Niagara College is proud to nominate six of its distinguished alumni for prestigious Premier’s Awards.

Presented annually as part of the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit, the Premier’s Awards celebrate the outstanding contributions of six Ontario college graduates in six different categories: Business, Creative Arts and Design, Community Services, Health Sciences, Technology, and Recent Graduate.

Niagara College’s 2017 nominees include:

  • Rob Beyer (Business), executive chairman of Villgro Kenya;
  • David McIlvride (Creative Arts and Design), Gemini award-winning director;
  • Rose DiMarco (Community Services), chief superintendent and regional commander of the Central Region Ontario Provincial Police;
  • Derek Christensen (Health), regional educator of mental health and addiction services at Niagara Health;
  • Ben Laurence (Recent Graduate), structural technical designer for aerospace manufacturer Blue Origin; and
  • Blake Merritt (Technology), vice-president of IT infrastructure and cloud computing at Meridian Credit Union.

“There is no sector of our economy or part of our community that isn’t touched by the outstanding contributions of college graduates,” said Niagara College president Dan Patterson. “We’re extremely proud of the accomplishments of our grads, and are pleased to nominate these distinguished Niagara College alumni for provincial recognition.”

All nominees will be celebrated, and the six category winners announced, in Toronto on Monday, November 27, as part of the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit. For info visit 

Since the Premier’s Awards were launched in 1992, winners from Niagara College have included: Royal Canadian Navy Capt. Rebecca Patterson (Nursing, 1987), who won in 2014; David Pratt (Greenhouse Technician, 2007) in 2012; Jerry Howell (Computer Engineering Technology, 1988) in 2011; Jordan Harris (Winery and Viticulture Technician, 2004) in 2008; Heather Kilty (Social Welfare Worker, 1969), in 2003; and Carol Alaimo (Journalism-Print, 1984), in 1995.

Niagara College offers more than 111, 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 sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit

Niagara Colleges 2017 Premier’s Awards Nominees

Rob Beyer – Business 
Computer Programmer, 1984
Rob Beyer is a visionary leader who is fully aware of the unique challenges in building enterprises within the East African context. He is executive chairman of Villgro Kenya, an early-stage social enterprise incubator that supports innovative businesses in the healthcare and life sciences sector. His passion is to support aspiring African entrepreneurs in the health and life sciences ecosystem while supporting innovation and innovative approaches that build sustainable livelihoods. He is also a long-time director of Pehucci Children’s Home in Kenya, an orphanage that is home to 90 children and provides education to roughly 600 more.

David McIlvride – Creative Arts and Design 
Broadcasting: Radio, TV and Film, 1978
David McIlvride is a Gemini Award-winning director who has written, directed and produced some of the most respected documentary series on television for broadcasters such as Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and History Channel. A passionate storyteller, he has traveled the globe in order to tell the stories of people who normally would not have access to a global audience. His most recent documentary, Riverblue, charts the damaging environmental effects of the textile and tanning industries by observing the heavy pollution present in the nearby rivers of high-production manufacturing areas in India, China and Indonesia.

Rose DiMarco – Community Services
Law and Security Administration, 1985
Rose DiMarco has climbed the ranks in a field that is typically dominated by men. She is chief superintendent and first female regional commander Central Region with the Ontario Provincial Police. She is responsible for 900 uniform members and 270 civilian staff who police more than 80,000 full-time residents and an additional half million seasonal vacationers. She is the executive champion of the OPP Mental Health Strategy ‘Our People, Our Communities,’ co-chair of the Commissioner’s Inclusion Council, mentor in the Ontario Public Service Diversity Champion program and works with and mentors female officers.

Derek Christensen – Health
Nursing, 1991
Derek Christensen is an accomplished health care professional with 26 years of experience as clinician, manager and educator in mental health and addictions. He is regional educator for Mental Health and Addiction Services at Niagara Health System and is responsible for research, development, implementation and evaluation of staff training and education related to mental health. He is an officer with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, Canadian Forces Reserve Army and has participated in training exercises throughout Canada and the United States. In 2012, he was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for outstanding service to Canada.

Ben Laurence – Recent Graduate
Mechanical Engineering Technology, 2013
The sky is definitely not the limit for Ben Laurence. As a structural technical designer for aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company Blue Origin, he designs, analyzes, tests and flies structural components for the New Shepherd spacecraft. New Shepherd is a suborbital manned rocket being developed as a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. It’s the first vehicle in human history to fly to space and return safely to Earth for future use. Flights with test passengers are planned for late 2018, with commercial passenger flights to begin in 2018. Blue Origin is owned by founder Jeff Bezos.

Blake Merritt – Technology
Computer Programming, 1985
Blake Merritt is a senior technology leader with more than 28 years experience. He is driven by a strong collaborative approach, analytical mindset and the desire to find value for end users/customers through the most effective use of innovative solutions. He led the team that created the most automated and largest VMWare Private Cloud installation in Canada for Canada’s largest retailer, Canadian Tire Corporation. As vice-president, IT Infrastructure Services and Cloud Computing at Meridian Credit Union, he is accountable for setting strategic direction, implementation, support and operation of the underlying infrastructure and cloud solutions within Meridian’s technical landscape.


Media inquiries, please contact:

Andrew Korchok
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Office: 111 641-1152 ext. 7430
Cell: 111 329-1642
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Michael Wales
Manager, Communications
Office: 111.111.1111 ext. 7773
Cell: 111.328.4101
[email protected]