Niagara College students win gold and four bronze medals at Skills Ontario


Hairdressing student Rikaya Santik of Niagara Falls took home a gold medal for Niagara College at the Skills Ontario competition in Toronto May 6-7, and four of her classmates earned bronze medals.

Ben Cohen of Richmond Hill, a Bachelor of Arts Honours Game Design student, Doaa Awan of St. Catharines, a Computer Programming & Analysis student, Kazzel Vibar, a Cosmetology student, and Trinity Ptashnyk of Chippawa, a Hairstyling student, joined Santik on the provincial stage, taking third place in their respective competitions.

Santik will compete in the Skills Canada national championship in Quebec City at the end of May.

“Competing at the provincial level alongside Ontario's best students is an extraordinary experience for our students and we are so proud to see them succeed,” said Leo Tiberi, Dean of Media, Commerce and Technology. “Their dedication and that of the faculty and staff who support them is remarkable and their success is a testament to the quality of the applied education they receive at Niagara College.”

Hair Styling

Santik, an aspiring celebrity stylist, showcased her creative flair and technical skills, completing an updo, cornrows, coloring and cut as part of the competition.

“Competing at the provincial championships was stressful, everyone was super good. Winning gold was a great feeling… I didn't even know I would make it that far.”

For Santik, participating in the Nationals will be a completely new experience – and it will be her first flight.

“…This is all new to me, so I'm pretty excited. I'm going to approach the competition with my head held high and just focus on myself. I'm going to do my best because this has been a wonderful experience,” Santik said. “NC has definitely helped me step out of my comfort zone and do things that I've been uncomfortable doing in my career.”

His classmate Ptashnyk, who took third place, says the competition was a valuable experience.

“I had a lot of fun competing. I've always loved competing,” Ptashnyk said. “I would love to open a salon and this program has shown me how to do that in the future.”

“I am very proud of all of our competitors; they represented Niagara College well,” said program coordinator Joe Abbruscato, who coached Santik and Ptashnyk. “We put in a lot of hours of training and the results paid off. Rikaya has put in a little extra time training for the state championships so she is ready to compete against the best in the country.”

Web design and development

Winning a medal was a “pleasant surprise” for aspiring software or web developer Awan, who admits she tends to underestimate her abilities.

“I think this experience made me more aware of this and also reminded me that this trend is common among women, especially in male-dominated fields,” Awan said. “This unexpected medal was a defining moment that showed me the importance of valuing my own abilities… and taught me to recognize my potential and strive for the highest achievements.”

Preparing for the competition was “intense” for Awan, as he had to memorize code. Contestants had to code a four-page website for the Toronto Aquarium, including a homepage, an about page, an image gallery and a contact page. There was also the challenge of choosing a color palette and design elements and customizing a logo.

“I am driven by the desire to do work that excites me on a daily basis, allows me to realize my potential and helps solve real problems,” said Awan. “Financial freedom is also an important goal, as is the flexibility to work from home, which would allow me to travel, have new experiences and connect with different people.”

“My time at Niagara College was instrumental in setting these goals… It was a transformative experience that allowed me to combine my technical skills with my passion for design and prepared me to make a significant impact in the technology industry.”

Digital 3D game art

Game Design student Ben Cohen is in his third year of the joint program with Brock University. His win at Skills Ontario came shortly after his team's win at Level Up with their game Reverex. Cohen's specialty is technical art – the fusion of technical knowledge and artistic ability – a sought-after skill in the digital world.

Entrants to the 3D Game Art competition were given concept drawings that they could use to 3D model, UV unwrap, and texture a robot. Cohen's final design, called Rusty, was completed under time pressure and to strict technical specifications.

“Having the opportunity to compete against the best game art students in the province was an incredibly fulfilling experience and it was great to see everyone’s work,” said Cohen, who said the competition helped him improve his time management and technical skills.

Through his experiences at Level Up, Cohen learned to believe in himself and have the confidence to compete in a high-pressure environment.

“Seven and a half hours is not a lot of time to create a 3D model and package it for Sketchfab, so I knew I had to keep my cool, manage my time well, and trust in the skills I had developed over the past three years. It was an incredible honor to be recognized for my efforts and skills at this provincial level competition.”

“The game design program has given me many skills that I can transfer to other industries, especially with regard to the specific game technology that I work with on a daily basis,” said Cohen, citing the support of lecturers Conor Macneill (technical chair of the competition) and Kevin Gordon.

Cohen hopes to compete in provincial competition next year as he completes his final year at Brock, after which he hopes to pursue “ambitious goals” for the future.

“It has always been my dream to work at Walt Disney Imagineering and develop attractions and experiences for the parks. I would also love to work for Walt Disney Animation and develop animated feature films.”


Kazzel Vibar, a student of the cosmetology program, took third place and won a bronze medal at the provincial competition.

“Participating in the Skills Ontario competition was an incredibly fun and rewarding experience,” said Vibar. “It provided me with an invaluable opportunity to hone my skills as an esthetician. I am deeply grateful to have won a bronze medal and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Niagara College and my mentor for selecting me to represent the esthetician program. This experience was a high point in my journey and will always hold a special place in my heart.”

“Kazzel trained very diligently for six weeks before the competition,” said Susan Paone, professor in the School of Hospitality & Tourism. “She put in an extra six to eight hours on top of her program commitments. We are super proud of all her accomplishments.”