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The Class of 2015

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
President, Northeast IT Systems; Age 36

Joel Mollison

Joel Mollison

As a student at Greenfield Community College in the mid-’90s, Joel Mollison couldn’t have imagined himself forging a career in information technology, much less starting his own business in that field. But circumstances changed things, and in a big way.

“I got into this industry by default,” he explained. “I actually started out as a mechanical engineering major and found out I hated it. But along the way, I bought a very expensive computer to do some of my engineering at home. I had a problem with it … I had a warranty from Staples. They wanted me to send it out for six to eight weeks during the middle of the semester, which simply wasn’t feasible.

“So I wound up fixing it myself — taking the cover off, replacing the parts, voiding the warranty, and all that fun stuff,” he went on. “That’s when I got under the hood and decided that this was something I was interested in.”

In other words, he learned by doing, a pattern that would continue after he changed his major to information systems and followed up his associate’s degree from GCC with a bachelor’s from American International College.

Indeed, after surveying a job market that was still quite weak after the dot-com bust that followed Y2K, he decided his best option would be to go into business for himself. He called the venture Joel Mollison Computer Services before taking on a business partner and changing the name to Northeast IT. Today, there are 10 people on the payroll, and the company has a diverse portfolio of clients ranging from municipalities and chambers of commerce to small businesses such as law firm Royal LLP.

A dozen years after getting started, Mollison said business ownership continues to be a learning experience, with no shortage of challenges and new ones seemingly every year.

“There were some lean years in the beginning because I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he recalled. “No bank would touch me, so I started things with credit cards and boot-strapping. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but you learn from those mistakes, and you get better as the years go on. It’s all worked out, but it’s been a long ride — with a long way to go.”

While that ride continues, he’s set to embark on another learning experience — he and his fiancée, Christine Grynkiewicz, are planning a wedding for this fall.

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Continuous Improvement Consultant, MassMutual; Age 36

Jessica Fraga

Jessica Fraga

When Jessica Fraga stands at a podium or in front of a room of students and counsels them about dealing with their past — things they’re not particularly proud of and might be ashamed of — and not letting those issues hold them back from achieving their dreams, she speaks from the heart, and from experience.

Indeed, while attending kindergarten, she was living with her mother in a green Oldsmobile after her mom fled an abusive situation and seemingly exhausted all other options. “I was really young, and I didn’t fully understand, but I knew this wasn’t right,” Fraga recalled, adding that her mother forbade her from talking about her living conditions with anyone out of fear that she would lose her daughter — not that she wanted to talk.

Things eventually improved for the two, but Fraga remembers always being “the poor girl in town,” a stigma that eventually wore her down, prompting her to drop out of high school.

But both she and her mother somehow found the strength and determination to rebound and improve their lives. They both got their GEDs, and they graduated together from Bay Path University. Fraga would go on to earn an MBA, which she put to good use first at Baystate Health in Human Resources and now at MassMutual as a continuous improvement consultant.

“I get to help people find ways to do what they do more efficiently,” said Fraga, who’s also an adjunct professor at Bay Path, teaching a number of business courses. Meanwhile, inspired by those who helped her in her youth, she finds ample time to give back to the community.

She serves on the board of directors for HAPHousing, chairs its resource development committee, and was the featured speaker at its annual fund-raising event, The Way Home. She’s also served on the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission Advisory Council as well as the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, supporting financial literacy for young women and STEM programs for middle-school girls. In 2012, she co-created — and was the featured speaker at — the LGBT Coalition Conference on Career and Life Skills for Transgender Women, and she currently volunteers with the Knockout Project, a nonprofit started by her husband, Jay, which raises awareness about the dangers of concussion and brain injury.

On top of all that, she often tells her story — something she once couldn’t do, but now does to inspire others to put the past behind them and a bright future in front of them.

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography