Dr. Deborah T. Curtis, vice president of Niagara University’s International Relations Office and the Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership, and Sara Capen, executive director for the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, received Community Leader Awards from The National Federation for Just Communities of WNY at a luncheon at the Buffalo Convention Center.
In her role as vice president, Curtis develops strategic international initiatives and leads the university’s international growth, development and community outcomes. She has developed successful English and academic summer programs, conducted effective training programs in numerous countries on four continents, and led management development programs for delegations of executives and government officials from China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Curtis developed the Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute, a collaborative venture Niagara University formed with Catholic Charities of Buffalo that offers career preparation and placement for unemployed refugees. Through this program, she has assisted individuals ranging in age from 19-60 years old, from Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Curtis previously led Niagara University’s Center for Events and Management Development, and was integral to the development of Hotel Schools of Distinction, a global alliance of premier hotel schools in partnership with hospitality industry leaders dedicated to creating high-quality talent by sharing knowledge and research. She served as director of the Americas for Leading Hotel Schools of the World, a joint venture with Leading Hotels of the World.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in travel and tourism from NU, a master’s degree in education from Canisius College, and a doctorate in business administration from University of Sarasota.
Capen’s work with the National Heritage Area began at its inception in 2011, when she began developing a management plan and building community partnerships to preserve, protect and promote the natural, cultural and historic resources along the Niagara River corridor. When the National Heritage Area transitioned from a federal commission to a nonprofit organization in 2013, she assumed her current role as executive director. Since then, she has spearheaded the development of initiatives including the Discover Niagara Shuttle, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, “Fridays on the Frontier” education program, and the Discover Niagara mobile application to interpret the area’s rich history, connect visitors and residents to its unique landscape and heritage, create cultural tourism products, and foster stewardship through educational outreach programs for youth.
Capen also serves as an adjunct professor in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management at NU, and is the chairwoman of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas.
The National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York Inc. is a human relations organization dedicated to overcoming racism, bias and bigotry by building a just and inclusive community through education, advocacy and engagement. The Community Leaders Awards recognize individuals/organizations in WNY who have made significant contributions to the region through their involvement in volunteer activities and/or their special achievements in specific areas of community and professional life. These individuals/organizations exemplify the NFJC core mission of promoting goodwill, understanding, respect and trust.