George Jeffrey Children’s Foundation welcomes new executive director

Monday, October 26, 2020 / Online

Cindy Levanto-Kawahara headshot

The Board of George Jeffrey Children’s Foundation is pleased to announce Cindy Levanto-Kawahara (BA'94) as the new Executive Director of George Jeffrey Children’s Foundation. Cindy replaces Steve MacDonald who has moved back to Southern Ontario.

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Cindy has many years of professional fundraising experience. 

“I couldn’t be happier to be the new `chief fundraiser` for the George Jeffrey Children’s Fouundation! The Centre’s 60+ year history has impacted and enriched the lives of so many children and youth living with physical and developmental needs that it is my privilege to be a part of the Foundation’s team. I look forward to working with the Centre’s staff and meeting our wonderful donors and supporters”.

Tina Bennett, CEO of George Jeffrey Children’s Centre, says “We are excited to have Cindy join the team. The mission of the Foundation is to support the work of George Jeffrey Children’s Centre and we are fortunate that Cindy is local to Thunder Bay and brings a wealth of experience to the position. The Centre and Foundation work closely together and we are looking forward to working with her and the Foundation Board.”

New Appointment to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board

Friday, October 30, 2020 / Online

Mike Walton headshot

Dr. Michael Walton (HBOR'83) has been appointed to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB) effective October 30, 2020.

YESAB is an independent arms-length body, responsible for the assessment responsibilities of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA) legislation and regulations.  It's core purpose is to protect the environmental and social integrity of the Yukon, while fostering responsible development in the territory and respects the contributions of First Nations. 

Dr. Walton's diverse work background includes natural resources management, economic development, environmental conservation and Indigenous relations.  With over 35 years of experience addressing land use and conservation issues, Mike’s practical experiences on the front line as well as in senior management helped address complex social, economic and environmental issues. 

Mike has worked for the forest industry in Ontario and Alberta, as well as for the federal, provincial, municipal and First Nation governments in Ontario, B.C and Yukon, addressing development, conservation and Indigenous relations.  Mike also worked in the non-profit sector in Yukon and is presently an independent consultant based out of Whitehorse.  Mike serves as an Adjunct Professor with Lakehead University.


Thunder Bay teacher receives national recognition

Monday, October 5, 2020 / Online

Greg Chomut file photo

Greg Chomut, (BEd ’08, BA ’08) who teaches art, history and media at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, received a Certificate of Achievement in the 2020 Prime Minister's Awards program.

A government announcement credits Chomut with building multiple bridges between his students and the wider community "in a city with a troubled history of racism":


In a city with a troubled history of racism, Greg Chomut (BEd ’08, BA ’08) builds multiple bridges between his Indigenous students and the wider community. He organizes innovative classroom activities and runs diverse extra-curricular activities. Above and beyond all that, he regularly invites at-risk students to live with his family as they finish their education; all of the students who have lived with him have graduated.

Teaching approach

Greg focuses on giving his students confidence and helping them find their voices, whether they're making a painting, learning from Elders how to bead moccasins, recording a song with a Juno-winning act, or writing letters to politicians.

In the classroom

  • Promotes students' artistic expression through an after-school art club: student artworks are displayed in airports and were the backdrop for journalist and author Tanya Talaga's Massey Lectures; many students have sold pieces and now consider art as a career path.
  • Helps students earn college credits: art students became so proficient with digital tools, such as Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Final Cut, that Greg was able to set up a program with Confederation College that allows students to earn a college credit for their work.
  • Stages an annual full-school re-enactment of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, using paintball equipment: the demonstration includes an hour-long lesson on Ojibway sniper Francis Pegahmagabow, with the grandson of this highly decorated First World War soldier speaking to students.
  • Fosters political awareness: coordinates class visits by senators and members of Parliament; leads trips to Ottawa, where students meet politicians.

Outstanding achievements

  • Founded the Wake the Giant Music Festival: students perform alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous acts, such as Wolf Saga and Metric, in what is one of Thunder Bay's largest festivals, designed to boost inclusivity and cross-cultural understanding.
  • Reaches out to local businesses: some 300 firms and organizations display decals noting they are inclusive spaces for Indigenous youth; a student said a decal made him more comfortable entering a counsellor's office; Greg organizes field trips to local businesses for hands-on activities, such as making gelato.
  • Developed program to help students navigate the city: older students work with new students during an "Amazing Race"-style orientation, as they learn how to travel to useful local organizations and services on city transit.
  • Sources:  TB Newswatch and

NOSM Appoints New Director of Indigenous Affairs

Monday, October 19, 2020 / Online

Yolanda Wanakamik headshot

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) is pleased to announce the appointment of Yolanda Wanakamik (HBA'98, MA'20) as Director of Indigenous Affairs effective October 5, 2020.

A member of the Whitesand First Nation, located in traditional territory governed by the Superior Robinson Treaty, Ms. Wanakamik is passionate about health, education and community. In addition to possessing an Honors BA in Political Science and an MA in Education with a specialization in Educational Sciences, she brings a wide range of knowledge and skills that will support growth and a positive organizational culture at NOSM. An avid student for life, she is dedicated to the advancement of the student body at all levels of education. She has also held several positions in the Aboriginal Initiatives Office at Lakehead University where she was responsible for recruitment and retention, and was also a senior executive.

Ms. Wanakamik has diverse experience in governance, politics and politics, and has served as a band councilor for her First Nation. The many years spent in Northern Ontario laid the groundwork for a deep interest in the North and in the challenges and rewards of communities. In her most recent role at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care as an Integrated Policy Officer, she gained extensive knowledge in research and analysis of local, provincial and national policies, initiatives and programs affecting health and welfare. -be Aboriginal children, families and elders.

Ms. Wanakamik is a visionary leader who subscribes to the principles of supporting capacity and community building that is essential for improving education outcomes, and recognizes and supports the strengths and aspirations of relevant community parties.

re  Sarita Verma, Dean and CEO of NOSM, said: "Yolanda is an incredible asset to our team committed to social responsibility and Aboriginal health. In her role, she will help NOSM continue to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other major new directions in our new strategic plan ”.

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine would also like to thank Mr. Joseph Leblanc, Ph.D., who was Director of Indigenous Affairs since October 15, 2018. He is now the first holder of the position of Associate Dean, Equity and inclusion, and will work with Ms. Wanakamik to ensure a smooth transition.

New Leader Appointed for Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre and Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute

Friday, September 4, 2020 / Online

Rhonda Crocker Ellacott headshot

Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott (HBScN'91) has been appointed as the President & Chief Executive Officer of Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre and Chief Executive Officer of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, effective November 23, 2020. The announcement was made today by Matt Simeoni, Board Chair Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Chair of the CEO Selection Committee, and Dr. Andrew Dean, Board Chair of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

“This is excellent news for our Hospital and Health Research Institute. The Board is absolutely confident that Rhonda is the right person to lead our Hospital through the development of a new strategic plan and health system transformation,” said Simeoni. “She is a highly respected and proven leader, as well as a champion of patients and families, as demonstrated by her three decades of growth and success.”

“Rhonda is a visionary who is driven by advancing and enhancing patient experiences. Her comprehensive background in the health care system and specific knowledge of and passion for Northwestern Ontario make her the ideal person to inspire and guide ongoing innovation in health research at our Health Research Institute,” added Dean.

Rhonda is currently the CEO of North West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), and CEO of North East LHIN and Transitional Regional Lead for Ontario Health in the North Region. She was formerly the Executive Vice President, Patient Services and Chief Nursing Executive of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Chief Executive Officer, Nipigon District Memorial Hospital. Many of Rhonda’s accomplishments contributed to the growth and enhanced quality of health care. For example, Rhonda introduced Patient and Family Centred Care (PFCC) at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, nurtured it into an organizational philosophy, and has since expanded it to ensure the voices of patients and families influence health care access and delivery throughout Northern Ontario.

Source: Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre website

Kenora MP Eric Melillo Named Shadow Critic for Northern Affairs and FEDNOR

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 / Campus

Eric Melillo becoming MP Kenora

Kenora riding MP Eric Melillo (BA Economics '19) was named the Conservative Shadow Minister for Northern Affairs and FEDNOR.

“I am honoured to take on this role to help support the well-being of northerners and fight to unlock the economic potential that exists across this vast region,” says Melillo. “I look forward to working with our Leader Erin O’Toole and the rest of our Shadow Cabinet team to hold the government to account and stand up for Canadians.” 

The Hon. Erin O’Toole, a former Veterans Affairs Minister who served in the Armed Forces and had a successful career in law prior to entering politics, was elected Leader of the Conservative Party last month, receiving 57% of the vote on the final ballot.

MP Melillo endorsed MP O’Toole early in the leadership race, in part due to O’Toole’s strong support for northern economic development and Indigenous issues.

“He’s continued to show that level of interest in trying to understand our issues and I just look forward to working with him on that,” Melillo said after the victory.

Story supplied by NetNews Ledger

Kate Boyd Named High Performance Director of Nordiq Canada

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 /

Kate Boyd

CANMORE, Alta.—On the eve of the organization’s 2020 Annual General Meeting, Kate Boyd (BA/HBOR '95) will be first-ever woman to take the reins of Nordiq Canada’s high-performance program.

A quiet, yet confident leader from Ottawa who is passionate and driven, Boyd’s goals as Nordiq Canada’s new high-performance director are completely clear – to get Canadian cross-country skiers back on the Olympic podium and continue the tradition of medal-winning performances in the national Para-Nordic program. 

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the future of our sport in Canada. I believe this position comes with a responsibility to lead our athletes, staff and community at large with integrity while developing a robust high-performance Nordic skiing system focused on excellence,” said Boyd, who is currently the lone female winter Para-sport coach at the national level in the country.

“I have been surrounded by strong female leaders throughout my entire career – and while working with the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, and Canadian Olympic Committee – who have greatly influenced the person and leader I am today. I never felt there wasn’t anything I could do because I was a woman and I am honoured to be the first female to take on the responsibility of Nordiq Canada’s high-performance director.”

Building on her success of fostering depth and driving medal-winning performances for Canada’s Para-Nordic program since 2015 as Nordiq Canada’s NextGen coach and program coordinator, Boyd stepped up in 2018 to share high-performance manager duties with Joel Jaques.

She brings more than two decades of leadership experience; sport development; and stakeholder engagement to her new position.

Throughout her career while serving a variety of leadership and program management positions for organizations including YMCA-YWCA in the National Capital Region, City of Kawartha Lakes Boys and Girls Club, Nakkertok Ski Club, and Kanata Nordic Ski Club prior to joining Nordiq Canada, Boyd has led critical change that resulted in renewed trust, credibility and sustained financial viability while working with administrators, athletes and coaches from the club and provincial levels to the nation’s best.

“Kate is a highly-motivated professional who knows what it takes for athletes and coaches to reach their full potential, and ultimately, win,” said Stephane Barrette, interim chief executive officer, Nordiq Canada. “She has a keen understanding of program management, our development pathway from the grassroots to elite level, and the sport system in Canada, which will provide a relatively seamless transition to this new role. Kate understands the patience and time investment required to build a medal-winning program. I am confident her experience will result in Canadian athletes and coaches excelling on the world stage at all levels.”

In an effort to regain the Canadian identity of cross-country skiing in Canada, Boyd is determined to develop a coach-driven, athlete-focused program in Canada that is accountable and reliable with a determination to excel at all levels.

“Working with our entire team of dedicated staff, my first priority is to get fully up to speed with our Olympic stream to gain as much clarity with that program as I currently have with the Para-Nordic stream,” said Boyd.

“With the global pandemic very much still a challenge for all of us in the world, I am also committed to ensuring our athletes and staff have the resources they require to train and have the opportunity to get on a start line, and race, while staying healthy.

“There is no doubt we have challenging days ahead of us, but I’m here for the long haul. Together with our sport partners, staff at Nordiq Canada and our coaches, we will be relentless in our collaborative pursuit of developing this program from the ground up, and making cross-country skiing in Canada a winner.”

A registered professional coach who has worked with cross-country skiers at all levels, Boyd has led teams while also providing coaching support at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, along with multiple World Championship and World Cup events.

Boyd was recently selected to participate on Canada’s 27-member COVID-19 Return To Sport Task Force led by Own the Podium. She currently lives in Canmore, Alta. where she will continue to work out of Nordiq Canada’s head office.

Nordiq Canada is the governing body of para-nordic and cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 60,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities Inc., AltaGas, Swix and Lanctôt Sports– along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2Ten, Nordiq Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and World champions. For more information on Nordiq Canada, please visit us at

Legendary Basketball Team Reunites after 45 Years

Thursday, December 17, 2015 / Campus

Caricature of the teammates, as drawn by Brian Nieminen.

On November 1, 2014, the 1969 men’s basketball team arrived at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to celebrate the team’s 45th anniversary and the 85th birthday of their coach - George Birger.

The starting five team members – Americans Jerry Hemmings, Joe Parks, Shelton Bellamy, Robert Jackson, and Louis Vaughn hooked up with Canadians Charlie Tallack and Brian Nieminen and their beloved coach for a weeklong reunion.

Since graduating, all the players have had successful careers. Brian Nieminen believes that this is “a testament to our educational and extracurricular experiences at Lakehead University.”

In the late 1960s, the American players recruited by Coach Birger helped bring a standard of basketball to Thunder Bay that had never been seen before. The C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse was regularly filled to overflowing – becoming known as the ‘Thunderdome’ because of the wild cheering of the fans.

The team went 21 games undefeated in the highly competitive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) division and challenged the champions of District 13 to a sudden death playoff for the right to go to Kansas City for the NAIA playoffs.

“When the team reunited in South Carolina,” Brian says, “the rapport between us was amazing. It was like being transported back in time.”


Patty Hajdu becomes new Minister of Labour

Monday, January 9, 2017 / Campus

Patty Hadju headshot

Give us a brief summary about your time at Lakehead. What were your most vivid memories?

I was an adult student when I began my studies at Lakehead University. I had two children and I knew that the only way forward was to finish the university degree that I had started years before at York University.

One of the things I most vividly remember was the challenge that I faced balancing work, parenthood, and studies at the same time. But I also remember the kindness of many of the professors that understood the pressures that older students sometimes face. I will always be grateful for getting a second chance to study as it did indeed change not only my life, but the lives of my children.

How do you feel it prepared you?

The undergrad that I chose to focus my
studies was anthropology. Part of the challenge that I had when I studied the first time at York University was a lack of focus
and a lack of understanding about the various fields of study. But at Lakehead I was
fortunate to take an introduction to anthropology course with Professor Paul Driben and I knew then that this field of study was diverse and fascinating and something that could have application in many different fields of employment.

That early understanding of humankind, culture and society has provided me with a rich context for many of the diverse positions I have held throughout my career. And now as a politician, the ability to observe without judgment is critical to understanding the variety of constituents that I serve both in my riding and across the country.


With just over a year in politics, what have been some of the highlights in your role?

Just winning the election was an incredible highlight! But of course being asked to serve in cabinet by the prime minister was also an incredible honour. As Minister of Status of Women, some highlights included launching the long called for inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, and doing the preparation work to create a federal strategy to address gender-based violence. I also was proud to play a strong role in ensuring that my colleagues seriously consider gender implications in all of their work. When women and girls in Canada succeed, it is good for all of us and helps our economy thrive!

I'm also very proud of the work that I've done to ensure that Ottawa understands the needs and the incredible resiliency of the residents of Northern Ontario. I look forward to continuing the strong advocacy for our region and playing a critical role at the cabinet table in making sure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed.


When you were approached about your new role, what were your thoughts? How did you feel?

When the prime minister asked me to take on the new role of Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, I was very honoured that he had so much confidence in me to do this very important work. I was very excited to take on the file because I believe that having access to well-paying, decent work is critical to healthy and happy communities. This new role is critical to our goal of maintaining a strong middle class and helping those who are working so hard to join it gain the skills they need.


Explain your new portfolio and what your new role will entail.

I'm very excited about my new portfolio. It is an opportunity to ensure that Canadians have the best opportunity to gain the skills they need and secure good well-paying jobs across the country. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity to work with my colleagues on ensuring that we grow the middle class and help those who are working hard to join it.

I am fortunate that I've had a background in labour through my experience running an organization that had a strong union presence. I'm looking forward to working with employers and unions to ensure a strong vibrant workforce for Canada today and into the future.


What has been the most surprising thing you've learned in your life and/or career?

My uncle used to say about me that I was never afraid to drive. I didn't know what he meant at the time, but what I have realized is it might be one of my greatest strengths. My ability to be passionate about my work has led to a career path that I could never have predicted! The greatest surprise that I have learned is that no matter what you are doing, you should try your best to leave the work in a better place than when you get it. By putting your heart into your work you can achieve all kinds of things you never imagined!


Do you have any advice for future students based on your experiences in life and work?

The advice I have for students of all ages is to stay focused on the here and now. Sometimes we all have the tendency to project into the future and focus on goals that are in some cases many years away. Goals are important. But what I have learned is that by trying our best at the task right in front of us, whether it is school, employment or volunteering, we have the best opportunity to make a difference and along the way discover new opportunities and interests that open new doors.


Alumni honoured with the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence

Thursday, May 11, 2017 / Campus

Prime Minister's Teaching Award of Excellence logo

Two exceptional Lakehead University alumni received the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa on May 3.


When Tom Doherty (BED, HBA and BA from Lakehead and MED from Western) received his award, he gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a great big hug.

“As a proud Métis, it is our culture to greet someone through embrace, and so I greeted him as any proud Métis would have,” Doherty said, adding that he became very emotional when receiving this teaching award.

Doherty currently works as the student retention lead at Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education in Balmertown, Ont. He is on a leave of absence from St. John School in Red Lake where he taught kindergarten to grade 9.

Pictured right:  Tom Doherty hugs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the ceremony held in Ottawa.

“I’m proud of all the great things my students achieve through the facilitated learning I provide,” he said.

Doherty added that it’s important for students to learn about Canada’s Indigenous cultures and traditions.

“I draw as much First Nation, Métis, and Inuit content into the curriculum as possible, which allows students to gain a knowledge base and appreciation of our First Peoples,” he said.

Doherty said attending Lakehead University and serving on the student union helped him realize his potential.

“Achieving the goals I set for myself as a Lakehead student gave me a sense of accomplishment. It taught me that no matter where you come from in life, with hard work and dedication nothing can stop you from achieving success,” Doherty said.

His desire to succeed empowered him to become a teacher. “I impact students by helping them achieve their dreams through action,” he said.

Kathy Cepo (BED from Lakehead) was nervous before meeting Prime Minister Trudeau, until she spoke with him. “He very quickly put me at ease and made me feel
comfortable,” she said.

Pictured right:  Kathy Cepo presents the Prime Minister with the robot team T-shirt.

Cepo teaches science and chemistry to students from grade 9 to 12 at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in St. Thomas, Ont.

Five years ago, she and two colleagues started FIRST Team 4525 Renaissance Robotics, a competitive team allowing students to design, build, and program a new
120-pound robot each year that plays a unique game with robots around the world.

Approximately 10 per cent of students at St. Joseph’s participate on the robotics team, and 84 per cent of graduates from the team pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics.

“My time at Lakehead University affirmed that I made the right career choice,” Cepo said.

“From lessons learned in the classroom at the University to those learned during my practicums - I feel that I had a great start to my career.

“I highly recommend Lakehead University as a place to earn your Bachelor of Education degree. I met many students from diverse backgrounds in an area influenced deeply by nature and the environment,” she said.

“Lakehead’s Faculty of Education is pleased to congratulate Tom Doherty and Kathy Cepo, along with the other recipients of this prestigious award,” said Dr. John O’Meara, Dean of Lakehead’s Faculty of Education.

“Tom and Kathy’s commitment to – and passion for – teaching and learning is an example to all educators. This commitment speaks to the exceptional education offered at Lakehead University,” Dr. O’Meara added.


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Media: For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Brandon Walker, Media Relations Officer, at (807) 343-8177, or


Lakehead University has about 9,700 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 faculty and staff in 10 faculties at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s newest Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, Science & Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education, and Graduate Studies. In 2016, for the second consecutive year, Re$earch Infosource ranked Lakehead first among Canada’s undergraduate universities. Visit