Marisa Bennett is creating history at North Island College’s Port Alberni campus.
A member of the Ahousaht Nation and a North Island College alum, Bennett is the first Nuu-chah-nulth member to take on the Port Alberni campus administrator role since the college first began operations in the Alberni Valley in 1976.
With the retirement of campus administrator Felicity Blaiklock on Aug. 31, Bennett becomes responsible for overall Port Alberni campus leadership and operations, while continuing to build community partnerships.
Bennett first joined North Island College in 2021 as the Manager of Indigenous and Regional Partnerships, where she developed and oversaw a growing number of educational partnerships with Indigenous peoples and organizations across the Alberni-Clayoquot region.
Bennett explained in an interview with the Alberni Valley News that this role came about at the direction of the college’s Indigenous Education Council, which provides guidance to ensure the delivery of education and support services is relevant to the needs of Indigenous people and to ensure that the college works with Indigenous people in culturally appropriate ways.
Bennett says she is doing a lot of the same work in her new role, but also helping to oversee the Port Alberni campus in general.
“And providing direction on creating further partnerships in the region,” she explained.
Bennett describes herself as “a lifelong west coast resident.” She represents North Island College on the Port Alberni Learning Council and she previously worked as a Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program manager. She has been at the forefront of program and partnership development in the Port Alberni area, including the Tseshaht Facilities Maintenance program with the Tseshaht First Nation and the Indigenous Language Fluency program with the Ehattesaht First Nation.
“North Island College has been extremely supportive,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of people’s education journeys.”
Bennett used to be a North Island College student, herself. She said she joined a post-secondary institution right out of high school and was “not as successful as I could be.” She decided to transition back into education through North Island College.
“The instructors there gave me confidence and the boost I needed to know I could do it,” she said. “I think that experience helps me relate to students now.”
Tony Bellavia, the academic vice president at North Island College, said in a press release that he is “excited” to see what Bennett can accomplish.
“From early days, it was clear that Marisa was an inspirational leader at NIC,” he said. “She simply stood out in the thoughtful and strategic ways in which she developed programs and cultivated partnerships in the Port Alberni region.”
As a Nuu-chah-nulth woman, Bennett says she is fortunate to be building on the work of her ancestors and their teachings. She says she carries the support and teachings she learned from Nuu-chah-nulth elders and her family into her job every day.
“That helps ensure that it’s at the foundation of what we do,” she added.