Just months after graduating from Niagara College’s Public Relations program, Nicolas Mertens has catapulted from head of the class, to the top in Canada.
Mertens, who is a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, is the 2021 winner of the prestigious Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) / Cision Student Award of Excellence. The award celebrates promising future practitioners who have demonstrated an ability and desire to contribute to the status and acceptance of the profession.
Mertens would never have imagined himself to be a national award winner a year ago, when he began NC’s Public Relations graduate certificate program – which was virtual during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since graduating from the program in spring 2021, he has been thriving as a social media account manager for Zak Communications – a modern lifestyle communications agency with offices in Toronto and Montreal.
“I’ve never been the ‘top student’ in anything, anywhere before. Being recognized with such an honour is reassuring that I am on the right path,” said Mertens. “I am so proud to represent both Niagara College Public Relations and Zak Communications in the national spotlight. I think it shows the College and agency are modern, quick to adapt and hubs for innovative, creative ideas. And that’s what PR is all about.”
The CPRS / Cision Student Award of Excellence was presented on September 20 as the CPRS kicked of its four-day virtual conference. Mertens will receive a $1,000 prize, courtesy of Cision, and a one-year Emerging Professional membership to the CPRS.
“The winner of this award is well respected by their peers and industry instructors. The winner has already demonstrated strong leadership skills and PR business acumen,” said Ashalee Mohamed (vice president Sales, Account Management Canada) on behalf of Cision Canada. “Beyond achieving an impressive 90+ percent average, this individual demonstrated an innate understanding of public relations principles.”
“We’re all very proud of Nicolas. What a wonderful honour it must be for him to be acknowledged and celebrated for his hard work and talent, especially on a national stage,” said Charles Kopun, associate dean, School of Media Studies. “And for us here at Niagara College, it’s always so gratifying to see our students succeed and shine.”
Mertens was nominated for the national student award by PR program coordinator Emily McInerney who noted his high marks, level of professionalism and keen desire to learn, along with the positive impression he left on his instructors, peers and industry guests during his time in the program. In addition to his studies as a full-time student, he also worked freelance communications to support small business owners and non-profit organizations.
“He fully immersed himself in the Niagara College Public Relations Graduate Certificate program and took advantage of every single networking opportunity offered to the class, asked thoughtful questions when we had industry guest speakers, and became an active member of the CPRS Hamilton mentorship program,” said McInerney. “Academically, he delivered polished and strategic work consistently across both terms and, most importantly, showed steady improvement and growth.”
Mertens attributes much of his early success to the experience he gained from NC.
“I had high expectations for the program at Niagara College and every instructor, every class continually exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Over the past year, I’ve had experience working with non-profit social impact organizations lobbying for human rights, worked with an array of small business owners, launched events for tourism organizations, and now I’m working with some of the top beauty and fashion brands in the world – all from my 100% virtual education at Niagara College.”
This isn’t the first award win for Mertens. In May, he received the CPRS Hamilton’s Student Award of Excellence. In March, he was also recognized with the PR program’s coveted Senator Keith Davey Award, which is granted to the top student for dedicated leadership to his peers, and cultivating the mentorship of faculty and industry partners.
Niagara College’s Public Relations program is a one-year graduate certificate. For information, visitniagaracollege.ca/media/program/public-relations/.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine science, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. Visit niagaracollege.ca.