When it comes to Ontario spirit and leadership, Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) shines in the spotlight.
Niagara College staff members have won two Awards of Excellence from the Minister of Colleges and Universities, including a team from the College’s Research & Innovation division, who was presented with an award in the Everyday Heroes category, for making a difference during the pandemic.
“Faculty, staff and graduate students across Ontario’s postsecondary sector rose to the challenge of helping students during these truly unprecedented times,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop. “The real winners are Ontario’s students and communities who truly benefit from the incredible work being done at our institutions across the province.”
Niagara College’s two awards were among 30 selected for the second annual Minister’s Awards of Excellence, out of approximately 675 nominations received.
Everyday Heroes: Amal Driouich and Gordon Maretzki
(Research & Innovation PPE Team)
During the onset of the pandemic, when frontline workers were facing a critical shortage and an urgent need for PPE, a team of staff, co-op students and alumni volunteers from the College’s Research & Innovation division responded with their own made-in-Niagara solution. They began to design and produce face shields at the College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), located at NC’s Welland Campus.
From March to September 2020, the PPE team – led by WAMIC Centre Manager Gordon Maretzki and Research Program Manager Amal Driouich – produced 36,500 COVID-19 face shields. More than 17,000 were donated to Niagara area hospitals and emergency responders during the first six months of the pandemic alone.
“At the time, the PPE supply chain was greatly disrupted, so even the relatively simple project of designing, licensing and manufacturing basic face shields made a difference to front-line workers and their patients,” said Marc Nantel, NC’s Vice President, Research and External Relations, who nominated the PPE team for the award.
“We have resources – expertise, equipment, funding – so it was incumbent on us to chip in any way we could. The community needed us to step up, and we’re glad to have been able to do so.”
Almost 10,000 face shields were also donated to long-term care homes in the Niagara region.
“We have resources – expertise, equipment, funding – so it was incumbent on us to chip in any way we could.”
– Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president, Research & External Relations
The initiative was supported by Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through FedDev Ontario contributions.
The WAMIC team received approval for a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class 1) to produce Health Canada-classified face shields. In addition to responding to local healthcare organizations, about 20,000 units assembled at the WAMIC were donated outside of the Niagara region.
Maretzki worked with Niagara Health System to develop a face shield that was quick and inexpensive to manufacture, and sourced raw materials from suppliers. Shields were fabricated in the College labs and lenses were laser cut. As they scaled up production, he worked with a supplier to develop die cut tooling that accelerated the cutting of the lenses, allowing the team to make more than 350 shields per day at peak production.
“We are grateful that the talents and resources of the R&I team could be quickly leveraged to mitigate the supply chain crisis of PPE and help those at the frontlines do their work safely,” said Maretzki, who was delighted and surprised to receive the Award of Excellence. “Responding to the pandemic and the needs of the community was simply a natural response by our team in the battle against COVID-19.”
The daily production of face shields was managed by Driouich, who was also responsible for licensing and regulatory compliance to ensure they were manufactured and distributed per applicable codes and standards.
“I am immensely thankful and truly honoured to receive the Minister’s Award of Excellence,” said Driouich. “It is a great pleasure to see the team’s effort being recognized by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities – that memorable team of co-op students, grad students and staff from Niagara College’s Research & Innovation Division who stepped up and worked tirelessly to support Ontario’s front-line workers in their fight against COVID-19 when access to PPE was challenging and almost impossible.”
The PPE team included Research Associates Brock Husak, Tyler Winger, Rafael Almeida and Brian Klassen (NC alumni); Research Assistants Liliana McIntosh, Scott Leuty and Dat Do (NC students), and staff volunteers Elizabeth Best, Rachel Brown, Janice Rowe and Andrea Campbell.
The NC team’s Award of Excellence in the Everyday Heroes category was among eight presented to recipients from postsecondary institutions across Ontario.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship:
Jon Downing (Brewmaster)
It’s been almost 12 years since Niagara College launched its trailblazing Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, which made history as the first in Canada. The program responded to an identified need for education and higher quality product in Ontario’s brewing industry, and the impact it has had on the growing industry for more than the past decade has been unrivalled.
College Brewmaster Jon Downing has been a part of it from the very beginning. In recognition of his key role in developing the program, and its major impact on helping to grow the industry, he was presented with a Minister’s Award in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“Our brewing program at Niagara College has been instrumental in supporting the incredible growth of craft brewing in Ontario. Our Brewmaster Jon Downing has been at the lead of our NC Teaching Brewery since its inception over a decade ago and we are proud of his mentorship and support for the future brewers of Canada,” said Craig Youdale, Dean of NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute who nominated Downing for the award.
“Our entire division is proud to have Jon on our team and we look forward to his direction to many more future brewers to come.”
Under Downing’s leadership, NC Brewmaster students have been gaining extensive hands-on training preparing them for employment in the expanding brewery, microbrewery and brewpub industries since 2010. The College’s Teaching Brewery has won numerous provincial, national and international awards for its student-crafted brews.
Receiving a provincial award for his efforts was “totally unexpected” for Downing.
“I am honoured and deeply humbled that people think this much about what we have done to put me forward for the award, let alone to be chosen as the recipient,” he said.
For Downing, being selected for the award validates the faith that College leaders had in him when he first met with them almost 15 years ago about launching the program.
“Their support and that of many others at the College, and in industry, is what has led to our success,” he said.
Downing’s Award of Excellence in Innovation and Entrepreneurship was among seven presented to faculty and staff from postsecondary institutions across Ontario.
Adapted with permission from InsideNC article