NC grad with MS completes NYC marathon

Toosje Fulcher is willing to go the distance to achieve her dreams – and she won’t let multiple sclerosis get in her way.

For this Business Administration graduate (Class of 2009) graduate, it’s been her long-time dream to run a marathon– and one that she achieved on November 4 after crossing the finish line in the largest marathon in the world: New York City.

“All my life, I have heard what I shouldn’t be able to do,” said the 43-year-old St Catharines resident, who has had MS for the past 30 years. “I enjoy proving to those who say I shouldn’t or that I can’t do something, that I can do whatever I dream up.  It may take me longer, but I guarantee I’ll get it done.”

She had dreamed about it decades although, for a long time, she would not say it out loud for fear of being laughed at. It eventually progressed into a dream that everyone she knew shared with her. It was a goal that her mother believed she could reach; one that her father thought she was crazy for even considering. Neither one of them were alive to see her reach it.

“You have just got to believe that they had the ‘best seat in the house’ to watch,” she said.

“In my mind, there isn’t anything I can’t do.” – Toosje Fulcher

After years of training, Toosje Fulcher’s trainer Kru Roger Lumyoung from Muay Thai Niagara, was by her side at the NYC marathon.

Fulcher has been training for the NYC Marathon for the past nine years, although she admits that, at first, she didn’t realize she was. First, her trainer Kru Roger Lumyoung at Muay Thai Niagara worked to build her confidence and self-esteem so that she could believe in her abilities. Three years ago, he began to emphasize strength and conditioning in her workouts. Then, he felt she was ready to tackle the mountains of Trinidad and Tobago. For her training, she was required to ‘climb a different mountain’ every day. During the past year, she focused solely on her leg and cardio conditioning, to ensure her leg muscles would be strong enough to endure the length of a marathon.

“My routine was waking at 6:30 to eat and get dressed for whatever the weather was like outside – warm, cold or snowy. I would be on the streets walking,” she said. “If it was raining, I would be at the gym wearing a 50-pound lead vest walking between four to five hours on the treadmill.”

In June, she attempted the Niagara Ultra marathon but, due to a groin injury she obtained just past the 10 km mark, she could not complete it – even though she continued on for another 25 km despite the pain.

“I was absolutely crushed that I could not finish because, in my mind, there isn’t anything I can’t do,” she recalled. “But common sense played a big role in my dropping out as the marathon that had been on my life list since 1994 was the New York City Marathon.”

She set out to the Big Apple in November with her trainer accompanying her as her guide. The experience was one she will never forget.

“It was like going down the middle of a giant street party that never ended,” she said.

A screenshot captures Toosje Fulcher’s stats at the NYC Marathon.

For the duration of the event, Fulcher recalled that she kept thinking about her parents and how proud they would have been to see her cross the finish line, and of her friends and family who were cheering her on – including her father-in-law who, in his hospital bed before she departed, told her to  “go and make history for him.”

“That, and after having failed to complete my first marathon attempt in June, kept me mentally focused on my task at hand, knowing that I had the support of family and friends all over Canada, the U.S. and Thailand, I simply wanted to make sure I made them proud to say ‘hey, I know her,'” she said.

When she had only about eight miles left to go, the reality of what she was about to accomplish hit her hard and she fought back tears. Her guide turned the last eight miles into a game of “I bet you can’t pass them,” playing into her competitive side.

Fulcher noted how much it meant to her to see her social media flooded with congratulations and all the good luck messages written on her jersey by the children at the gym who she considers “her kids.”

“For anyone to complete a marathon is an extraordinary achievement. Toosje finishing the marathon came as no surprise to me.”

Rob Shepherd, NC faculty

Among those cheering her on were those who know her from her time at Niagara College. Fulcher grew up in Welland and attended NC from 1999 to 2009 for Business Administration as a part-time student. Attending Niagara College enabled her to stay close to home. She needed to be near her parents for medical reasons and wasn’t ready to leave home shortly after she was diagnosed.

“I was able to create an absolutely awesome support system with the Centre for Students with Disabilities and my program coordinator Rob Shepherd, who would have my year all mapped out by Labour Day,” she recalled. “I was only a part-time student so he would have all set for me what courses I could take by term and still come out ahead at the end of the term and closer to my goal of graduating.”

Shepherd, who has kept in contact with Fulcher over the years, said that it was his pleasure to get to know her, not only as a student, but also as a person.

“She was one of the most positive individuals I have had the opportunity to teach. She always had a smile on her face, a positive attitude toward life and took all of the challenges she faced head on,” he said. “Her attitude was always, ‘I will achieve and overcome no matter what obstacles life presents me with.'”

Shepherd noted how this approach has served her well and is a testament to her not only competing in, but completing the NYC Marathon.

“It is a daunting task to even consider competing in a marathon. For anyone to complete a marathon is an extraordinary achievement,” he said. “Toosje finishing the marathon came as no surprise to me. Her life has been a story of one extraordinary achievement after another.”

“TJ exhibits all the indelible human traits that each of us should aspire for – dedication, perseverance and resilience.” Tony Azzi, Aiva Properties, sponsor

Fulcher was also grateful for the support from one of her fellow teammates and sponsor Tony Azzi, president of Aiva Properties which also created a video about Fulcher’s accomplishment below .

Azzi noted that they were proud Fulcher’s accomplishment and honoured to have sponsored and supported her in her journey to train for and ultimately conquer the NYC Marathon.

“TJ exhibits all the indelible human traits that each of us should aspire for – dedication, perseverance and resilience,” he said. “We are forever grateful to have been involved in any capacity in her rigorous and unrelenting training. Her story is an inspiration to us, those who know her, and the community as a whole.”

Fulcher joined Team for Kids for the NYC Marathon, which helps underprivileged children in NYC who want to pursue recreational running by equipping them with proper shoes so they can run in races.

“My husband and I thought that would be good charity to choose,” she said. “Because of the side effects of the drugs to treat MS symptoms, I was unable to have children and we both love kids so this was our way of helping as many kids as we could.”

In addition to her own training, Fulcher has been mentoring young athletes, as well as some older adults. She has also done motivational speaking on perseverance and determination that those need to live with such an unpredictable disease as MS.

“I really enjoy this as I get to see how much everyone looks up to me, especially when they ask for advice on how they can better themselves,” she said. “I also get to witness firsthand how just being me changes how people see themselves, and how they grow and mature into young adults.”

Fulcher believes she may have made history completing the NYC Marathon. Achilles International is not  aware of anyone else ever competing in the NYC Marathon with MS as well as bilateral necrosis of the hips, as Fulcher has. They are also looking into whether any other Canadians with MS have ever completed the NYC Marathon.

New gift opens doors for students with disabilities

CIBC’s $50,000 pledge to fund assistive technology, student scholarships

Students with disabilities will have access to more supports at Niagara College, thanks to a gift from CIBC.

On November 9, CIBC announced a two-year pledge of $50,000 to the College to support students with disabilities. Half of the gift will fund assistive technology and equipment, and half will establish the CIBC Accessibility Scholarship, which will provide 10 scholarships of $2,500 each to students registered with the College’s Accessibility Services.

The news was announced at an event at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus,organized by Development and Alumni Relations, drawing staff from CIBC and representatives from the College’s executive team, Health and Wellness Accessibility Services, Student Services, and more.

“We’re pleased to be here for today’s event to show our support for a postsecondary institution that strives to help all students pursue and achieve their academic dreams, no matter their differences and abilities,” said Meaghan Bowler, district vice president, CIBC. “At CIBC, we foster a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity, and creating a culture where people’s differences are not only accepted, but valued.”

President Dan Patterson addresses guests at the gift announcement, held on Nov. 9 at the NOTL Campus.

College president Dan Patterson thanked CIBC for the gift on behalf of the College.

“We know that CIBC supports people with disabilities and it is a key priority; they really model what so many more organizations need to do,” he said.

Here at NC, Patterson noted that Accessibility Services plays a vital role in three of the College’s main drivers – creating an unparalleled sense of student satisfaction, its strong economic development mission to support the major sectors of the economy, and offering the best learning environments in the country.

“Our access mandate – helping people by ensuring equal access to education for all students by helping to relieve barriers for their academic success – really pervades those three success factors,” he said.

Patterson also applauded Accessibility Services staff for the work they do to support students with disabilities.

“Our dynamic team of counsellors, technology and learning specialists, academic advisors, faculty, and support staff, care deeply about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our students,” said Patterson. “They work hard each day to provide our students who self-identify with a disability, with the supports and accommodation they need to be successful.”

Eliminating obstacles, opening doors

Director of Student Services Lianne Gagnon speaks about the impact CIBC’s gift will have at the College.

Student Services director Lianne Gagnon spoke about the impact the gift will have at NC, enabling more students with disabilities to access education. After working in the field of disabilities for her entire career, she said she knows “all too well” what can happen when students do not have access to scholarships or assistive technologies.

“Doors are closed, opportunities denied, and education isn’t accessible,” she said.  “And that’s why your [CIBC’s] gift to us today is all the more poignant, because I know what can happen without it.”

Gagnon noted that approximately one in six NC students self-identify as having a disability – from auditory disabilities, visual impairments, and mobility impairments, to mental health challenges. Last year, 160 students accessed more than 300 different forms of assistive devices at NC.

“This really illustrates the critical need for us to ensure that we have the proper supports in place so our students can thrive while they’re here with us at NC,” she said. “With this announcement, we can provide even more.”

Assistive technology, “levels the playing field” for students and minimizes barriers so they can have a complete college experience, gain confidence, and more independence, noted Gagnon.

Assistive software and devices help students with a range of learning disabilities integrate seamlessly into their classes. The new assistive software – including Kurzweil 3000, Read&Write, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking – will be installed onto students’ personal computers, and provides a range of learning assistance, from reading textbooks aloud, to audio recording lectures and matching a professor’s instruction with specific PowerPoint slides. Assistive devices such as FM systems will help students with hearing impairments or attention deficits by blocking out distracting noises in the classroom and enable them listen to their instructor through earphones.

Gagnon also highlighted how scholarships are critical to student success and retention, particularly for students with disabilities who may require more time to complete their program with a reduced course load, or may be unable to work part-time in addition to their studies.

“Attending postsecondary for students coming out high school, can be challenging at first. They have new responsibilities, new schedules, they’re meeting new people and for the first time, they’re gaining financial and personal independence,” she said. “That’s challenging enough, but a student with a disability can have that compounded with more obstacles. Scholarships and technologies help to eliminate some of those obstacles.”

‘I constantly felt left behind’

For Business Accounting student Amber Adkins, assistive technology was a game-changer.

The Niagara Falls resident, who has completed the Health Services Administration diploma and certificate in Dental Office Administration at the College – shared her personal story about the struggles she faces in the classroom due to her learning disability, and how Accessibility Services at NC has helped her along her academic journey.

Reading and writing have been a particular challenge.

“When I was in class, I constantly felt left behind,” she said.

She struggled in high school, but enrolled in NC’s Health Services Administration program to pursue a career in the medical field.

“I wanted to go to college and train in in a career for something that would help others,” she said.

When she found herself having trouble keeping up with some of her classes, one of her instructors recommended that she visit a counsellor in Accessibility Services. After meeting with a counsellor and receiving a learning assessment, staff equipped her with Kurzweil software on her computer, which allows her to upload all of her reading materials and have them read back to her.

If she has trouble with a word, she can highlight it and the program will help her understand it, or pronounce it. She also uses a program that allows her to audio record her classes and match everything her professor says with PowerPoint slides, enabling her to review the material later.

“Assistive technology has made a big difference in my academic career,” she said.

Now, her grades are much higher and she achieved a spot on the honour roll while recently completing her Dental Office Administration certificate at the College.

“The software has helped me focus my studying and my grades have improved more than I could ever imagine,” she said. “I’m excited to go to class every day, and I’m looking forward to my future career as a financial accountant in a dental office.”

Adkins thanked CIBC personally for making the donation.

“Your generosity will make it possible for many more students, like me, to feel excited about coming to school every day, and excited about our future careers,” she said.

Student Amber Adkins (right) shakes hands with CIBC District VP Meaghan Bowler (left).

Support for student athletes in full swing at 2018 Golf Classic

Submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations:

When it comes to support for Niagara College, the annual Golf Classic is a hole in one.

This year’s sold-out event, held on September 18 at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club, raised a record $55,000 in support of College student athletes. About 160 golfers, including community and business leaders from across Niagara and the GTA attended the tournament.

The event is not only a fundraiser but provides students with practical program-related experience. More than 45 students attended this year’s event, including athletes from the NC Knights varsity golf team who provided clinic instruction to tournament participants before they teed off. Participants also had a chance to test out their longest drive abilities by going head-to-head with Knights varsity golfers.

In addition, Event Management students gained hands-on event experience at the tournament; Paramedic students provided blood pressure checks for the golfers and Esthetician students provided mini hand massages. Lunch on-site was provided by Bench-on-the-Go food truck; and participants were provide NC wine, ale, lager and cider tastings. Representatives from Research & Innovation gave an overview of their initiatives and projects; and   NC Sustainability staff were on hand to educate about proper recycling and composting.

The event capped off with a buffet dinner and awards ceremony where top golfers from the tournament as well as from additional competitions including a putting competition, longest drive competitions, and a closest to the NC Keg competition were honoured.

The tournament by several sponsors including:

  • Presenting Sponsors:  Rankin Construction and TD Insurance;
  • Presenting Media Sponsor: St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, and Welland Tribune;
  • Ace Sponsor: CIBC; and
  • Eagle Sponsors: Campus Living Centres, Chartwells, Commercial Cleaning Services, Cooper Wealth Management, and Meridian.

View photos

View photos from the 2018 Foundation Golf Classic on the NC Golf Classic website:

NC nominates seven graduates for 2018 Premier’s Awards

Seven members of the College’s alumni community have been nominated for this year’s Premier’s Awards celebrating Ontario’s outstanding college graduates.

Colleges Ontario’s annual Premier’s Awards honour the important social and economic contributions college graduates make to Ontario and throughout the world.  Nominations are submitted from each of Ontario’s 24 community colleges, and graduates are recognized in seven categories, including Apprenticeship, Business, Community Services, Creative Arts and Design, Health Sciences, Recent Graduate, and Technology.

View NC’s 2018 nominees for each category below.


Julia Falvo

Owner of Studio W Salon; Hairstylist and Hairstyling professor at Niagara College

Graduated from Hairstyling, 2011

Julia Falvo has accomplished so much in her 10 short years in the Hairstyling industry. She is the winner of numerous international, national and Skills Ontario competitions over the years including placing fifth at an international competition is Seoul, South Korea in 2016. She was awarded the inaugural Skills Ontario Alumni Award of Excellence in 2017 for her continued involvement and mentoring of students in the Skills Ontario competitions. Falvo is a Hairstyling Professor at Niagara College and she recently opened up her own salon, Studio W, where she employs recent graduates from her program



Miriam Laundry

Miriam Laundry

Author and speaker, Laundry Books

Graduated from Business Administration – Human Resources, 1997

Miriam Laundry is an award-winning author, success coach, and international speaker. After a personal tragedy, she was inspired to make a difference in children’s lives by promoting positive mental health. Her dream was realized with her first best-selling book I CAN Believe in Myself. The book  a Guinness World Record™ in 2014 after it was read by more than 100,000 children in more than 29 countries within 24 hours. This set. Her books have garnered numerous awards including Mom’s Choice Award, Royal Dragonfly Awards and Reader’s Favourite. Miriam was awarded the 2014 Winspiration Award as a person who exemplifies making a difference in the world.



Creative Arts and Design

Mark Montefiore

Mark Montefiore

President and executive producer, New Metric Media

Graduated from Broadcasting, Radio, Television and Film, 2003

As president of New Metric Media, Mark Montefiore executive produces the multiple Canadian Screen Award winning CraveTV original comedy series Letterkenny and What Would Sal do? and CityTV and FX drama series, Bad Blood. Montefiore produced the Toronto Film Festival Film Circuit Audience Choice winning film, Cas & Dylan, starring Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss and Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany. He negotiated the landmark partnership deal with Bell Media to produce more than 40 episodes of Letterkenny in the next three years. He was named The Hollywood Reporter’s Next Generation Under 35 (’14) and Playback‘s Top Ten to Watch (’12).


Community Services

Scot Filer

Scot Filer

Founder/chief executive officer, Lions Gate Risk Management Group and ARC Protection Group

Graduated from Law and Security Administration, 1977

After three decades in progressively senior positions in the RCMP, Scot Filer founded one of the most respected intelligence-based risk management firms in Western Canada, Lions’ Gate Risk Management Group. His experience in law enforcement spans major crime investigations, geographic profiling, threat evaluation and management, surveillance and tactical human tracking. Filer has provided expertise to law enforcement agencies across Canada as well as in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Belize and South Africa. He is recognized as a global expert in geographic profiling methodology used to investigate serial criminal violence.



Blaine Lucas

Blaine Lucas

Commander, Professional Standards, Toronto Paramedic Services

Graduated from Ambulance and Emergency Care, 1995

Blaine Lucas is an advocate of people-focused public service. As the commander of Professional Standards for the Toronto Paramedic Services, he is responsible for the regulatory oversight of unionized and management staff, identifying trends in continuous quality improvement and developing targeted quality assurance initiatives. The Toronto Paramedic Services has a workforce of 14,400 staff who respond to more than 300,000 paramedic emergencies each year. The Professional Standards Unit conducts complaint investigations, maintains a medical record database of 2.3 million ambulance call reports and management oversight of over 35,000 medical quality assurance transactions annually.


Recent Graduate

Shane Malcolm

Shane Malcolm

Executive director, Leadership Niagara

Graduated from Culinary Management, 2011; and Bachelor of Applied Business – Hospitality Operations Management, 2014

Shane Malcolm was the first international student in Niagara College history to lead the Student Administrative Council. As president he was involved in a number of advocacy efforts related to regional transit and played an integral role in putting mental health awareness in the spotlight. As executive director of Leadership Niagara, Malcolm led the organization through a governance reform and spearheaded the incorporation of the organization as a not-for-profit after 10 years of existence. He is recognized as a community leader and often tapped to contribute the emerging generation’s perspective on local community issues at municipal and regional levels.



Darl Crick

Executive vice president of Technology, CrossView Inc.

Graduated from Computer Programmer, 1995

Darl Crick has more than 20 years of experience in software development and software services. As executive vice president of Technology with CrossView Inc., he plays a pivotal role in defining the strategy and direction of technology-based products and services. His advanced skill set in technical business development, strategic decision-making and collaborating with Fortune 500 executive stakeholders has culminated in lucrative and dramatic business growth. Over the years, Crick has been able to apply his strong technical background to produce patents that are utilized in today’s software industry.


Nominees will be celebrated, and the winners will be announced at a gala event in Toronto on  November 26 as part of the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit. For more details about the awards visit

-Info submitted by Development and Alumni Relations


Niagara College prof, grad Christopher Bessette wins Best Director award

2012 film Trade of Innocents makes a comeback at CIFF

Niagara-based writer / director Christopher Bessette doesn’t only reach for the stars, he shines among them.

The Niagara College Broadcasting graduate and current part-time faculty member was among the star-studded nominees and winners at the second annual Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival (CIFF) held September 14-16 in Toronto – including Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Dennis Quaid and Mira Sorvino. Bessette attended CIFF with multiple award nominations for his 2012 film Trade of Innocents, and walked away with the Best Director award, while cast member Sorvino also won Best Lead Actress for her role in the film.

Trade of Innocents — which raises awareness of child exploitation through human trafficking – was selected one of the featured films at CIFF and Bessette was invited to participate in a film festival panel alongside Oscar winner Roger Christian (Star Wars) and other industry experts.

CIFF festival co-founders and co-directors Jason Barbeck and Rafael Kalamat noted that Bessette was a great asset  to CIFF 2018, and that Trade of Innocents was very well received and is creating a lot of awareness. The film’s presence at the festival, they noted, attracted the attention of two foundations dedicated to the cause – Ratanak and Mighty Oaks.

“Rafael Kalamat and myself felt very strongly that this film was important to our festival and needed to shed light on the subject matter,” said Barbeck.  “Christopher’s insight and presence inspired filmmakers and gave his film a new life. As a result, he has made waves from Toronto all the way to Hollywood with social media.”

In addition to Bessette’s and Sorvino’s nominations, Trade of Innocents was nominated for Best Picture (which was won by Lions Gate/Mission Pictures feature I Can Only Imagine), and cast member Trieu Tran was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role (that award was won by Liotta for The Identical).

“This is remarkable and unprecedented,” said Bessette. “Our film had never really seen a release and when I was first contacted by the festival directors that it fit under their Revival qualifications and they suggested I should submit it – suddenly we are nominated, with some very recent big, high-grossing films.”

Bessette said he is grateful for the profile the recent awards have brought to Trade of Innocents, which he wrote and directed. “So many people put in such hard work into this film with passion because the topic deals with human trafficking and the child sex trade that it is too important to go unseen,” he said.

In addition to raising awareness about human trafficking, the film itself became an instrument for saving lives. At one of its only public screenings in Canada, it raised $43,000 in one night to rescue girls from the human traffic trade.

Since he graduated from Niagara College in 1984, the long-time Thorold resident has built a career as a multiple-award-winning filmmaker, motion picture writer/director/producer. His international career in the television and film industry has led him across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, as well as to Central America, Russia and Southeast Asia. In addition to Trade of Innocents (2012), his feature films include and The Enemy God (2008) which he directed, that spans 50 years of an Amazonian tribe. He wrote directed and produced the documentary Niagara: Thunder of the Waters (2016). His novel The Mythamohre was published in 2013.

Bessette has won two previous Best Director awards and 10 Best Picture Awards and his work has been seen on screens around the world. In 2012, he was nominated by Niagara College for a Premier’s Award in Creative Arts and Design.

Since 2013, he been passing on his valuable skills and experience to the next generation of film and television industry professionals at Niagara College as a part-time faculty member. He currently teaches two courses: Dramatic Scriptwriting, and Directing for the Screen.

Bessette often tells his students, “Hey, I am just a local guy that went to film school at NC. I had no idea that I would travel in this career throughout Europe into Russia, the deep forbidden zones of the Amazon jungle and into South East Asia.”

“I wrote and directed a movie working with an Academy-Award-winning actress and worked in Hollywood,” he said. “I had no idea any of that would happen when I look back at my 20-year-old self at film school. I was just following my passion.”

For info visit his website at  For information about the Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival (CIFF) visit

NC grad Ryan Grande named new resort manager for Hotels Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica

Luxury Travel Advisor featured an article about NC grad Ryan Grande, who has been appointed as resort manager of  Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In his new role, Grande will lead the resort’s guest experience and oversee day-to-day operations.

Grande graduated in Hospitality Management from Niagara College in 2005.

View the article, posted September 7, here.

Q&A with Andrew Miele, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Hotel Business magazine shines the spotlight on Niagara College grad Andrew Miele, who is director of development, Americas, for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Based in Miami, he is responsible for growing and strengthening the company’s portfolio of hotels and resorts across the region. 

Miele has worked for the Four Seasons his entire career, since he graduated from Niagara College. He was a member of the first graduating class of the College’s Bachelor of Applied Business – Hospitality Operations Management program in 2007. In June 2015, he returned to the College as a spring convocation speaker where he received a Distinguished Alumni Award.

View the article posted by Hotel Business magazine here.

Film festival spotlight shines on NC grad, prof Christopher Bessette

Trade of Innocents nominated for Best Picture

Writer/ director Christopher Bessette has a new reason to believe in second chances, with several new award nominations announced for his 2012 film Trade of Innocents.

The film – which raises awareness of child exploitation through human trafficking, starring  Academy Award-winning actor Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney – has been nominated for Best Picture at the  Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival (CIFF), which will take place in Toronto between September 14 and 16 – and that’s not all. Bessette, who is a Broadcasting graduate of Niagara College as well as a current part-time faculty member, has been nominated for Best Director for the film. Two cast members have also earned nomination for roles in the film, including Mira Sorvino (Best Lead Actress) and Trieu Tran (Best Supporting Actor).

Bessette will also take the stage as part of a festival panel discussion, along with Star Wars Academy Award winner Roger Christian, producer Cindy Bond of Mission Pictures International, TV executive Isaac Hernandez of UpLiftTV/Parables, producer and film historian Paul Burford, and screenwriter John Patus of Left Behind.

Christopher Bessette (photo by Robert Nowell)

The film’s resurgence at the festival came as a surprise to Bessette, who has built up a career as a multiple-award winning filmmaker, motion picture writer/director/producer, and author since graduating from NC’s Broadcasting program in 1984, and has been a part-time faculty member at the College since 2013.

“I am not entirely sure why this happened after all these years but I am grateful because of the subject the movie represents and all of the passion and hard work every single crew and cast member poured into it,” said Bessette.

“I am excited about the nomination. The significance is slowly setting in,” he said. “There are a lot of great new films at the festival and we are in the mix. It is extraordinary.”

Trade of Innocents has won awards in the past. Bessette received Best Director and Best Drama award for the film at the 2012 Breckenridge film Festival in Colorado and the film was the focus of a symposium on human trafficking at Yale University.

Besides raising awareness about human trafficking, the film which has itself become an instrument to save lives. At one of the only public screenings in Canada, it raised $43,000 to rescue girls from human traffic trade in one night. “800 people showed up and the organization that promoted it was hoping to raise $12,000 to rescue 10 girls from the human traffic trade,” he said. “What do you think happened? $43K was donated in one night!  Money kept rolling in and by the end of the month a total of $76,000 was received.”

The festival is “a wonderful way to see the movie on the big screen,” he noted.

Trade of Innocents plays at the festival on September 15 at 4 p.m. Bessette is scheduled for a Q& A following the movie. On September 16 at 2 p.m., he will participate in the industry panel. For tickets visit

The second annual Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival (CIFF) takes place at Innis College, University of Toronto September 14-16 and is making its mark with an over the top group of nominated films from around the world. Visit

About Bessette

Bessette grew up in Thorold on his family’s 200-acre farm where he currently resides today. He first became interested in a career in the film industry while he was a Broadcasting student at Niagara College during the early 1980s. Since his College graduation, Bessette built an international career in the television and film industry which has led him cross Canada, the U.S.and Europe, as well to Central America, Russia and Southeast Asia.

In addition to Trade of Innocents (2012) which he directed and wrote, his feature films include and The Enemy God (2008) which he directed, that spans 50 years of an Amazonian tribe. He also wrote, directed and produced the documentary Niagara: Thunder of the Waters (2016). His novel The Mythamohre was published in 2013.

Bessette has won two Best Director awards and 10 Best Picture Awards and his work has been seen on screens around the world. In 2012, he was nominated by Niagara College for a Premier’s Award in Creative Arts and Design.

Bessette has been passing on his valuable skills and experience to the next generation of film and television industry professionals at Niagara College since 2013. He currently teaches two courses: Dramatic Scriptwriting, and Directing for the Screen.

For info visit his website at

Related articles

Prof Christopher Bessette’s new doc to air Dec. 7 (December 2016)

March grad spotlight: Filmmaker, author Christopher Bessette (March 2014)

Chapters to host Bessette book-signing event Jan. 25 (January 2014)

Niagara College nominates five outstanding alumni for Premier’s Awards (November 2012)

Environmental Management grad takes on sustainability role for Canada Summer Games

Athletics and sustainability. For Jenny MacKnight, these her two passions.

When the recent Niagara College graduate scored a job as a sustainability assistant coordinator for the 2021 Canada Summer Games, it was not only the perfect combination of the two, it was a dream come true.

“As soon as I read the application, I knew it was exactly the type of job I wanted to have,” she said.

MacKnight, who graduated from NC’s Environmental Management and Assessment graduate certificate program in June 2018, currently works as part of a small team that is busy planning and preparing for the 2021 Canada Summer Games which will be held in the Niagara region.

MacKnight is the only sustainability coordinator in the group, and works with the rest of the team out of a downtown St. Catharines office to incorporate sustainability into the business plan for the 2021 Games. While her focus is sustainability, she is also taking on other tasks, such as researching and creating a base for sports in the Niagara region, and creating a master list of sports teams, associations, and contacts in the region.

“I love working with my workmates. They bring such unique things to the table,” she said.

While she currently resides in St. Catharines, she has travelled a long way from her hometown. MacKnight grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. Since the age of three, she has had a passion for sports, both as a fan and as an athlete, particularly when it comes to hockey.

It was a hockey scholarship that drew MacKnight to Ontario after high school. She attended University of Windsor and played hockey for the University of Windsor Lancers. She was named by the Ontario University Women’s Hockey Player of the Year, announced by Ontario University Athletics (2014) when she was also second overall in Canada.  As part of Team Canada 2015 Universiade, MacKnight represented the team in Spain at the FISU Winter Games where they won a silver medal.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies with a focus on resource management and minor in political science in June 2015, MacKnight returned to Saskatchewan where she worked as a conservation officer for the government of Saskatchewan at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

A year ago, MacKnight returned to Ontario – this time to the Niagara region – specifically to attend Niagara College’s Environmental Management and Assessment program. She was drawn to the postgraduate program after hearing about it from her friends who graduated the previous year. While she didn’t know exactly which career direction her studies would lead her in, she chose NC due to the program’s reputation for offering real-world experience and producing graduates with skills in-demand by employers.

“It’s basically a one-year boot camp,” she said. “You get experiential learning and get back into the workforce with more knowledge and direction.”

One of the highlights for her, as a student, was an opportunity to work an internship with Hornblower Niagara Cruises. From January to April 2018, she worked as Hornblower’s sustainability specialist intern, where she put together a sustainability report for the company. She valued the experience she gained, working with graphic designers to put together an informative and visual report showcasing its environmental and socially conscious initiatives, as well as making internal recommendations to the company.

In early May, after completing her studies at the College, she was hired by the Canada Summer Games.

One of the highlights of her job for the Summer Games so far has been working with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) at its tournament in St. Catharines. MacKnight filled in wherever she was needed – from event management to transportation. It was her first taste behind the scenes at an official sporting event, which proved to be an eye-opener for MacKnight. As an athlete, she had never given much thought to the sustainability or logistics side of a sporting event. Now, it’s become her new mission.

“As a hockey player in tournaments, I just thought the bus will show up when it shows up,” she said. “But when you’re working transportation you have two buses and 10 teams, and you really have to manage it with a lot of multitasking.”

The experience she gained with FIBA will prove helpful in planning for the Canada Summer Games, which will take place at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines as well as more than 16 other locations across the region.

Working to build a sustainability and business plan for the games in 2021, MacKnight will be submitting recommendations on how to make the events and venues more sustainable. She has been visiting different potential venues as well as looking into where capital infrastructure will be built to make recommendations and incorporate concepts that will make it more sustainable. For example, one of the initiatives she is working on is to make recommendations for the Royal Canadian Henley rowing centre, in the hopes of establishing a net positive facility, meaning it will produce more energy than it will consume.

MacKnight believes that her background as an athlete makes her stronger in her current role, since she is able to view the events from an athlete’s perspective. She also believes her athletic background equips her with skills that benefit her in the workforce in general.

“I think being part of a team has helped me work in groups and develop skills such as public speaking,” she said.

As she revs up for 2021, MacKnight is grateful that her NC education has equipped her with the experience she needs to succeed in her current role – one that is proving to be a perfect fit for her combination of skills and interests.

“It’s all because of the experience I gained in my NC program,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten this job without it.”


Related articles

Niagara College joins community to welcome Canada Summer Games in 2021 to Niagara

Cheer on Niagara’s bid for Canada Summer Games at Livestream Viewing Party March 30

Niagara College supports Niagara’s bid to host Canada Summer Games


Bursaries help grow dreams

While college simply wasn’t an option for Sulmira Marroquin Menendez for most of her life, she is now a proud graduate who has gone the distance to make her dreams come true.

Her new life in Canada and her Niagara College education have opened doors to new possibilities that she never could have imagined growing up in Guatemala. Even as a child, education took a back seat to the necessity of working for survival. At the age of six, her father died, leaving her and her siblings to live with her grandmother “At that time, her priority was to have us working in order to have something to eat, and we didn’t have the time and money to study full-time,” she recalled.

After completing high school, Menendez moved to a more populated area to find work. There, she met her husband and their first son was born. Violence led her and her husband to flee the country in 2008 with their young son, seeking a safer place to raise their family. They spent a few years in New York, before they arrived in Canada as refugees in 2011 and began a new life in St. Catharines.

To help her adjust to her new life in Canada, she enrolled in Niagara College to study English as a Second Language, and completed the program in spring 2014. “We feel very thankful for all the opportunities that Canada and Niagara College gave to us,” she said. “The impact on the quality of our lives is immeasurable.”

Menendez worked as a custodian and several odd jobs before landing work as a general labourer at a Niagara-on-the-Lake greenhouse. While learning more about hydroponics, she became interested in pursuing her education in the field of horticulture.

“Because I grew up on a farm, I always wanted to study about plants,” she said. In January 2017, Menendez made the decision to go back to school. She returned to Niagara College as a Horticultural Technician student, while continuing to work part-time.

It was a challenging move for the mother of three, who was already dividing her time between household and parenting duties and her job. But Menendez knew that the College’s two-year Horticultural Technician diploma program would equip her with the tools she needed to succeed in her chosen field – and more. “It boosted my self-esteem,” she said. “I have more confidence knowing that I can do my job properly.”

College life also opened the door to unexpected opportunities. Earlier this year, she participated in an International Field Studies trip to the Dominican Republic – one of several short-term study offerings from Niagara College’s signature Be World Ready program, which is supported by travel bursaries funded by donors to the College.

While in Los Cacaos, students engage in activities related to fair-trade coffee production, greenhouse production, and environmentally sustainable growing methods, as well as interact with the community in cultural exchanges.

It proved to be an enriching experience for Menendez, who was interested in travelling to a Spanish-speaking country and putting the skills she learned in the classroom into practice. One of the highlights, for Menendez, was visiting an elementary school where she shared her experiences with the children.

“It was a very emotional morning. It reminded me of my childhood,” she said. “I really hope those kids get an opportunity to grow their potential and become successful in life.”

Seeing the children with very limited resources gave Menendez extra motivation to succeed her chosen career. She began to see that her dedication to her studies was paying off with good marks, and she was thankful for the support she had from faculty and her fellow students,

For Menendez, participating in the trip was only made possible through the generosity of donors, and she is grateful for the valuable opportunity.

“Without the travel bursary I couldn’t afford it. The bursary meant the difference between going or not going,” she said.

Today, Menendez – who is now 31 – marks two dreams fulfilled: becoming a college graduate, and becoming a supervisor. She graduated from the College’s Horticultural Technician program in June 2018 and has become a supervisor in charge of pest control at St. David’s Hydroponics.

“It started out as a dream,” she said, as she reflected on her journey over the past few years, “and has now become a reality.”


–  This scholarship write-up appeared as an advertisement in Niagara’s Metroland newspapers on July 28.