The Montreal Gazette, February 5, 2003

Famous graduates never forget the Champlain CEGEP experience

By Warren Perley

PHOTO: PHIL CARPENTERChamplain alumni Frank Cavallaro of CFCF-12 and Jamie Orchard of Global, in the broadcast centre at Champlain St-Lambert CEGEP.

Champlain St-Lambert CEGEP has an enviable reputation as a college which has spawned many famous on-air media personalities. There is Scott Laurie, CTV’s foreign correspondent in Baghdad, Elizabeth Palmer of the CBS Evening News, Frank Cavallaro, who does the weather reports on CFCF-12’s Pulse News, and Jamie Orchard, the news anchor on the local Global evening and late-night newscasts.

Orchard and Cavallaro recently visited the St. Lambert campus of their alma mater, reminiscing about their student days there and the circuitous routes they have followed to their current media positions.

Orchard, who grew up in Brossard, remembers wanting to be a print journalist as far back as Grade 9, when she began writing short stories with themes about friendship and loyalty. Her high-school teacher at Centennial Regional High School encouraged her to go into communications with a view to becoming a print journalist.

She was thinking about a print career when she enrolled in Champlain’s Creative Arts program in 1983, where she was exposed for the first time to radio and television production. “I was amazed by all the television cameras they had,” Orchard said. “It was impressive to me because we didn’t have anything like that in high school. They even had television studios here. It was really cool.”

Aside from the equipment, what sticks out in her mind about Champlain is the calibre of its teachers, such as Paul Leblond, who teaches media ethics, and Barclay Watt, who teaches television studio and film production techniques.

PHOTO: Courtesy of CTVCTV News anchor Scott Laurie, a graduate of Champlain College.

Orchard describes Watt as inspirational and funny. “He had us practise everything to do with broadcasting - switching, lighting, storyboards,” she recalled. “He even let us produce our own commercials. He combined fun and learning.”

Cavallaro, 44, who came from St. Pius High School to Champlain in 1975, four years after it opened, also has fond memories of his time studying social science. Cavallaro, who grew up in Park Extension, Montreal North and Ahuntsic, was accepted at Vanier and Dawson CEGEPs, but chose Champlain because its smaller student body gave it a “more intimate” ambience.

Champlain St-Lambert, at 900 Riverside Drive, has about 2,500 full-time day students. It offers three-year technical and professional programs for students seeking jobs in industry, as well as two-year, pre-university programs which offer a comprehensive, broad education for students planning to go on to university.

Vast course selections

Champlain St-Lambert has a continuing-education division which offers part-time evening courses and full-time training programs to about 800 adults seeking to upgrade their skills, obtain professional certifications or to make a career change. Among the credit programs available to adults are: Business and Industry Training; Information Technology; Basic Cisco Network Architecture; Customer Service & Sales Representatives for Call Centres; Digital Design Specialist; Information Solutions Developer; Network System Specialist; Fitness Professional Specialist; and Web Programmer. Students can also register for part-time credit courses in: Business Administration; Computer Science; Desktop and Digital Design; Economics; English; Fitness; Humanities and Psychology.

PHOTO: PHIL CARPENTERBarclay Watt and John McKay teach television studio and video production, respectively, at Champlain College.

Noncredit classes are also available and include language courses, ballroom dancing, yoga and stress management techniques, personal finance and retirement planning, and body building. (Those seeking more information on continuing-education courses can call (450) 672-7364, or visit

Regular day programs also offer an extensive course selection which is continually updated to meet current needs. Besides the basic courses, all full-time DEC programs include English, humanities, French, physical education and complementary courses. As well, the college has a rich resource base which includes:

  • iBook laptop computers hooked up to a wireless network on loan to students for use in the library and resource centre to research and write papers;
  • Several state-of-the-art Macintosh G4s, Windows and Solaris (UNIX) labs;
  • Two large and five smaller homework labs for student use;
  • A large, two-floor library with a vast online catalogue;
  • Free tutoring, as well as mentoring, counselling and academic advising services;
  • Drop-in learning centres for languages, chemistry, physics and mathematics;
  • Fully-equipped television production studio;
  • Fully equipped digital editing studios with the latest in Macintosh technology;
  • Laptop technology in the chemistry labs;
  • Fully-equipped biology labs featuring interactive videodisk technology and Macintosh computers;
  • Intercollegiate and intramural sports; and
  • Direct access to St. Lambert’s seaway park for track and field.

This rich resource base is shared among a relatively small student body, meaning easy access to faculty, staff and equipment, one of the attributes which first attracted Cavallaro.

Cavallaro, who earned extra money in high school as a disc jockey at weddings and parties, joined the radio club - CHAM - at Champlain, where he was bitten by the broadcast bug. The social life at Champlain was a big plus, he said, recalling his involvement in helping to organize an Italian student association.

PHOTO: Courtesy Champlain CollegeThe Montreal skyline and Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, the former U.S. pavilion at Expo, form a dramatic backdrop to the Champlain campus.

If he was to return as a student today, Cavallaro would find even more cultural and social happenings, including access to a state-of-the-art fitness centre. Students organize trips to out-of-province locations such as Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston to take in plays, games, seminars and other social events.

Like Orchard, who obtained a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Concordia, Cavallaro went on to university after graduating from Champlain. He earned a BA in communications from the University of Ottawa.

After graduation, the careers of both broadcasters took them far from Montreal. You might think that all the upheavals and moves to new jobs would be upsetting to Orchard and Cavallaro, but if there was one thing that their teachers at Champlain had prepared them for it was the reality of life in the fast lanes of broadcasting.

As Orchard’s favorite television studio teacher, Watt, is fond of saying: “You learn by doing.” And there can be but little doubt that the two of them pulled a lot of tough, long shifts before they “made it.”

Cavallaro’s big break occurred in December 1988 when the recently-launched Weather Network hired and trained him as one of its on-air weather forecasters. Once again, his training at Champlain St-Lambert stood him in good stead.

“I had a passion for geography and cartography and had studied those subjects at Champlain under teacher Atanis Katrapani. That academic background really helped me to understand the connection between geography and weather.”

An Orchard in bloom

After a short stint in the news department at CHOM, Orchard jumped in 1994 to the local CBC evening newscast called Newswatch as the weather person. One year later - 1995 - Orchard moved to CFCF-12 for a Pulse News entertainment segment called Take 1. She kept hoping to get back into news full-time.

PHOTO: Courtesy Champlain CollegeStudents enjoy a friendly ambience on campus since the college is not so big that individuals get lost, but neither is it so small that resources are lacking.

It finally happened in 1998, when Global hired her to co-host This Morning Live with Andrew Peplowski. After two years - in 2000 - she was transferred to co-anchor the evening news, which she still does with Jonathan Freed. She is the sole anchor on the late newscast at 11 p.m.

As he listens to Orchard speaking, her former teacher, Watt, and his video production colleague, John McKay, reminisce about their years at Champlain. McKay has taught at Champlain since 1972. Watt has been there since 1981.

“Most CEGEPs tend to be more theoretical,” McKay said. “We emphasize hands-on experience right from the start. We have students operating cameras within two weeks of starting our course. We emphasize understanding the process by doing all the different steps. Of course, we also teach theory, history and aesthetics.”

McKay says there are two important ingredients in having a top-notch department: keeping up with new technologies and maintaining the calibre of teachers.

“We’ve always had a really good, tight-knit staff,” McKay said in an interview. “Each teacher is a team player who brings his or her passion to bear.

“Not everyone can become a media-maker when they leave here,” McKay said. “Success for us as teachers is to give graduates the tools to be good students, good workers and good citizens - to be judicious media consumers.

“We want students to consider whether a particular work of art has social value,” McKay said. “A critique in itself is neither positive nor negative. It is an effort to assess and evaluate an issue.”

Dean encourages passion

It is this kind of dedication to teaching that academic dean Anthony Singelis wants to see maintained as the college recruits new faculty. It is estimated that about 40 per cent of the teachers in Montreal-area CEGEPs will reach retirement age within the next five years.

PHOTO: PHIL CARPENTERDean Anthony Singelis.

“What I like most here is the emphasis on the well-being of the students and on excellence,” Singelis said in an interview. “Our skilled and enthusiastic faculty and staff exemplify excellence in their innovative approaches to education.”

When he was appointed to the job three years ago at age 38, Singelis was among the youngest deans in the province and one of the few who is a product of the CEGEP system. He graduated in 1980 from CEGEP in commerce and went on to McGill University, where he obtained a bachelor of commerce degree with a major in computer information systems and a minor in marketing. In 1987, he obtained his master’s degree in educational psychology at McGill University.

Singelis worked for 10 years at the Business Development Bank, two years as a lecturer at McGill University, and for two years at Apple Computer’s online division. He then began his career in education as head of computer science at a private college before moving on to the dean’s position at Champlain.

In addition to his full-time duties at Champlain St-Lambert, he is a certified fitness instructor with the Montreal Athletic Association and at the GoodLife fitness clubs on the West Island. He also teaches graphics and design, technical writing and computer programming at Concordia University in order to keep his hand in teaching.

An easygoing kind of guy, he’s addressed as “Dean Anthony” by students. If they are called into his office for a face-to-face meeting, the first thing they’re likely to notice is a big, stuffed toy beagle on the floor under his desk. He calls the toy his “icebreaker,” to relieve students who might be nervous.

When asked to summarize the salient features of Champlain, he says it is “fun and progressive.”

“We have built a college uniquely designed to meet our students’ needs,” he said. “It’s not so big that you get lost, but it’s not so small that you lack resources. We offer pre-university and technical and professional programs within a responsive, caring community.”

Champlain places great emphasis on the cultural diversity of the student and faculty bodies, as well as the moral commitment to working for causes greater than themselves - those that are “right, fair and just.” For example, students get involved in fundraisers for the needy, as well as environmental projects. Faculty and staff give their time to various projects that give back to the community, such as Christmas baskets, the CIBC Run for the Cure, Toys for Tots, Centraide, Ça Marche and others.

In many of the programs, service to the community is an integral and essential part of learning:

  • The international baccalaureate program has a creativity, activity and services component which includes mandatory community services.
  • Publication design and management students perform work free of charge for local residents and businesses.
  • Tourism students donate all extra food to a men’s shelter in Montreal after the annual Open House.

Champlain St-Lambert blurs the boundaries between school and community by engaging the “whole student” - head, hands and heart, Singelis said.

Award-winning education

The open learning environment, rich resources, personalized attention, as well as the friendly and informal atmosphere have attracted some of the top brains in the province to Champlain St-Lambert, such as 19-year-old science student Romina Perri of St. Léonard.

Perri, a graduate of Sacred Heart High School whose parents are teachers, has marks that make them proud. She’s on the dean’s list, which means she has a 90-plus average. Her idea of a poor exam result is an 89 per cent. A 94 per cent is more to her liking. Perri may appear hard on herself, but she is determined to receive an acceptance into McGill University, where she hopes to study dentistry to become a periodontist.

She lauds the 3P system of teaching science at Champlain:

  • P1 - Problem-solving
  • P2 - Persuading your peers of the scientific basis of your claims
  • P3 - Peer criticism

“The results of every experiment we performed in class were shown to classmates and discussed,” she said. “The science program here allows us to substitute experiments that interest us for those in the textbooks.”

Peer tutoring is encouraged among students. Those interested in becoming tutors are trained by staff on teaching techniques. They then use the lessons they have learned to pass on their knowledge to other pupils. “To teach is to learn,” is an aphorism taken to heart by Perri, who tutors other students in organic and general chemistry.

Perri is a finalist for the prestigious Garfield Weston Canadian Merit Scholarship award, valued at $40,000, which was won two years in a row by former Champlain St-Lambert students: Nazim Hussain, who came from Chambly Academy, and David Beitel, who studied at Royal West Academy.

As well, former Champlain students Jonathan Beauchamp, who studied at l’École d’éducation internationale, Emily Seng Yue, from Sacred Heart High School, and, once again, Nazim Hussain have received the Canadian Millennium Scholarship valued at approximately $20,000 per recipient.

Perri, who graduates this spring, says she is sad to be leaving the “cozy environment” of Champlain. That sentiment is similar to the feelings expressed by two other graduates: Jamie Orchard and Frank Cavallaro. Which just goes to prove that teaching environments dedicated to excellence are never forgotten by those they help propel into successful careers.

Warren Perley, a former career journalist, is president of Ponctuation Grafix, a marketing and graphic design studio (