Lessons in seizing your creative passion with Premier’s Awards nominee Mark Suknanan

A head shot of a man, bright eyed and smiling big at the camera, while below, a photo of his drag persona with full makeup, a long dark wig and chain mail dress appears. The words 2021 Premier's Awards, Mark Suknanan Creative Arts and Design Nominee, Broadcasting - Radio, Television and Film, 2012 appear.

The following story was written by freelance writer Deborah Reid:

Stunning is the word that leaps to mind looking at Priyanka’s sultry pose on the cover of the June 2021 edition of Elle Canada, dressed in a shimmering gown of delicate silver chainmail and crystals. The impact multiplies knowing that beauty has always been inside Mark Suknanan, a 2012 graduate of Niagara College’s Broadcasting – Radio, Television and Film program. It’s obvious, too, in speaking with him that his Guyanese parents did a good job of loving him – he’s human, humble and a whole lot of fun.

Suknanan recalls watching an Oprah interview with RuPaul where she asks the well-known drag personality if there’s a change in character in and out of drag. RuPaul replies, “I am not in drag escaping. In drag, I am myself.”

When Canada’s Drag Race premiered in July 2020, Canadians cheered Priyanka on. During the impossible months of pandemic isolation, she stole hearts, lifted flagging spirits and offered an escape from fear and anxiety. About the audition, Suknanan says, “I knew in my heart my life was going to change.”

That’s not the first time the “Queen of the North” had that feeling either. He can remember in detail when Michael Strachan at “The Zone” asked him to be a correspondent on YTV. A ten-year strong career in children’s television was a solid foundation. He knew how to play to the camera, create storylines and engage with a demanding audience of kids almost daily.

Suknanan’s first dream was to be a Much Music VJ. A couple of “adults” tried to plant seeds of doubt in him about his career path. But he was having none of it. “In the world of show business, people can’t always imagine you in the space,” he said, “so you have to show them.”

Priyanka was the first to win Canada’s Drag Race, but she was also the first queen of Indo-Caribbean descent in the worldwide Drag Race franchise. “One of the reasons I’m so happy to represent the Guyanese community and to be a brown person having success is because I was mostly alone growing up,” said Suknanan.

It was no surprise to his mother or friends when he started doing drag shows in Toronto’s gay village at 26. Now, five years later, he’s headlining Priyanka’s “Taste Test” tour, with shows in Canada and a run in the UK this past summer. There’s a newly released five pop song EP, Cake, with a murder mystery video that Suknanan had a big hand in crafting also.

“There were hard things said to me when I was young about the way I look, and I decided not to take them into consideration, and I decided to work hard and push forward and make all of these things,” he said.

Follow Priyanka on social media, and it’s clear every day is a new adventure. She’s not stopping at being Canada’s favourite drag queen. The world around her is full of wonder and opportunity, and she’s seizing it. This moment, and many beyond it, was made for Priyanka. ‘What’s her name?’

Seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2021 Premier’s Awards. Each week leading up to the awards presentation on November 18, we are sharing stories about our nominees to celebrate their accomplishments. All stories were submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations and written by freelance writer Deborah Reid.

Related article: Meet this year’s NC nominees for Premier’s Awards

Lessons in seizing your creative passion with Premier’s Awards nominee Mark Suknanan

A head shot of a man, bright eyed and smiling big at the camera, while below, a photo of his drag persona with full makeup, a long dark wig and chain mail dress appears. The words 2021 Premier's Awards, Mark Suknanan Creative Arts and Design Nominee, Broadcasting - Radio, Television and Film, 2012 appear.

The following story was written by freelance writer Deborah Reid:

Stunning is the word that leaps to mind looking at Priyanka’s sultry pose on the cover of the June 2021 edition of Elle Canada, dressed in a shimmering gown of delicate silver chainmail and crystals. The impact multiplies knowing that beauty has always been inside Mark Suknanan, a 2012 graduate of Niagara College’s Broadcasting – Radio, Television and Film program. It’s obvious, too, in speaking with him that his Guyanese parents did a good job of loving him – he’s human, humble and a whole lot of fun.

Suknanan recalls watching an Oprah interview with RuPaul where she asks the well-known drag personality if there’s a change in character in and out of drag. RuPaul replies, “I am not in drag escaping. In drag, I am myself.”

When Canada’s Drag Race premiered in July 2020, Canadians cheered Priyanka on. During the impossible months of pandemic isolation, she stole hearts, lifted flagging spirits and offered an escape from fear and anxiety. About the audition, Suknanan says, “I knew in my heart my life was going to change.”

That’s not the first time the “Queen of the North” had that feeling either. He can remember in detail when Michael Strachan at “The Zone” asked him to be a correspondent on YTV. A ten-year strong career in children’s television was a solid foundation. He knew how to play to the camera, create storylines and engage with a demanding audience of kids almost daily.

Suknanan’s first dream was to be a Much Music VJ. A couple of “adults” tried to plant seeds of doubt in him about his career path. But he was having none of it. “In the world of show business, people can’t always imagine you in the space,” he said, “so you have to show them.”

Priyanka was the first to win Canada’s Drag Race, but she was also the first queen of Indo-Caribbean descent in the worldwide Drag Race franchise. “One of the reasons I’m so happy to represent the Guyanese community and to be a brown person having success is because I was mostly alone growing up,” said Suknanan.

It was no surprise to his mother or friends when he started doing drag shows in Toronto’s gay village at 26. Now, five years later, he’s headlining Priyanka’s “Taste Test” tour, with shows in Canada and a run in the UK this past summer. There’s a newly released five pop song EP, Cake, with a murder mystery video that Suknanan had a big hand in crafting also.

“There were hard things said to me when I was young about the way I look, and I decided not to take them into consideration, and I decided to work hard and push forward and make all of these things,” he said.

Follow Priyanka on social media, and it’s clear every day is a new adventure. She’s not stopping at being Canada’s favourite drag queen. The world around her is full of wonder and opportunity, and she’s seizing it. This moment, and many beyond it, was made for Priyanka. ‘What’s her name?’

Seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2021 Premier’s Awards. Each week leading up to the awards presentation on November 18, we are sharing stories about our nominees to celebrate their accomplishments. All stories were submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations and written by freelance writer Deborah Reid.

Related article: Meet this year’s NC nominees for Premier’s Awards

NC helps Bring Back the Brookies, get to root of watershed health

A group of College volunteers and alumni put the ‘NC’ in ‘making a difference’ at a recent community event aimed at environmental sustainability at Twelve Mile Creek.

On the morning of Sunday, October 17, they gathered on a Pelham property to participate in a Bring Back the Brookies initiative. Hosted by the Niagara chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada (TUCN), Bring Back the Brookies is a learning and restoration program focused on preserving and protecting aquatic habitat in Upper Twelve Mile Creek. The education and planting event was one of eight Bring Back the Brookies ‘Days of Action’ planned during the month of October, funded with support from the Great Lakes Local Action Fund.

The event was organized by TUCN Project Coordinator Kerry Kennedy, who is an alumna of NC’s Ecosystem Restoration program (2009) and wife of College president Sean Kennedy. She reached out to the College’s Office of Sustainability for volunteers to participate in the initiative as an opportunity to learn about brook trout as an indicator species of overall watershed health.

“If brook trout can survive, it means the key components of a healthy ecosystem are in place to support a diverse cold water community,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity to take action to improve resilience and mitigate climate change impacts on the watershed and the community. Planting trees and increasing forest cover help to address increased water temperatures and flood damage in the region.”

Kerry and Sean Kennedy are pictured on a walk outdoors (file photo).

Kerry was inspired to enroll in NC’s Ecosystem Restoration program after moving to the Niagara region from Alberta and wanting to learn more about Niagara’s unique environment.  She noted that a large component of the program focuses on stream dynamics and aquatic ecosystems, which helped her to understand the potential impact of built environments on watershed health, along with opportunities to find solutions to these challenges.

Kerry became a member of TUCN and a volunteer on the chapter’s education committee before taking on the role as Project Coordinator in April. Passionate about activities that combine nature and education, she has also led the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation Youth Crops for the past two years, is President of the Niagara Falls Nature Club, and will be working part-time with the District School Board of Niagara Outdoor Education Centres throughout the school year.

Kerry applauded NC’s student volunteers who attended the Sunday morning event “with enthusiasm and an all-in attitude.”

“They were uber positive, friendly and ready for some fun before tackling the challenging planting conditions in this meadow,” she said. “We’re very appreciative that they chose to support the Bring Back the Brookies project and we hope they spread the word about Upper Twelve Mile Creek issues and solutions with their growing audience. They are proud and eloquent ambassadors for Niagara College.”

Amber Schmucker, Sustainability Program and Outreach Coordinator, was thrilled that NC students were invited to participate and issued a call for volunteers through the Office of Sustainability.

“Over the past 1.5 years, there have been limited opportunities for students to get involved with environmental work in their community,” she said. “Now that it is safe to do so, community initiatives like the Bring Back the Brookies are great opportunities for students to practice and hone the skills they learn at NC, outside of the classroom.”

Second-year Environmental Technician student Lindsay Taylor valued the opportunity to get involved and noted that the initiative provided her and her peers with a good sense of what sustainability looks like at the community level. Taylor has not only been working with NC Sustainability as part of her co-op placement, she also recently formed ncStewards, a club of environmentally focused students on campus which has been collaborating with NC Sustainability for various initiatives.

Once the participants arrived, they had a chance to walk the property and take in the information displayed on multiple, easy-to-read signs about the Twelve Mile Creek watershed and the importance of particular water quality parameters for brook trout. They watched a demonstration on how to use planting equipment before they set forth to begin planting smaller vegetation on a nearby field.

Before the planting began, the group had an opportunity to participate in a fun Frisbee activity. Equipped with a series of Frisbees which featured a brief description of the life-cycle phase attached to one side and a representative image of the brook trout on the other, the team was tasked with putting the Frisbees in order, from the beginning of the life-cycle to the end.

“I appreciated how Kerry Kennedy, the event coordinator, organized an all-ages fun activity for us to play before getting our hands dirty,” said Taylor. “It helped to raise our spirits and create a sense of camaraderie among people we were meeting for the first time.”

The event also captured the interest of NC President Sean Kennedy, who embraced the opportunity to assist as well as participate alongside the students.

“He was interested in seeing the work I’d been planning and helping out with this initiative,” said Kerry. “When he learned Niagara College was coming, this seemed like the perfect day to tuck his pants into his socks, put on some work gloves, get dirty and have a chance to connect casually with this engaged group of Niagara College students and the many alumni who were working to support the project.”

College president Sean Kennedy (right) joins a group of volunteers from NC at Bring Back the Brookies.

The October 17 morning event drew six student volunteers from NC, the College president and five Ecosystem Restoration alumni — three who assisted with the project leadership and two who volunteered as participants.

Other sessions were also organized on October 16 and on the afternoon of October 17 involving other groups from the community. More than 230 participants have registered for the overall series of Bring Back the Brookies events.

Bring Back the Brookies

For information about Bring Back the Brookies visit bringbackthebrookies.ca.

ncStewards

ncStewards represents a group of environmentally focused Niagara College students. Their goal is to promote and engage in practices that further the objective of sustainability on campus and within the Niagara community. NC Sustainability and ncStewards went on to collaborate for various events and activities. Visit ncstewards.ca or follow the group on Instagram at @ncstewards.

NC Golf Day raises $25,000 for student-athlete scholarships and bursaries

The following was submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations:

Although Niagara College was unable to host its usual Golf Classic tournament this
year, our supporters continued to show their enthusiasm for helping students achieve
their dreams by participating in NC Golf Day held at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club on September 21.

Eighty golfers, including college staff and alumni, as well as community and business leaders from across
Niagara and the GTA, enjoyed a day of golf and great weather in support of the College.

The event was much different than in past years, and we greatly missed our students’
participation, but thanks to the community’s tremendous support, $25,000 was raised
for scholarships and bursaries for our student-athletes.

We are grateful to the following sponsors who supported our 2021 Golf Day:

Presenting Sponsors

Rankin Construction
TD Insurance

Golfer Gift Sponsors

Campus Living Centres
Commercial Cleaning Services

Corporate Foursome Sponsors

AOS Group
Avaya Canada
Canadian Tire Financial Services
Combat Networks
Deloitte
District School Board of Niagara
Garland Canada
Paragon Security
PenFinancial Credit Union
TD Commercial Bank
Telcon Datvox Network Cabling
Birdie Sponsors
City of Welland
KPMG

A big thank you to these loyal and dedicated sponsors. The event would not be possible
without their support and attendance.

Please save the date for our 20th Annual Golf Classic to be held on Tuesday,
September 20, 2022. 

NC Golf Day raises $25,000 for student-athlete scholarships and bursaries

The following was submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations:

Although Niagara College was unable to host its usual Golf Classic tournament this
year, our supporters continued to show their enthusiasm for helping students achieve
their dreams by participating in NC Golf Day held at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club on September 21.

Eighty golfers, including college staff and alumni, as well as community and business leaders from across
Niagara and the GTA, enjoyed a day of golf and great weather in support of the College.

The event was much different than in past years, and we greatly missed our students’
participation, but thanks to the community’s tremendous support, $25,000 was raised
for scholarships and bursaries for our student-athletes.

We are grateful to the following sponsors who supported our 2021 Golf Day:

Presenting Sponsors

Rankin Construction
TD Insurance

Golfer Gift Sponsors

Campus Living Centres
Commercial Cleaning Services

Corporate Foursome Sponsors

AOS Group
Avaya Canada
Canadian Tire Financial Services
Combat Networks
Deloitte
District School Board of Niagara
Garland Canada
Paragon Security
PenFinancial Credit Union
TD Commercial Bank
Telcon Datvox Network Cabling
Birdie Sponsors
City of Welland
KPMG

A big thank you to these loyal and dedicated sponsors. The event would not be possible
without their support and attendance.

Please save the date for our 20th Annual Golf Classic to be held on Tuesday,
September 20, 2022. 

Lessons in empowering with Premier’s Awards nominee Monique Belair

A woman stands in her firefighting uniform holding her helmet; the words 2021 Premier's Awards, Monique Belair Community Services Nominee, Law and Security Administration, 1985 appear.

The following story was written by freelance writer Deborah Reid:

Niagara College alumna Monique Belair (Law and Security Administration, 1985) often volunteers to speak to children at the local library. On one occasion, a young girl came in late, telling Monique candidly her father thought the talk was a waste of time because women couldn’t be firefighters. She told her dad the speaker was the deputy fire chief for the city of Oakville. He didn’t believe it and looked her up on LinkedIn. The length of Belair’s career astonished him, and something happened. He drove his daughter to the talk.

“I want young women to know firefighting is a possibility for them,” said Belair. “I’ve never been interviewed for a position by a woman because there are only men who are senior to me.” And you can see she’s doing everything in her power to make it different for the next generation.

Seeing photos of Belair at the Canadian Forces Fire Academy, behind the wheel of a truck- beaming- is to know a young woman who has found her calling. She was one of five female firefighters in the Canadian military – a direct entry at 19 years of age. Most applicants had already served years in military trades.

Some men let her know she was not welcome. And there were men like Ron (Tiny) Beaushesne, one of her instructors, who had her back. She knew she belonged. “You can’t let one or two people take from you what you earned,” said Belair. “If you focus on the negativity, it belittles all the good things that happened.”

Time has not faded her spirit for work and getting to the top was a goal from the start. Being the face of change meant something. What sets her career apart is years of diverse experience- in fire suppression, communications, training and education, investigation and prevention. There were seven years in the provincial fire marshal office and she even did a stint as a volunteer firefighter to understand the role better. In laying a solid foundation, she empowered herself first.

Service to the community is Belair’s top priority. One of her most important projects came to life while working in Oakville. Scroll through the Camp Molly website to see images of young women in firefighter uniforms having a real-life, practical learning experience. It’s empowering.

When asked why there are no boys at the camp, Belair’s response is full of chutzpah and fun. “The first time a 16-year-old boy walks up to me and says ‘I didn’t know men could be firefighters, I thought it was a woman’s job,’ that’s when I’ll include them,” she said. But you can bet there are men on the Camp Molly board. There is nothing about her character that is exclusionary.

And there’s a real commitment to carry the message that fire suppression is just one career. Opportunities abound for fire investigators, public educators and work in dispatch to name a few.

A gifted child, she graduated from high school at 16. That’s when she started to wonder what she could be and began casting around for a career. The young women who participate in Camp Molly are the same age. The trajectory and length of Belair’s career serve as a fine example.

In June 2021, Belair became the Director of Emergency Services and Fire Chief for the City of Belleville, making her the City’s first female Fire Chief That’s no surprise.

Seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2021 Premier’s Awards. Each week leading up to the awards presentation on November 18, we are sharing stories about our nominees to celebrate their career achievements. All stories were submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations and written by freelance writer Deborah Reid.

Related article: Meet this year’s NC nominees for Premier’s Awards

LCBO donation establishes Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary at Niagara College

Generosity is pouring in from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), in the spirit of helping to advance equitable representation in the beverage alcohol industry.

The LCBO has donated more than $60,000 to Niagara College to establish a new LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary. The bursary will provide financial support to students who self-identify as a woman from a diverse background currently under-represented in the beverage alcohol industry, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) who are enrolled in the College’s beverage programs.

The LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative is working with partners to establish mentorship, bursaries and continued education for diverse women who are looking to begin or advance their training in the winery, brewery and distillery fields.

“It is our responsibility to use our influence and resources to increase diverse representation and foster inclusion within the beverage alcohol industry,” said George Soleas, President and CEO, LCBO. “The Spirit of Inclusion Initiative is a holistic, long-term commitment to support diverse women looking to begin or advance their careers in the winery, brewery, and distillery fields. Its success relies on the strength of our incredible community and trade partners, and I am excited for the impact we will achieve together.”

Representatives from Niagara College applauded the LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative and welcomed the donation, which will provide much-needed financial support for students

“We thank the LCBO for their generous gift which will make it possible for many under-represented students in our beverage programs to achieve their dreams,” said Marc Nantel, Vice President of Research and External Relations. “The LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary demonstrates their commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion, while supporting student success. Both are core values at the heart of Niagara College.”

Dean of NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Craig Youdale noted the importance of striving for more equity, diversity and inclusion in the beverage industry, which has made progress in recent years but still has much more to achieve.

“The LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary is helping to achieve a more equitable landscape in the beverage community,” said Youdale. “We look forward to seeing the results of our collective impact and more opportunities for more diverse women to enter our beverage alcohol program, thanks to the support from the LCBO.”

This fall, the first LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative bursaries will be awarded to four NC students – one from each of the College’s beverage programs – to cover tuition and ancillary program costs, including:

After the first LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative bursaries are distributed at NC this fall, the balance of the funds will be available to award additional recipients during the 2022-2023 academic year.

To be eligible for the new bursary, students must demonstrate proof of financial need; be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or protected person; and self-identify as a woman from a diverse background including, but not limited to, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, women with disabilities, first generation Canadians, 2SLGBTQ+, and non-binary gender.

For more information about financial aid at Niagara College, visit niagaracollege.ca/fees-finances/financial-aid/.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, located at Niagara College’s Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is the College’s centre for food, wine, beer and distilling education. It is home to NC”s Teaching Winery, Teaching Brewery and Teaching Distillery – the first of their kind in Canada.

LCBO donation establishes Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary at Niagara College

Generosity is pouring in from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), in the spirit of helping to advance equitable representation in the beverage alcohol industry.

The LCBO has donated more than $60,000 to Niagara College to establish a new LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary. The bursary will provide financial support to students who self-identify as a woman from a diverse background currently under-represented in the beverage alcohol industry, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) who are enrolled in the College’s beverage programs.

The LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative is working with partners to establish mentorship, bursaries and continued education for diverse women who are looking to begin or advance their training in the winery, brewery and distillery fields.

“It is our responsibility to use our influence and resources to increase diverse representation and foster inclusion within the beverage alcohol industry,” said George Soleas, President and CEO, LCBO. “The Spirit of Inclusion Initiative is a holistic, long-term commitment to support diverse women looking to begin or advance their careers in the winery, brewery, and distillery fields. Its success relies on the strength of our incredible community and trade partners, and I am excited for the impact we will achieve together.”

Representatives from Niagara College applauded the LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative and welcomed the donation, which will provide much-needed financial support for students

“We thank the LCBO for their generous gift which will make it possible for many under-represented students in our beverage programs to achieve their dreams,” said Marc Nantel, Vice President of Research and External Relations. “The LCBO’s Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary demonstrates their commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion, while supporting student success. Both are core values at the heart of Niagara College.”

Dean of NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Craig Youdale noted the importance of striving for more equity, diversity and inclusion in the beverage industry, which has made progress in recent years but still has much more to achieve.

“The LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative Bursary is helping to achieve a more equitable landscape in the beverage community,” said Youdale. “We look forward to seeing the results of our collective impact and more opportunities for more diverse women to enter our beverage alcohol program, thanks to the support from the LCBO.”

This fall, the first LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative bursaries will be awarded to four NC students – one from each of the College’s beverage programs – to cover tuition and ancillary program costs, including:

After the first LCBO Spirit of Inclusion Initiative bursaries are distributed at NC this fall, the balance of the funds will be available to award additional recipients during the 2022-2023 academic year.

To be eligible for the new bursary, students must demonstrate proof of financial need; be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or protected person; and self-identify as a woman from a diverse background including, but not limited to, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, women with disabilities, first generation Canadians, 2SLGBTQ+, and non-binary gender.

For more information about financial aid at Niagara College, visit niagaracollege.ca/fees-finances/financial-aid/.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, located at Niagara College’s Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is the College’s centre for food, wine, beer and distilling education. It is home to NC”s Teaching Winery, Teaching Brewery and Teaching Distillery – the first of their kind in Canada.

Lessons in storytelling with Premier’s Awards nominee Lora Tisi

A headshot of a woman with long blonde hair wearing a blue collared shirt and suit jacket with the words 2021 Premier's Awards, Lora Tisi, Business Nominee, Fashion Arts, 1979

The following story was written by freelance writer Deborah Reid:

When Niagara College alumna Lora Tisi (Fashion Arts, 1979) created the atmosphere for Northern Reflections in 1985, her inspiration was from summers spent at her grandparent’s cottage. Remembering the reflection of pine trees on the surface of a glassy lake, hearing the low wail of loons at dusk, the smell of a wood fire in the air, and living mostly in her bathing suit. It’s where she felt a deep sense of belonging.

She is a natural-born storyteller – a woman with a vision and the talent to convey it. The magic, she knows, is in the details. One of the best expressions of her commitment is how the change room doors at Northern Reflections slammed shut on a tight spring hinge like the screen door at a cottage. “I tried to make the experience of my childhood as real as possible,” said Tisi.

In the brand-defining sweats, there are more details to get right. Sweatshirts have two problems -the way the ribbing around the sleeves and waist blows out and the silkscreen image flaking. She found a technical maker and had six-dozen sweatshirts printed with the Northern Reflection’s logo. Packing them into her Chevette, she drove them to a store in Guelph. A few days later, they were all gone.

For Canadians, the success of Northern Reflections is no secret – within four years, a hundred stores would dot the country, followed by success in America. In nine years, Tisi rose from Buyer to Executive Vice President, and three years later, in 1995, she made the company President.

After 17 years, she left to become President of American Eagle Outfitters in Canada to grow its global platform. She was behind a strategy to launch 46 stores nationally in 108 days – starting with smaller regional malls and finishing with big stores at Yorkdale in Toronto and the West Edmonton Mall.

Tisi needed a vibrant story to appeal to young people and began recruiting college and university athletes as brand ambassadors, sponsoring wardrobes on hit television shows, and hosting in-store live music events. “We wanted to be the voice of the cool kid, and I learned a lot about amplifying that message,” she said.

Following her role with American Eagle Outfitters, she spent five years as President of RW&CO. Reaching men was the big challenge, and she recruited Canadian hockey players like Montreal Canadiens, P. K. Subban to help tell those stories. It’s a formula that tripled sales. It’s also the first time she recruited an Indigenous ambassador – Canadian model and actress Ashley Callingbull from the Enoch Cree Nation.

“We’re lucky in life if we’re part of one great team,” she said, reflecting on her 37-year career. “For me to have found three is incredibly humbling.”

Looking to create a legacy, Tisi focuses on giving, applying her knowledge as an international retail strategist to mentorship in Indigenous communities and growing a market for Indigenous products.

Her beloved paternal grandmother was a Six Nations Iroquois Elder, and she identifies as mixed-race Indigenous.

She is a board member for the Indigenous Advanced Education Skills Council (IAESC), an organization addressing the low graduation rate among young people – 36 percent compared to 72 percent in the Canadian population. Their ambitions are to grow Indigenous post-secondary institutes in Ontario – teaching curriculum free of colonial structure and a minimum of 50 percent Indigenous content.

“My goal is to be two ears and one mouth and interact in that proportion,” she said. “I seek first to understand and then find ways to give back.”

Seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2021 Premier’s Awards. Each week leading up to the awards presentation on November 18, we are sharing stories about our nominees to celebrate their career achievements. All stories were submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations and written by freelance writer Deborah Reid.

Related article: Meet this year’s NC nominees for Premier’s Awards

Lessons in mentoring with Premier’s Awards nominee Aaron Foster

2021 Premier's Awards, Aaron Foster Apprenticeship Nominee, Culinary Management (Co-op), 2003

When Aaron Foster, a 2003 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Management (Co-op) program, talks about important teachers and employers, there’s warmth in his voice and a big helping of respect in his talk. It’s clear the ways they inspired him. He absorbed the essential mentorship lessons and let them carry him to this moment.

The summer of 2021 marked the beginning of an exciting period in a career that has taken him to distant places. He recently stepped into the role of Executive Chef at the newly opened W Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. There Foster will oversee two restaurants by New York celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini and play a big part in generating revenue streams of more than 30 million dollars. “Nashville is like a fresh beginning,” he said.

The young boy who watched his father making sausages with his buddies in a garage in Port Colborne also worked alongside his mother at her restaurant, The Mercantile Gift Shop and Cafe. “The best leaders were like my dad, who was very calm and methodical and took time with me,” he said. “Under those conditions, I excelled.”

Diagnosed with ADHD, Foster has always felt immature for his age. One of the reasons he likes cooking so much is because it keeps his mind active. “I tell people it’s like having fifteen movies playing in my head on fast-forward all the time,” he said. “But when I’m in service or in a high-pressure situation, I slow down and can see everything. It’s like a chef’s superpower.”

He has met young cooks with a similar diagnosis and does not shy away from talking about it because he believes in raising awareness and helping cooks feel less alone. By his example, they know international success is possible.

At 27, after an early career in great kitchens in Canada, Foster travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, to work as the executive chef of the Red Sky restaurant in the Centara Grand hotel. There he led a team of 25 employees with little knowledge of the language. He needed to prove his worth to the owners who wanted to be the best. Bold and courageous, his striving paid off. In his first year, an influential Thai magazine crowned Foster best new chef in Bangkok, and Red Sky, best new restaurant.

Next, he landed at the Westin Singapore, where under the influence of an exceptional general manager, he matured into a polished international executive chef of a prestigious hotel. Employee turnover statistics speak to his talent with people. When he started, the turnover rate was 45 percent, and it dropped to 13 percent in the five years he was leading.

For most people, 2020 was a hard year. But for Foster, his life was exponentially more difficult. His wife battled cancer. He left the Edition hotel in Miami Beach, Florida to be with her. “As a family, we went through one of the worst years of our lives,” he said.

Through it all, Foster looks to the people who taught him the best lessons about compassion, humility, and respect, who he now calls friends. They’re still there and they’ve got his back.

Seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2021 Premier’s Awards. Each week leading up to the awards presentation on November 18, we are sharing stories about our nominees to celebrate their career achievements. All stories were submitted by NC Development and Alumni Relations and written by freelance writer Deborah Reid.