Everyday Heroes

Mohawk award recognizes outstanding employee contributions

Cathy O’Donnell

Cathy O’Donnell has supported Mohawk College’s emergency response over the last year in her role as director of security services. 

She joined the college five years ago, taking on a newly created role that is responsible for all security and emergency management response covering everything from floods to fires to active shooters to, yes, pandemics. 

She developed a comprehensive plan that included clear delegation of authority and communication channels, along with semi.annual emergency training. 

“That’s worked out really well for us because, when the pandemic happened, the senior team was comfortable with what they needed to do and how they needed to approach it, so that saved us a lot of time.” 

O’Donnell oversees the work of a contracted team of about 40 security staff, along with an internal management team. 

Despite a drastic reduction in the number of people on Mohawk’s campuses, security staff have been increased because they are responsible for safe access, including the tracking and screening of those allowed on campus. 

For her work in an extraordinary year, O’Donnell was presented with Mohawk’s Everyday Hero Award in October. 

“Receiving the award was a huge, huge shock for me. To be recognized by your peers, for the work that you, and love to do, is amazing.”

Receiving the award was a huge, huge shock for me. To be recognized by your peers, for the work that you, and love to do, is amazing.

Cathy O’Donnell

Thea Laidman

Thea Laidman’s work as director of international recruitment during the most challenging time in Mohawk’s history earned her an Everyday Hero award. 

COVID-19 has brought huge upheaval for international students, says Laidman, and the recruitment team had to quickly shift into a guidance role for students, trying to answer their questions, reassure them, and connect them to resources. 

“Having said that, I mean the resilience of our international students this year has been astounding and inspirational, to say the least.” 

The recruitment effort shifted to virtual, with the team hosting meetings, webinars and vlogs, and virtual open houses, sometimes in the middle of the night to accommodate global time zones. 

Laidman was also part of a cross-department team at Mohawk that launched Helping Hampers, which delivered food and other essentials supporting students who were struggling as a result of pandemic related restrictions. 

“Students had so many stresses, and we wanted to remind them that they had people here that cared about them and that they may be far away from home, but we’re here and that you are a Mohawk student and you’re important to us.” 

Jacques Heri Soares da Silva

Jacques Heri Soares da Silva is a Mohawk College Everyday Hero for his tireless commitment to helping international students succeed. 

“I really have no words to explain how happy I was that these great people saw that the work that I do makes a difference in other people’s lives.” 

Da Silva, who is from Brazil, has been an International Student Coach since 2018. In Brazil he worked in language schools with a diverse population for 10 years. 

He has been instrumental in leading Coffee Club, a biweekly conversation group where students gather – now virtually – to practise their English. 

He hopes his experience as an international student helps him be a role model for others, and he’s gratified to have been able to help students during such a challenging year.


Image: Cathy O’Donnell, Director, Security Services

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