Habitat for Humanity’s Mark Carl is building a stronger Niagara

If his alma mater hadn’t accommodated his learning disability and convinced him to not drop out of college, Mark Carl wouldn’t be a nominee for a 2023 Premier’s Award. Instead, he’d be one of the clients he helps.

“My professors knew I understood the coursework and had what it takes to complete the assignments,” Carl said. “But I didn’t, and it was a real struggle for me. It wasn’t until they encouraged me to talk to a Learning Resources counselor to arrange academic accommodations that I decided to stay and obtain my diploma.”

Carl, who’s been nominated for a Premier’s Award in the Community Services category, not only went on to graduate from NC’s Business Administration – Marketing program in 1997, he also received a post-graduate certificate in International Trade the same year.

Today, Carl is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Niagara and leads a team of 300 staff and volunteers who annually fundraise $940,000 to ensure low-income families have safe, secure and affordable homes.

He also oversees three retail ReStores, where new and gently used home improvement items are sold to help contribute to operating costs.

He credits his college-obtained business and strategic planning skills for preparing him for his leadership roles, and for rescuing not one, but two of his employers from financial deficits and putting them into surpluses.

During his six years as Executive Director of the Hope Centre in Welland, Carl restored the emergency homeless shelter’s financial situation through partnerships and donations of $1 million, then heeded the community’s call to transition it into a full-fledged social service hub.

He grew the facility from 4,000 to 16,000 square feet to accommodate seven additional agencies, including a Soup Kitchen (that now serves 8,000 meals annually), Food Bank (that feeds 15,800 annually), Psychotherapy and Additions Counseling (for up to 70 clients, up from 20), Housing Stability programs, and many other support services.

He furthermore secured $3 million through corporate partnerships for an additional 20-unit social housing building, and his team is on track to build more affordable homes than ever: five by the end of 2023, and a total of 30 by 2028. Because of this, 150 individuals in 30 families will escape housing insecurity by qualifying for mortgages that charge only 30 per cent of their income.

This significant increase in construction is made possible through Carl’s prudent business and strategic planning that elevated Habitat Niagara out of a deficit and into a surplus. His team’s four-year fundraising goal is $10 million; $4 million has already been secured.

His time at Niagara College also inspired Carl’s political career. It was a way to tangibly give back to his community by finding collaborative and collective solutions to complex social problems.

Having witnessed firsthand how lived traumatic experiences–often from childhood–trap individuals into cycles of socioeconomic strain, Carl spent much of his 2010-2018 tenure as a Welland city councillor using his collective problem-solving approach to compel community partners, local charities, multi-tiered governments, regional colleges and universities, investors, donors and developers to help solve the multifaceted aspects of homelessness, such as mental illness and opioid addiction.

He served as a board member of the North Welland Business Improvement Area and co-chairperson of Safe Communities Welland, where he worked with residents to make the city the safest place to live, work and play. Carl also helped create the Town & Gown Committee to develop and enhance relationships, communications, and policies among the local college, its students, the City, police, and the community.

In 2018, Carl helped secure $8 million in federal funding for two Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board projects, which provide skills and job training to 150 Indigenous youth.

The empathy of his professors at Niagara College inspired him to persevere through the disadvantages of his disability and dedicate his career to philanthropic organizations, and it was NC’s wholistic approach to accommodating his unique learning needs that motivated Carl to get involved locally to help communally revamp social and affordable housing.

And Carl is giving back to Niagara College, too.

Over the last five years, he has been a strong supporter of the College’s Community Integration through Cooperative Education (CICE) program, which enhances employability for students with disabilities.

To date, 20 college-aged students with significant learning challenges have completed their field placements at Habitat ReStore locations throughout Niagara.

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

John Zabakkides has harnessed the power of his NC education

John Zambakkides’ 50-plus-year career is a mosaic of many firsts in the high-tech electronics industry, not the least of which was becoming the first Field Application Engineer in Canada for Fairchild Semiconductor before the age of 30.

The Power Engineering grad (Class of 1972) quickly progressed from Manager to District Manager and then to Manager for Canada, working on special designs and technology programs with Northern Telecom/Bell Northern Research, CDC, Admahl Computers, Mitel and more leading Canadian technology and communications companies.

It was nothing like the career as a pilot he had envisioned in his youth. His engineering mind and technical talents were fascinated by aerodynamics. But his family was worried about his safety and persuaded him to try the Electronics Engineering Technology program instead.
He never looked back.

Decades later, Zambakkides’ talents and contributions to the engineering technology industry have earned him recognition as a leader in energy management and conservation, and a nomination for a Premier’s Award for Technology. And it’s his Niagara College education that he credits for more than half a century of success.

“I really found my calling in college,” he said, recalling how nurtured he felt as his skills multiplied.
He said Niagara College gave him the knowledge and confidence boost he needed to head out into the workforce and land the very first job he ever applied for.

“Unquestionably, my program charted the course of my life,” he said. “I learned everything I needed to know to be successful, and then everything else was just icing on the cake.”

By the time he turned 31, Zambakkides was managing two companies–Fairchild and National Semiconductor–that were collectively generating $70 million in business. He was encouraged to move to Silicon Valley to work at Fairchild’s headquarters and maintain his career’s momentum. Instead, he chose to stay close to home and joined V3 Semiconductor in Scarborough, a 10-year-old basement operation without much progress.

With Zanbakkides’ fresh approach as President and CEO, V3 Semiconductor went on to become one of the industry’s leading companies, trading on the NASDAQ at $40 per share USD at its height.

When V3 got caught in a downturn during the 2000 dot.com bubble burst, Zambakkides sold the company to join Goal Semiconductor as Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, then propelled to Director of the Americas when Goal Semiconductor merged with Ramtron International. In just two years, he brought in the company’s largest customer

In 2012, sensing yet another change in market trends and needs, Zambakkides regrouped with some other tech veterans and started Z3 Controls Inc. with a mandate to conserve energy, save money and reduce the carbon footprint.

Today, Z3 Controls designs, manufactures, markets and sells energy monitoring tools that are affordable, easy-to-use and provide real-time information using nothing more than an Ethernet cable. The company has developed a diverse network of partners and clients spanning Canada’s Wonderland, GM, Colliers International, City of Toronto, City of Markham and York Region.

Z3 also fosters close relationships with the Ontario Power Authority, and utility companies, such as Toronto Hydro, Hydro One, PowerStream, Enersource, Horizon Utilities, Enbridge, and others throughout Ontario and Canada.

Zambakkides has used his innovations to better his community by partnering with York Region at the Forest Stewardship and Education Centre in Ballantrae, Ontario, to achieve both Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum and the more stringent Building Living Challenge certification. This was the eighth building on earth that undertook this endeavor. The outcome to this day is Net-Zero energy and water.

Zambakkides’ legacy further extends to today’s brightest college and university engineering graduates, 50 of whom have directly benefited from his mentorship and leadership.

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

Support Nourishing Minds on Giving Tuesday

Double your impact on Nov. 28 

The NC community has a chance to support students in need on Giving Tuesday.

Held on November 28, Giving Tuesday is the world’s largest generosity movement that encourages people to do good and celebrate giving.

At Niagara College, Giving Tuesday focuses on supporting students. Over the past three years, the NC community has collectively contributed more than $30,000 on Giving Tuesday to the Nourishing Minds fund.

This year, the first $10,000 donated to the Nourishing Minds fund on Giving Tuesday  will be matched by an anonymous community partner giving donors a chance to double their impact!

“Every student deserves to have a warm meal and basic essentials at the end of the day, and with support from our generous NC community, we can address food insecurity across our Niagara College campuses with confidence and resilience,” said Emily O’Connor, Development Officer.

On November 28, NC aims to raise more than $12,000 which will purchase 240 gift cards and help 240 students through Nourishing Minds. Since its inception, Nourishing Minds has issued over 8,200 grocery gift cards allowing students to purchase food, toiletries and other life essentials.  In addition to gift cards, NCSAC also hosts the Rise & Shine program on both campuses on Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s, to provide breakfast items like yogurt, granola bars and juice to students on their way to class.


For info or to donate visit:


This NC alumna is helping reshape NY State health care

Crossing the Niagara College graduation stage in 1989 with her Health Sciences diploma, Dorothy Urschel just wanted a career in which she could help improve as many lives as possible.

She got her wish, and much more.

Today the president and CEO of a major New York State health care system, Urschel’s resumé has enough achievements for three people:

• after graduating from Niagara, she earned five more diplomas and degrees, including two Master’s degrees and a PhD in Nursing;
• an exhaustive list of awards–to her personally and also to institutions while she was their leader;
• invitations to be guest speaker at medical conferences from New York to Chicago to San Antonio and beyond;
• helping smaller communities get better health care;
• inspired her own exhausted colleagues to somehow accommodate overflow patients from New York City so that its hospitals swamped with COVID patients could remain operational.

Her remarkable journey was launched with a Health Sciences education at Niagara College, something Urschel recalls fondly.

“My experience at Niagara College was great,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “I was at the start of my journey, not knowing where I was going to go. Niagara opened up possibilities, opened up the world.”

Urschel’s trajectory began as a critical care nurse at Buffalo’s renowned Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She embraced the clinical role, but realized she was also intrigued by the administrative challenges of health care. Veering her path, Urschel moved to another Buffalo health institution for a job recruiting nurse practitioners. She was soon doing the same for a second clinic, simultaneously. She was also teaching the same discipline at a nearby university.

Urschel’s energy and commitment were noticed. In 2007, Albany (NY) Memorial Hospital recruited her to be VP Operations/Chief Nursing Officer. Among other achievements, Urschel led a successful campaign to update the hospital’s facilities, enabling it to give its community advanced services in cardiology, cardiac surgery and vascular surgery. During this period Urschel also found time to earn a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

In 2019, after obtaining yet another major degree–her Doctorate of Nursing–Urschel was hired to become Chief Operating Officer for Columbia Memorial Health System in upstate New York. Her role was to advance patient care in dozens of facilities across three largely rural counties. Three months into the new job, the global pandemic turned her world on its head.

“This was by far the most difficult situation I’ve had to deal with,” Urschel said. “We went week after week without a break. I tried to remind people that we have to take care of each other. Our employees needed us, our colleagues needed our support.

“We were starting to see patients coming from New York City because hospitals there were overloaded. People were being dropped off in taxis, so sick they would get out of the cab and pass out as we brought them into the hospital.”

While struggling to keep their own facilities functional, Urschel inspired exhausted colleagues to provide overflow beds for COVID patients so that the desperate hospitals in NYC–more than 100 miles away–could remain open.

After her extraordinary dedication and tireless leadership through the pandemic, Columbia Memorial Health in 2022 made Urschel its President & CEO.

Despite the demands from her own primary roles across the medical services spectrum, Urschel has never lost the sense of obligation to help train the next generation of health care professionals. Despite holding senior leadership roles at large health care organizations, she has made time throughout her career to teach in nurse practitioner and other programs at numerous colleges and universities.

Urschel has gone from studying at Niagara College to excelling in some of the most senior roles in New York State health care.

When she received the 2017 Resourceful Woman Award from the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region in Albany, the citation lauded Urschel’s dedication to educating women about the risk of heart disease, as well as addressing the disparity between racial and socioeconomic differences in heart health.

Urschel has done research, conducted clinical trials, published papers in academic journals, served on hospital boards and committees, all while pushing herself to contribute all she can to health and wellbeing.

“If my career ended tomorrow, I’d be happy in knowing that I’ve been able to do all the things I wanted to try,” she said. “I’ve always told my own students what I was taught at college: You can do anything that you want to pursue.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

Ofield went the extra mile to ensure the family business thrived

Jason Ofield–one of Canada’s next-gen retail leaders–is quick to tell you that studying Business at Niagara College was a big factor in fueling his future career success.

But before he set foot on any campus, Ofield had other aspirations: The talented junior hockey player dreamed of becoming a pro–until the time, at a hockey camp for young prospects, NHL superstar Erik Lindros walked into the room. He remembers the moment well.

“When he sat down, the whole bench moved,” Ofield says. “These guys were so big, so incredibly good. I weighed 150 pounds soaking wet. By the end of the week, I knew the dream was over.”

Ofield set his sights on a career with Bulk Barn Foods Ltd, the grocery chain his grandfather started from a single store more than 40 years ago.

To develop his business skills, Ofield enrolled in Niagara College’s Business, Sales & Marketing program. Nights and weekends he worked at a local Bulk Barn store, learning front-line operations in real time. But in class he soaked up everything from strategic planning to consumer behaviour and new venture development.

“Niagara fosters a very specific culture with students, a culture in which you feel comfortable, that allows you to thrive, feel you’re part of something,” says Ofield, whose diploma now hangs proudly in his office. “I knew instantly this was going to be the start of something big for me.”

After graduating in 2006, Ofield spent the next decade working in every department of the company, analyzing processes, meeting employees, absorbing the business plan, and scrutinizing the logistics in stores where customers scoop their own bulk foods from aisles lined with bins and containers.

By 2015 he led a rebranding project to raise Bulk Barn’s appeal and relevance for a broader scope of demographics in a fast-changing, competitive market.

Whatever file he was working on at any time, Ofield knew he had to go the extra mile.

“I needed to show that I deserved to have my job,” he says. “As someone who was third-generation in the family business, I didn’t want people thinking I was there just because I had the name.”

Ofield’s business and leadership skills grew. In 2018, he was appointed President and CEO. Then within 18 months, the entire retail sector got hammered by a stunning crisis that nobody saw coming.

When COVID-19 swept the world in 2020, lockdowns meant that streets were abruptly empty, stores went dark, and commerce was devastated. Canadian retail sales suffered their biggest collapse ever.

Bulk Barns are self-serve operations where shoppers touch the same scoops to serve themselves. With people terrified about contracting the new virus, that business model couldn’t continue. Suddenly the livelihoods of thousands of employees and 275 stores were in jeopardy.

“That was the toughest part, for myself as a leader and for the Bulk Barn brand,” Ofield says. “We didn’t have a pandemic guidebook to turn to, but closing our doors was not an option. Our stores always operated on the self-serve model. Within two weeks of COVID-19 arriving, we realized that we needed to quickly pivot away from that model and figure out another solution.”

Ofield and his team worked 24/7. Within a week, Bulk Barn had online ordering and curbside service up and running, as well as safe in-store shopping. Staff members would be assigned to accompany shoppers and scoop product into their bags. Everyone stayed masked and distanced to protect customers and staff alike.

There were hiccups: It was costly to operate and employees had to learn on the run. But it worked. It saved Bulk Barn and the jobs that supported thousands of Canadian households.

Ofield also credits Niagara College for inspiring the idea behind what he calls “his proudest moment”: launching a reusable container program that empowers shoppers to help protect the environment just by getting their groceries.

As a millennial concerned about the environment, Ofield established “Bring your own container @Bulkbarn”–an initiative where customers can use their own clean reusable containers.

Initially the concept encountered pushback from store managers and others within the company, who worried about hygiene and logistical challenges. But there was also support for the nature of the effort, and Ofield got to work finding solutions for every potential obstacle that was raised.

In 2017, Bulk Barn rolled out the Canadian grocery industry’s first reusable container program. It slowly gained momentum, especially resonating with younger customers who are more passionate about sustainability.

Today more than a million waste-free transactions take place in Bulk Barn stores across Canada every year.

“We empowered consumers to make a difference,” Ofield says with pride, “and they got onside.

“It takes many people to make it work, but its impact continues to grow, and it’s an important impact.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

Nothing could stop Jessica Garrett’s invincible will to succeed

When she was a college student, Jessica Garrett suffered the kind of vicious trauma that would crush the spirit of most people: domestic abuse that left her in a wheelchair.

Jessica isn’t most people. She refused to let anything keep her from her goal of having a career in the construction industry, and today when she’s not at work, she’s helping other young women overcome their challenges.

As a youth, Jessica was always fascinated by construction. Despite a high school guidance counsellor trying to advise her against it as a career, in Grade 12 she helped a team that was building a home for Habitat for Humanity. After that there was no doubt about what she wanted to do.

Jessica enrolled in Niagara College’s one-year Construction Trades Program to explore possibilities in the field, then took NC’s three-year Construction Engineering Technology studies, where she flourished.

Jessica’s strengths were noticed by many. She not only won the College’s first-ever Women in Construction Award, she also won the Niagara Scholar Award, StuCor Construction Ltd. Technical Report Award, the Hans Miethig Founder Award and the Niagara Construction Association Award.

For all of the successes, life has been anything but easy. On job sites during high school work terms she’d get sexist teasing from male classmates (“Hey, go get us a sandwich”) until teachers began to notice that the precision of her work was better than any of the boys’.

During college, having lived on her own since age 18, she was under such financial pressures that she had to work two jobs to pay her tuition.

Jessica’s most harrowing challenge was in first year, when an abusive relationship left her battered and distressed. For months she needed a wheelchair, then a cane and knee braces. She underwent therapy but kept up her studies, kept working part-time to survive. She never gave up.

Before she even graduated in 2019, an engineering company offered Jessica a full-time position as a technologist, helping generate drawings for highways, bridges and other major infrastructure.

Then she was hired by the City of Niagara Falls, where today she is a development technologist. Her role is to review engineering submissions and planning proposals for multi-million-dollar subdivisions and condominium projects.

Jessica says Niagara College helped her understand the strengths of her own critical thinking and how to make the most of it, by learning skills as diverse as computer-assisted drawing, architectural principles or how to calculate cost estimates for projects.

“The teachers inspired me,” says the soft-spoken Niagara alumna. “I know they had been successful in their careers before they came to teach, and I could tell how much they cared about their work.”

Jessica felt accepted and supported at the College. That encouragement and her own unbreakable determination kept her focused on succeeding.

“The guidance of college faculty and my passion for the field has helped me immensely. With the skills and opportunities that college provided, I was so thrilled to be able to go out there and get a career.”

After graduating from Niagara, she continued to serve as a tutor for three terms. Jessica still makes it a priority to support and encourage girls and young women across the community. She is a youth group leader at her church, and a motivational speaker the Niagara District School Board and other organizations. She enjoys working with youth in Grades 6 through 12, offering encouragement and strength as they deal with their own challenges.

Jessica is also chair of the local chapter of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT), with a personal focus on providing student outreach.

“Everyone has their own struggles. I was excited to be able to tutor, try and make a difference in students’ lives. I remember how nervous you are, regardless of age or experience, with getting that first job.

“I overcame a lot during my time at college, recovering from physical limitations and going through therapy. Part of the challenge was keeping up the course work and getting the best grades I could. I’m proud of that.

“The key to personal success is believing you can do whatever you put your mind to.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

This NC alumna is the driving force behind Chrysler’s auto training

For more than 15 years, Christine White has not only exceled as a leader in the automotive sector, she’s revolutionized how Chrysler technicians across the United States stay on top of the cutting-edge knowledge that’s vital in one of the world’s most competitive markets.

White, who’s been nominated for a 2023 Premier’s Award in the Apprenticeship category, graduated from Niagara College in 2006 with her Automotive Qualifications Certificate, and has gone on to become the lead technical training instructor for Stellantis, the Dutch-based parent company of Chrysler.

It was a career path that fit perfectly with White’s fascination with cars. While in high school, she attended a Niagara College open house and was drawn to the automotive apprenticeship program. Three years and 9,000 hours of apprenticeship work later, she achieved her certificate and also passed her Red Seal certification–an internationally recognized credential that set her apart from others when she moved to the U.S. several years later.

White left NC and began a career that grew steadily as she applied her knowledge at ever-larger Canadian and U.S. car dealerships.

In 2019, she was recruited by Stellantis to oversee operations at its New York City-area training centre and coordinate training seminars for 1,200 technicians across the New York City area and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.

Then COVID-19 brought in-person teaching at the training center to a halt, despite dealerships still urgently needing training support for servicing new models.
“It’s amazing how much the technology and makeup of cars has changed in 20 years,” White said. “There are more electrical modules in today’s vehicles than in the average house, but we couldn’t teach basic classes in person, and we needed to make training available.”

To offer basic support during lockdown, White recorded a couple of training videos that were accessible online. She had excellent public speaking and photography skills–all self-taught years earlier–and she put them to work to learn how to shoot her own videos.

“I had a leg up because I’d already adapted to videos,” she said. “I knew how to light a camera, ask questions effectively, explain things verbally and visually.”

That training format was supposed to be a temporary solution, but it ultimately transformed how Chrysler keeps its army of staff up with ever-evolving technology.

Today, a library of more than 150 short instructional videos written, illustrated, produced and narrated by White are accessible to 22,000 Chrysler technicians across the U.S.

White says her Niagara College instructors instilled not just knowledge but a passion for excellence. She implores her technicians or students to constantly demand high standards with their skills, too.

“I’m a huge proponent of Colleges Ontario holding people to a national standard,” she says. “I try to share my passion and encourage technicians to take pride in their work. If they take pride in their work, it shows they care, the work gets done right the first time. It makes them feel good, makes the dealership look good, everyone is happy.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

‘Queen of the North’ Mark Suknanan sits on a throne of firsts for the drag community

Mark “Suki” Suknanan has never forgotten his time at Niagara College. In fact, the Broadcasting — Radio, Television, and Film alum, who graduated in 2012, said it’s the time he spent at NC that set him up for success.

“The thing I loved about Niagara College that I’ll say until the day I die is, I love how hands-on the experience was,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was getting up for school. I felt like I was going to work.”

Suknanan, whose first foray into television led to becoming a host and writer for the YTV series The Zone Weekend, was also the first-ever winner of the reality competition series Canada’s Drag Race, competing under his drag name Priyanka.

It was something he wouldn’t even have imagined just six years earlier when he came out as gay to his mother at the age of 23. On his 26th birthday, after hiring a drag queen to help him and his friends celebrate, Suknanan decided he didn’t just want to enjoy such performances. He wanted to do them.

Soon after, Priyanka was born.

“I was already going out and watching drag queens and seeing how free and confident they were,” Suknanan said. “It was being in the audience and feeling like all your problems went away and I wanted to be that person for someone else.”

In the years that followed, Suknanan worked hard to get his alter ego known and it paid off when she was voted Toronto’s best queen in Now’s 2019 reader poll.

Then came the chance to participate in Canada’s Drag Race.

“I knew in my heart my life was going to change,” Suknanan said of the audition.

In addition to the $100,000 prize that came with the crown, the win provided opportunities that would have taken much longer without the exposure provided by performing on national TV.

In 2021, Priyanka was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Web Program or Series for her appearance in Pride Toronto’s online Drag Ball in June 2020, where she performed to Marina and the Diamonds’ single “Power and Control.” Later that year she co-hosted the 2021 Canadian Country Music Awards, where she performed her recently released country music single “Country Queen” during the opening number of the award ceremony.

She was the first drag queen performer to host and perform at a major televised music award show.

That same year, Priyanka was the first drag queen to grace the cover of Elle Magazine–which was the highest selling issue ever.

Of his success over the years, both in and out of drag, Suknanan credits his instructors at Niagara College for their unwavering support and encouragement to chase his dreams. And his advice to others is to put in the work to get to where they want to be.

“You have to work so hard that you give your dreams no chance but to come true,” he said. “You have to work hard. It’s not just going to land in your lap. You have to fight for it.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.

Home of the Knights renamed to celebrate Simplii Financial’s investment in students

A significant commitment to student success at Niagara College was celebrated on November 24 when students, employees and special guests gathered for an event at the Welland Campus to officially mark the renaming of the College’s Athletic Centre.

The new name – the Simplii Financial Athletic Centre – recognizes a generous $1 million sponsorship from Simplii Financial, previously announced in October, to expand recreation and engagement opportunities for students, across sports, extra-curricular programming, and college events.

a group of four people and a mascot stand with a large cheque for one million dollars

A $1 million commitment from Simplii Financial was officially celebrated on Nov. 24 in front of the entrance of the newly named Simplii Financial Athletic Centre at the Welland Campus.
From left: Kam Dhadwar, Managing Director, Simplii Financial; Christian Exshaw, Managing Director and Head, Global Markets & Direct Financial Services, CIBC; NC President Sean Kennedy; NCSAC President Dipal Patel.

Gord Arbeau, NC’s Vice President, Advancement who emceed the event, set the stage for the celebration.

“Over the last decade demand for a Niagara College education has grown not only here in Canada, but around the world,” said Arbeau. “Students from more than 80 countries are now drawn to Niagara each year for their studies, and for many of these students, Simplii Financial has eased their transition into Canada through the financial services that they provide.”

“We’re very pleased that Simplii’s connection to our students has now extended beyond banking and into direct support for activities and events that significantly enhance our students’ experience and their overall success,” he added.

NC President Sean Kennedy applauded Simplii’s partnership, noting how CIBC and Simplii exemplify the College’s commitments to being student-focused, innovative, and trailblazing.

“We are grateful for Simplii’s support that will elevate what we can do for students and look forward to working together to round out the student experience to make it the best that it can be,” said Kennedy.

Christian Exshaw, Managing Director and Head, Global Markets & Direct Financial Services, CIBC and Simplii Financial, spoke about the evolution of the Simplii Financial brand and its strong customer focus, highlighting synergies between Simplii and the College’s commitment to students.

“Thank you for the kindness and partnership,” Exshaw said, addressing members of the NC community. “It’s just the beginning,” he added, referring to a continued partnership with the College in support of the student experience.

“When an investment is made in the betterment of students, it leads to them accomplishing their dreams, achieving their biggest goals, and further growing their pride in their education, and the institution where they studied,” said NC Student Administrative Council President Dipal Patel who also spoke at the event.

NC’s Director, Athletics and Student Engagement Michele O’Keefe sparked applause from the crowd when she shared the excitement around having a new name for the Athletic Centre. “Our team is excited to refer to the gym as the Simplii Financial Athletic Centre, especially when calling Knights games,” she said.

Knights student-athletes Noah Vogel and Jamira Rousseau

Knights student-athletes Jamira Rousseau and Noah Vogel were also welcome guests who spoke about their college experiences.

“Being a varsity athlete can be difficult but with this support from Simplii Financial, it will improve the student athlete experience for our Niagara College varsity athletes to further their skills and become better athletes on the court or field,” said Rousseau, a fourth year student-athlete from the Social Service Worker program who plays on the women’s basketball team.

Vogel, a second-year Broadcasting – Radio, Television and Film student who plays on the men’s soccer team, shared how his love for sport and his program intersect as a varsity athlete and student who has called Knights games and hosted a radio show.

“Simplii’s support will makes these real-life learning experiences even better by funding the latest technology that my fellow students and I will use in the industry after we graduate. It will also enhance our broadcasts of varsity sports and community events,” said Vogel. “On behalf of student athletes at Niagara College, thank you to Simplii Financial for this commitment to help enhance the future of these programs.”

City of Welland Mayor Frank Campion commended Simplii and the College on their partnership, which not only benefits the College, but strengthens the broader community. “The College has great people and great partners who have made the College what it is today,” he said.

Following remarks, guests were treated to an on-campus reception in The Core, featuring a selection of light fare, including a charcuterie display from Chz Plz, owned and operated by NC alumna Marissa Hartley (Culinary Skills, 2015). A custom cake and cookies featuring a banking theme and made by NC bakery and pastry students under the guidance of Professor Catherine O’Donnell, provided a sweet ending to the celebratory event.

“Simplii” supporting students

Simplii Financial’s generous sponsorship will bring NC’s strategic commitment to a wholistic student experience to life by funding exciting new initiatives and activities that significantly enhance the recreational, academic and cultural experiences for students, including:

  • Growing in-demand cricket and flag football offerings;
  • Supporting varsity athletics, and allowing for important equipment investments in NC’s Broadcasting program, supporting its ability to continue and enhance varsity sports broadcasts that are among the best in Canada;
  • And supporting the orientation events that are essential to our students’ success, and celebrations and events that celebrate our college’s rich cultural diversity.

Seven NC Alumni of Excellence honourees earn prestigious Premier’s Award nominations

Collage of 7 headhots.

The CEO of a major retail chain has joined a hospital president, a high-tech veteran, a community non-profit leader, a popular drag queen/pop star, a development technologist, and an automotive technical trainer as part of a select group of distinguished NC alumni to be nominated for prestigious Premier’s Awards.

The group represents the first cohort of Niagara College’s annual Alumni of Excellence honourees. Introduced this year, the annual program recognizes and celebrates the outstanding achievements of a distinct group of NC alumni through a series of on-campus programs and events and is the most significant recognition of NC graduates.

The Alumni of Excellence honourees have also been put forward for provincial recognition, as nominees for Colleges Ontario’s 2023 Premier’s Awards, which celebrate outstanding contributions that college alumni make to Ontario and the world.

Nominations are submitted from each of Ontario’s 24 colleges in seven categories: Apprenticeship, Business, Creative Arts and Design, Community Services, Health Sciences, Technology and Recent Graduate (within five years). NC’s 2023 nominees include:

  • Christine White (Apprenticeship) Lead Technical Trainer, Stellantis N.V. (NC Auto Service Technician grad, 2006);
  • Jason Ofield (Business), President and Chief Executive Officer, Bulk Barn Foods Limited (NC Business, Sales and Marketing grad, 2006);
  • Mark Carl (Community Services) CEO, Habitat for Humanity Niagara (Business Administration – Marketing grad 1997, and International Trade grad, 1997);
  • Mark Suknanan/Priyanka (Creative Arts and Design), Drag Queen, pop star and television personality (NC Broadcasting – Radio Television and Film grad, 2012);
  • Dorothy Urschel (Health Sciences) President and CEO, Columbia Memorial Hospital and Clinical Professor, State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo (Nursing grad, 1991);
  • Jessica Garrett (Recent Graduate) Development Technologist, City of Niagara Falls (NC Carpentry and Renovation Techniques grad, 2015, and Construction Engineering Technology grad, 2019);
  • John Zambakkides (Technology) President and CEO, Z3 Controls Inc. (Power Engineering diploma, 1972).

“From leading health care institutions and building cross-country retail chains, to working tirelessly to solve housing inequities and diversify the skilled trades, NC grads are at the vanguard of making change and leading our communities,” said Gord Arbeau, Niagara College’s Vice President, Advancement. “This cohort of distinguished Alumni of Excellence reflects NC students and graduates who are making the world and our region better places to work and live. They join past generations of alumni impacting our lives today and in the future.”

Colleges Ontario’s 2023 Premier’s Awards will be presented on November 27 at the Sheraton in Toronto. Nominees will be honoured and winners will be announced at an annual gala event, which is part of the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit.

NC alumni who have won previously include:

  • 2022: Journalist Murray Brewster (Broadcasting – Radio, Television and Film grad, 1985), and Founder of Erica’s Embrace, Erica Williams (Social Service Worker grad, 2018);
  • 2014: Royal Canadian Navy Capt. Rebecca Patterson (Nursing grad, 1987);
  • 2012: David Pratt (Greenhouse Technician grad, 2007);
  • 2011: Jerry Howell (Computer Engineering Technology grad, 1988);
  • 2008: Jordan Harris (Winery and Viticulture Technician grad, 2004);
  • 2003: Heather Kilty (Social Welfare Worker grad, 1969);
  • 1995: Carol Alaimo (Journalism-Print grad, 1984).