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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Cultural Partnership (SCP), the parent organization for the Springfield Central Cultural District, recently welcomed Karen Finn as its new executive director. Finn brings a wealth of experience in community service, government, advocacy, and program management to advance the SCP’s mission of sustaining a vibrant arts and cultural environment in Springfield.

The Springfield Central Cultural District, one of 44 designated cultural districts in Massachusetts, encompasses a walkable area of downtown Springfield with cultural attractions such as art, music, theater, dining, historic architecture, and more. The nonprofit was founded in 2014 and now includes more than 50 member organizations representing local arts, culture, and business.

Finn has been an entrepreneur and business owner as well as holding leadership positions within higher education and government. Most recently, she was program and events manager of the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace & Justice at Princeton University, advancing mutual understanding and respect for all ethnic traditions and religious faiths. She was responsible for all communications including website maintenance, preparation of publications and letters, funding proposals, social-media accounts, and reports. She coordinated and managed events including conferences, seminars, and social events both locally and abroad.

“Karen’s experience in building bridges across diverse communities and her extensive business background make her an excellent choice as executive director of the Springfield Cultural Partnership,” said Eileen McCaffery, SCP board chair.

Finn holds a master’s degree in business and was a recipient of the prestigious U.S. Presidential Management Fellowship, serving in Geneva, Switzerland as part of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Her many years of experience developing local marketing strategies through brand awareness, community engagement, and networking promises to be an asset to the Springfield Central Cultural District.

As executive director of the SCP, she will be charged with developing innovative cultural projects and collaborations, and build upon such signature programming as Art Stop, the painted-piano project, pop-up art, and concerts.

“I’m thrilled to work with the Springfield community, the SCP board of directors, and Springfield city leadership to enhance the visibility of Springfield’s vibrant creative economy,” Finn said.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College announced that its Computer Science department has been awarded more than $188,000 through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund a project designed to spark interest in computer science and related fields among middle-school girls in Holyoke.

The project — which will include participants from UMass Amherst, Holyoke Codes, Girls Inc. of Holyoke, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke — will combine robotics, coding, and a simulated natural-disaster situation.

The project, titled Girls Involved in Robotics Learning Simulations (GIRLS), was born after Beryl Hoffman, associate professor of Computer Science at Elms College, met Florence Sullivan, professor at UMass Amherst College of Education, at Holyoke Codes, an organization that provides opportunities for kids to get involved in coding, robotics, and technology.

Hoffman and Sullivan aim to learn more about the role of immersive simulation scenarios in encouraging girls to take interest in and learn about computer science and robotics.

“Our whole objective is to get more girls interested in computer science and robotics because the statistics are pretty dismal,” Hoffman said, pointing out that female students tend to make up 15% to 25% of computer-science majors, and that the field of robotics has even lower numbers, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Hoffman and Sullivan are hoping that hands-on experience will pique girls’ interest and show them the possibilities inherent in computer science and robotics. “Robotics is something that you can touch and see,” Hoffman added. “With robotics, you actually see your coding come to life to solve real-world problems like finding survivors and delivering supplies during a hurricane. I think that really helps to make it real for kids.” 

In year one of the project, the team will finalize all materials and curricula, and test them in single-day workshops. In year two, the educational program will be implemented in partnership with Girls Inc. of Holyoke and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke, with 40 to 60 female students expected to participate. In year three, the team will open the program to middle-school-aged boys, too, and analyze the outcomes of coed learning.

The program will incorporate two groups: experimental and control. The control group will receive only the robotics curriculum, while the experimental group will receive the robotics curriculum plus an immersive narrative that provides the framework for the natural-disaster simulation.

“Our idea was to immerse them in a real-world simulation, building off their experiences with Hurricane Maria and hearing about it in Puerto Rico to show that robotics and technology can really help people in those types of situations,” Hoffman said. “We’ll be using wheeled robots and drones, and they’re going to write code and have the robots go off to find survivors or deliver supplies. That will help the girls realize that you can go into technology and still help people, help society, and there’s a real purpose for it. It can be quite creative.”

The team will use pre- and post-tests, as well as surveys, to gauge the girls’ interest in computer science; they also will videotape interviews with participants and analyze their impressions.

Sullivan is the educational researcher on the project; Hoffman, the computer scientist, will be responsible for developing the computer-science and robotics aspects of the curriculum. Hoffman will be also responsible for creating the computer-science and robotics pre- and post-assessments. The team also includes Andrew Pasquale and Lissie Fein of Holyoke Codes, who will develop the curriculum and the pilot program, and education doctoral student Ricardo Poza. 

As part of the grant project, Elms will offer three paid internships, one per year, to junior or senior computer science or CITS (computer information technology and security) majors. “The interns will help teach the research project’s robotics curriculum to the middle-school students,” Hoffman said.

The funding for the three-year grant project, which stems from the National Robotics Initiative branch of the NSF, totals $570,697; the Elms portion is $188,394. The team plans to publish its results and share the curriculum through a project website.

“All we need to do is spark an interest,” Hoffman said. “The middle-school age is when their interests awaken to different career paths. If we can open their eyes a little, even if they haven’t ever considered going into technology, then all of a sudden after this one week, they might think, ‘that was actually really exciting — maybe I do want to explore that.’”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — When Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates (WMPA) needed help enhancing the skills of their medical assistants, they partnered with Training & Workforce Options (TWO).

TWO developed a curriculum and taught a 10-week class to 15 medical assistants from WMPA. The training was designed to prepare the workers for a national credentialing exam. The TWO course at Holyoke Community College (HCC) was a hybrid of classroom work and online learning taught by a medical assistant.

An additional 25 medical assistants from Holyoke Medical Center Specialty Practices enrolled in a second round of training.

TWO, a collaboration between HCC and Springfield Technical Community College, is designed to deliver high-quality, custom training solutions to the business community to boost bottom-line performance and productivity.

“At TWO, we provide training for a range of businesses throughout the region,” said Sharon Grundel, director of Corporate Training: Healthcare, Nonprofits, and Government Services. “To keep pace with new technologies in the workplace, employers realize that they must invest in skills training to retain good workers, especially in a strong economy.”

Grundel described the training TWO provided to the healthcare workforce as ‘up-skilling.’

“Up-skilling is any education, training, or development program that prepares employees with the knowledge and skills needed to advance their careers,” she said. “And companies realize that, when they invest in employees, retention improves, and that is good for the bottom line.”

Up-skilling — a smaller investment than hiring and training a new worker — serves to create a more well-rounded, cross-trained workforce, Grundel explained.

“Investing in employees is good for business in multiple ways, especially at the entry and direct-care level,” she said. “It helps boost morale. Employees who have training and development opportunities are happier in their roles and have a bright outlook on their future with the company. And that means increased customer satisfaction. When employees are happier with their company and believe in what they are working toward, they do better work.”

Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates — both members of Valley Health Systems — teamed up with TWO to up-skill the medical assistants who are a critical part of their workforce, Grundel explained.

Medical assistants perform a wide array of clinical and administrative duties that require a range of technical, clinical, and administrative skills. Some medical assistants learn through their years of working on the job, while others are formally educated. As healthcare becomes more technically advanced, medical assistants are facing more federal regulations to work in the field. It is becoming more difficult for members of this profession to secure employment without credentialing.

With assistance from TWO, Western Mass Physician Associates received grant funding from the Workforce Training Fund to provide this training opportunity to 15 medical assistants in preparation for a national credentialing exam. TWO later facilitated another round of training for 25 medical assistants from Holyoke Medical Center Specialty Practices.

In addition to classroom learning, Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates developed and staffed a full-scale skills day for all trainees. The session included 10 hands-on stations covering clinical and administrative tasks such as checking vital signs, administering injections and medication, taking EKG measurements, and other competency tests.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The second annual class of Healthcare Heroes will be honored at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden on Thursday, Oct. 25 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Healthcare Heroes, a recognition program involving the Western Mass. healthcare sector, was launched last spring by HCN and BusinessWest. The program was created to shed a bright light on the outstanding work being done across the broad spectrum of health and wellness services, and the institutions and people providing that care.

This year’s honorees by category are: Mary Paquette, director of Health Services and nurse practitioner, American International College; Celeste Surreira, assistant director of Nursing, the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke; Peter DePergola II, director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health; Dr. Matthew Sadof, pediatrician, Baystate Children’s Hospital; TechSpring; the Consortium and the Opioid Task Force; and Robert Fazzi, founder, Fazzi Associates. The seven winners were profiled in the Sept. 4 issue of BusinessWest and the September issue of HCN, and will be feted at the Oct. 25 gala.

Tickets cost $90, and tables of 10 are available. To order tickets, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or visit www.businesswest.com. call Healthcare Heroes sponsors include American International College (presenting sponsor), Baystate Health/Health New England (presenting sponsor), National Grid (partner), and supporting sponsors Renew.Calm, the Elms College MBA program, Bay Path University, and Mercy Medical Center/Trinity Health Of New England.

Daily News

AGAWAM — Governors America Corp. (GAC) recently welcomed Michael Rose as director of Engineering and Innovation. He brings more than 15 years of product development and innovation experience within the aerospace industry. In this role, he will lead the engineering department and work closely with technical and marketing executives to broaden the company’s portfolio and develop innovative products for the engine control and adjacent markets.

“I am delighted that Michael has decided to join our team here at GAC,” said President Sean Collins. “His multiple accomplishments and wide-ranging experience will assist our entire organization garner new levels of success.”

Rose brings a blend of business acumen, broad technical knowledge, and facilitation practices that stem from his years of experience in the roles of engineer, business development manager, and project leader at L3 Technologies and MIT Lincoln Laboratories. His addition to the team reflects the company’s focus on innovation, continuous improvement, and engineering execution.

Governors America Corp. is a leading provider of engine governing and system controls to a worldwide list of equipment manufacturers and power providers.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Dowd Agencies, LLC announced that Steve Corbin has joined its Holyoke staff as an account executive responsible for overseeing employee benefits.

“We have a rapidly growing employee-benefits division, and we are proud to welcome Steve to our team to help us achieve our ambitious growth plans,” said John Dowd Jr., president and CEO. “Steve has nearly two decades of experience in the sales and servicing of business accounts of all sizes.”

As an account executive, Corbin has a team-management role and oversees the division, including managing the renewal process, negotiating with carriers, coordinating open-enrollment meetings, assisting clients with changes, monitoring claims, and related responsibilities.

Corbin attended Johnson & Wales University and served in the U.S. Army Reserve. Involved in his community as a youth coach for basketball, soccer, and lacrosse, he is also a grand knight at the Knights of Columbus St. Francis of Assisi Council #10698 and a board member for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke.

Jon Lumbra, managing partner of Dowd Financial Services, LLC, noted that employee-benefits programs can be complex and confusing for companies to manage on their own. “Steve joins a dynamic team of financial and employee-benefits experts who partner with companies to create and administer everything from group health, life, dental, and vision insurance to employee-wellness programs, executive compensation plans, and individual and corporate retirement plans, among other programs. The relationships we build are based on trust and professionalism, two qualities Steve has in spades.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Officials from Springfield, Holyoke, South Hadley, Northampton, Amherst, and UMass are pleased to see long-anticipated ValleyBike Share bikes out and about in their respective communities, as the system has now surpassed 60,500 miles ridden since its launch less than three months ago, with nearly 30,000 total trips.

From Main Street in Springfield to UMass Amherst’s campus, Pioneer Valley residents and visitors alike have embraced this 21st-century urban mobility amenity, which has brought riders of widely varying experience levels into the region’s biking public.

While a majority of these riders have followed the basic rules of the road, ValleyBike Share and local officials remind ValleyBike Share users, as well as anyone else out on a bike, to remember to ride with traffic, never against it; stop at stopsigns and red lights; avoid riding on sidewalks; and use additional bike lighting when necessary for enhanced visibility.

Additionally, ValleyBike Share reminds its users that, while the baskets fitted to the front of the bikes are great for transporting groceries, backpacks, briefcases, and other day-to-day luggage, they are absolutely not for transporting additional passengers. Not only are the baskets not engineered to withstand the weight of a person riding in it, but that additional burden can impact the handling of the bike, putting both people at risk. 

For additional information on the system, the public can visit valleybike.org or contact [email protected] or (833) 825-2453.

Daily News

AGAWAM — As part of organizational changes previously announced by OMG Inc. to accelerate growth, the company has named Peter Coyne to the newly created position of senior vice president and general manager for the Roofing Products division.

In this role, Coyne is responsible for developing and executing the division’s overall strategy for the three recently created divisional business units: fasteners, adhesives and solar, and metal accessories, which includes edge metal. In addition, he is responsible for overseeing Roofing Products’ new product-development and innovation group and its global sales and marketing teams, including key-account sales, customer service, and technical support. He reports to Hubert McGovern, president and CEO of OMG.

“Peter is a great fit for this position,” said McGovern. “He has a proven track record of being an extraordinary leader with a strong focus on creating long-term value for customers and shareholders.”

Coyne joins OMG from Gulftech International, a diversified holding company with five operating businesses serving food-production and processing companies in 85 countries. Working in the company’s Denver headquarters, he served as general manager and head of operations following various roles in finance and operations with Danaher Corp., Saw Mill Capital, and Steel Partners. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of William & Mary and an MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank has promoted Aleda Amistadi to the position of senior vice president of Retail and Operations. She formerly served as first vice pesident of Operations and has 22 years of banking experience.

“While I have led Operations here at PeoplesBank, I actually started my banking career in retail, so I am very familiar with that aspect of the industry,” Amistadi said. “I believe that combining retail and Ooperations leadership into one position will create better communications and decision making internally, which will lead to an improved customer experience.”

Amistadi earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Westfield State University and an MBA from Western New England University. She also earned a Wharton leadership certificate from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a Six Sigma green belt certification from Duke University Continuing Studies MindEdge Online Learning. She is also a graduate of the ABA Stonier School of Banking.

Amistadi serves on the board of directors and the finance committee for Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Emily Harman, director of the Office of Small Business Programs for the Department of the Navy, in partnership with the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts Assistance Center, will conduct a small-business workshop titled “Doing Business with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps” on Thursday, Sept. 20 as part of Springfield Navy Week, Sept. 17-23.

In 2017, the Department of the Navy awarded $3.2 billion in contracts to businesses in Massachusetts, with more than $66.8 million going to small businesses within 50 miles of Springfield. Industries awarded contracts include engineering services, aircraft manufacturing, commercial and institutional building construction, commercial and institutional building construction, radio and television broadcasting, wireless communications equipment manufacturing, and more.

The small-business workshop, slated for 10 a.m. to noon at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield, is designed to educate small businesses on how to do business with the Navy and Marine Corps. The workshop will also cover how to find out about upcoming contracting opportunities and how small businesses can contribute to the warfighter mission.

There is no cost to attend. Parking is available behind the conference center at a rate of $1 per half-hour. Reservations are required to attend. To register, click here or e-mail Karen Tetreault at [email protected].