Firmin to Receive Sean O’Keefe Leadership Award

May 18, 2023

Austin Firmin in his uniform standing by a bronze cannon on campus

Austin Firmin

BATON ROUGE - Austin P. Firmin, a general business major from Covington, La., will be recognized as the latest Sean O'Keefe Leadership Award winner during the E. J. Ourso College of Business graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 20.

The Sean O'Keefe Leadership Award was created by LSU donors who recognized the leadership in former LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The award recognizes and rewards the outstanding LSU undergraduate student leader who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in the past and possesses the character, capability, vision and motivation to be a leader in the future.

The Sean O'Keefe Leadership Award is an annual award of $10,000 to be used at the discretion of the recipient. The nominees were selected from the elected presidential posts from various student leadership positions. Criteria for the award also included a cumulative grade point average of at least a 2.75.

Nominees submitted two essays – a biographical summary of their leadership positions with any relevant activities in their life since high school graduation and an essay on the subject, "My Leadership Philosophy," which articulates the nominee's leadership principles and how the candidate has tried to live up to those ideals.

Firmin's earliest campus activities include the LSU Student Government Freshman Leadership Council and LSU Air Force ROTC. He went on to hold leadership roles through ROTC and student government. Last spring, he was selected as Commander of the Corps of Cadets. The Commander serves as the senior active member of the Corps and oversees the overall planning, organizing and leadership for the LSU Corps of Cadets, which is comprised of more than 200 cadets and midshipmen. Firmin's leadership was critical given ROTC's important role in the defense priority of the Scholarship First Agenda. Under his watch, the Corps began a new game day tradition of marching down Victory Hill into reserved stadium seating, initiated a 9/11 stair climb in Tiger Stadium and enhanced the annual President's Day parade. 

Several cadets stand with LSU President William F. Tate IV, Austin Firmin is standing directly beside the president.

Austin Firmin stands beside LSU President William F. Tate IV at the Change of Command Ceremony held April 7, 2022.


Firmin will remain at LSU while pursuing a degree from the Flores MBA Program. After earning his MBA, he plans to begin undergraduate pilot training in the United States Air Force with the goal of being accepted into the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program to train alongside NATO members in pursuit of being assigned to an F-35 Lighting II. 

A five-member selection panel made up of members of the business and LSU communities conducted personal interviews with each nominee to get to know them better and learn more about each nominee's past and future leadership experience.

About Sean O'Keefe

O'Keefe is a longtime public administrator, national security expert and aerospace industry executive who has served in several top leadership positions in the U.S. government, higher education and industry. 

O'Keefe is the former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Airbus Group Inc. Immediately prior to joining Airbus, O'Keefe served as a vice president of the General Electric Company, following his service as chancellor of LSU. 

O'Keefe has been credited for establishing the university's first campus-wide fundraising campaign "Forever LSU Campaign," raising $798 million. He became popular among students for interacting with them, especially during periodic "Chats with the Chancellor" across the campus throughout the semesters and because of his encouraging emails. 

O'Keefe led LSU during its response to Hurricane Katrina in August and September 2005, when the campus was transformed into what has been called "the largest acute-care field hospital established in a contingency in the nation's history."

On four separate occasions, O'Keefe served as a presidential appointee. Prior to leading LSU, he was administrator of NASA. Earlier, he was deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. He also served as secretary of the Navy, following service as comptroller and CFO of the Defense Department. 

O'Keefe began his career after graduate studies at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University as a member of the inaugural class of the Presidential Management Fellowship program, and later joined the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee staff. Between public service appointments, O'Keefe has held faculty posts at LSU, Penn State University and the Maxwell School, where he served as director of the National Security Studies Program and as Louis A. Bantle Chair of Business and Government.

In 1993, President Bush and Secretary Cheney presented O'Keefe with the Distinguished Public Service Award. He was the 1999 faculty recipient of the Syracuse University Chancellor's Award for Public Service; recipient of the Department of Navy's Public Service Award in December 2000 and has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from several prestigious educational institutions. In March 2003 and 2004, he was recognized and honored by Irish America Magazine as one of the Top 100 Irish Americans.