusive communities, whether at work or in her local neighbourhood.

Three women stand side-by-side in front of a red wall. Two of them are holding a framed certificate.

Mary-Louise Vanderlee, Interim Dean in the Faculty of Education, 2023 Faculty of Education Distinguished Graduate Award recipient Jane Omollo and Lesley Rigg, Brock University President and Vice-Chancellor, at Brock’s Alumni Recognition Reception on Saturday, Sept. 16.

As the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Manager at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Omollo has led the development of an institution-wide EDI Climate Study and an EDI strategy and action plan to continue to create a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff.

Her personal experiences led her to co-founding the African Caribbean Association of Northern Ontario (ACCANO) — a thriving support network she built from the ground up.

Omollo and her family faced a number of challenges during their first two years in Canada and her husband, who held a PhD in engineering from a German university, struggled to find employment opportunities.

Omollo, who held two master’s degrees in history and public administration respectively, had always wanted to pursue a master’s in education and was immediately drawn to Brock.

But when she and her family packed up the moving truck ready for the journey from Toronto to St. Catharines, her husband received a call offering him a job in Sault Ste. Marie. Omollo fondly remembered the two minutes of celebration before asking themselves which destination they would be driving to.

The answer was both. Her husband left for Sault Ste. Marie after settling Omollo, who was expecting the couple’s fourth child, into her new home in St. Catharines with their three children.

“I was very nervous about how I was going to manage my program while pregnant, on my own with the kids and in a new city,” Omollo said.

The busy mother and student found instant connection in St. Catharines when her neighbour offered to care for her toddler when Omollo faced challenges in finding child care.

“This act of kindness allowed me to start my education at Brock,” she said. “I will always be thankful.”

During her studies, Omollo was encouraged and supported by Brock faculty, including her graduate advisor Professor Mary-Louise Vanderlee, now Interim Dean in the Faculty of Education.

“Professor Vanderlee walked me down the path during my master’s degree with care. I cannot say that I did it on my own; every door at Brock was open to me,” Omollo said.

After successfully completing her degree, Omollo and her family joined her husband in Sault Ste. Marie where they have lived since 2006.

There, Omollo struggled to find a sense of belonging in the community. She began organizing informal gatherings to connect with other Black families in the area, eventually moving from people’s homes to larger community meeting spaces. Building on this growth, Omollo co-founded ACCANO and has served as its President for more than a decade.

“We wanted to lay a foundation and create a safe space for our children where they could get answers to the questions they were asking,” she said.

“Family connections to school and community have been front and centre of Jane’s graduate studies at Brock, her subsequent community engagement and work life,” said Vanderlee. “I have been delighted to hear about the accolades Jane has received recognizing her role in building networks important for Black families to be strong, stable and connected, as well as her ongoing commitment to inclusion for all equity deserving groups where they live, work and learn.”

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