Accessibility Hub project, Feed the Community initiative earn accolades
When it comes to making education more inclusive and supporting the community, Niagara College is earning recognition for leading the way.
On February 6, NC staff and faculty members won two Awards of Excellence from the Minister of Colleges and Universities. A team of staff behind the College’s open-source, digital Accessibility Hub, was presented with an award in the Equality of Opportunity category for creating opportunities for marginalized or underrepresented groups. Also honoured was Chef Professor Olaf Mertens, who was presented with an Everyday Heroes award for stepping up and making a difference through his leadership of NC’s Feed the Community initiative.
“Niagara College is incredibly proud to see the extraordinary work of our staff and faculty being celebrated with a Minister’s Award of Excellence,” said NC President Sean Kennedy. “The provincial recognition of Chef Olaf Mertens and the collaborative team behind the Accessibility Hub are shining examples of excellence in teaching and learning at NC.”
The Minister’s Awards of Excellence recognize the exceptional performance of faculty, staff and graduate students from colleges, universities, private career colleges and Indigenous Institutes in Ontario who made a difference to the lives of students, to their communities and to the entire province during the 2021-22 academic year.
Niagara College’s two awards were among 22 selected out of more than 540 nominations received.
Equality of Opportunity: Accessibility Hub
Launched in the spring of 2022, the Accessibility Hub was designed for educators and non-educators alike to build accessibility-first habits into all aspects of their work.
Enabled by a $230,000 grant from the Virtual Learning Strategy, an eCampus Ontario-led initiative, the NC team developed over 55 articles, checklists, videos, and resources with straight-forward recommendations for those seeking to simplify the creation of accessible web content, learning materials, and experiences for students or anyone with a disability. The stories of NC students and recent alumni with lived experiences of disability are shared throughout the site.
“A great deal of hard work and collaboration was behind the Accessibility Hub, a testament to Niagara College staff and faculty who drive our continuous efforts to make inclusive teaching and learning a priority,” said NC’s Vice-President, Academic Fiona Allan. “It is thrilling to see their skills and talents recognized provincially.”
The developers behind the Accessibility Hub are a group of provincially and nationally recognized experts including staff from NC’s Centre for Academic Excellence, Health, Wellness and Accessibility Services, and Marketing and Student Recruitment departments. Members of the cross-functional team include Whit Ross, Educational Developer; Courtney Thaggard, Web and Digital Developer; Jim McEwen, Adaptive Technology Specialist; Lynn O’Keeffe, Instructional Designer; Sarah LoConte, Web and Digital Developer; Natasha Patrito Hannon, Director, Teaching and Learning Innovation; Shelley Panetta, Director, Marketing; Karen Csoli, Director, Health, Wellness and Accessibility Services, Welland Campus; and Jay Burdon, Director, Health, Wellness and Accessibility Services, Daniel J. Patterson Campus.
On Feb. 6, Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities, presented the Equality of Opportunity award virtually to Ross and Thaggard, who accepted the award on behalf of the team.
Designed as a template with flexibility in mind, all materials in the Accessibility Hub are openly licensed. Since the launch, the Accessibility Hub has been adopted, adapted, and repurposed by several post-secondary organizations across the province to improve the accessibility of their professional communications, events, and courses. Accessibility Hub content has also formed the basis for a new Accessibility in Action! program at NC for employee professional development centered on best practices for teaching and learning environments.
Visit the Niagara College Accessibility Hub to learn more: accessibilityhub.niagaracollege.ca
Everyday Heroes: Chef Professor Olaf Mertens (Feed the Community)
Since 2021, students, faculty and staff from Niagara College’s School of Culinary Arts have been making a difference through Feed the Community, an initiative that helps those in need while boosting sustainability on campus, ensuring that no food goes to waste.
Feed the Community addresses food insecurity and supports health and wellness in the community. Fresh, healthy meals are prepared, packaged and transported to area shelters and food banks, as well as the Ronald McDonald House in Hamilton on a rotating basis. Some meals have also been provided to students living in on-campus residences.
Led by Chef Professor Olaf Mertens, who has been instrumental to organizing the initiative and to its ongoing delivery – the initiative relies on the dedication of a team of volunteers comprised of Mertens as well as other chef professors, culinary students and staff. The volunteers use top-quality products left from the kitchen labs and connect with shelters to transport meals to those who need them.
“Facing the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, Chef Olaf Mertens went above and beyond, making a difference in the learning of Niagara College students and inspiring the next generation of culinary graduates to contribute to their community in a meaningful way,” said Allan.
Approximately 5,000 meals were donated to shelters and food banks through Feed the Community from 2021 to December 2022. So far this year, approximately 800 individual meals have been donated through the initiative, which continues to expand its reach as part of a new academic-based foodservice model from NC’s Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division.
“I feel humbled and grateful, as it is not about being recognized but I hope to use the recognition to start a college wave or ripple effect to have others give to our neighborhood communities as our students apply their learning and skills,” said Mertens. “This gives me the boost to increase the effect the program has and get more donations for funding and next steps.”
Niagara College has a full-time enrolment of more than 9,500 students from over 80 countries, who study in 130 diploma, certificate and bachelor degree programs at specialized campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara College is also involved in educational projects and partnerships around the world and is consistently ranked among Canada’s top 10 colleges for research funding. Learn more at niagaracollege.ca.
Niagara College’s Natasha Hannon (left), Director, Teaching and Learning Innovation, and Courtney Thaggard, Web and Digital Developer were part of the NC team behind the Accessibility Hub who won a Minister’s Award of Excellence at the February 6 ceremony.
Niagara College Chef Professor Olaf Mertens accepted an Award of Excellence from Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop on Feb. 6.