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AGAWAM — Jean Deliso of the Connecticut Valley General Office of New York Life, an agent since 1995, has received the Agent of the Year Award for 2020. This award recognizes the agent who has achieved the top production among all agents at the company’s Connecticut Valley General Office.

“We applaud Jean for this achievement,” said Steven Solonch, managing partner of the Connecticut Valley General Office. “Being acknowledged as the Agent of the Year is a significant accomplishment. She received this recognition for her ability to meet the financial needs of families and businesses in the Western Massachusetts/Southern Connecticut area.”

Deliso has developed an expertise in helping business owners and individuals protect and secure their own and their family’s future. Her extensive experience has led to a focus in certain fields, such as cash and risk management, retirement, and estate planning. She is committed to educating individuals regarding their finances and frequently conducts workshops advocating financial empowerment.

She is a Nautilus Group member agent, an exclusive advanced-planning resource for estate-conservation and business-continuation strategies. Her access to this exclusive resource enables her clients to benefit from the group’s collective experience and insightful solutions as they apply to the protection, accumulation, and distribution of wealth to individuals, families, and business owners throughout the country.

Deliso has also been a member of New York Life Chairman’s Council since 2012 and a qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table since 1999. Members of the elite Chairman’s Council rank in the top 3% of New York Life’s sales force of more than 12,000 licensed agents in sales achievement.

Active in her community, she currently serves on the board of the Baystate Health Foundation and is the immediate past chairman. She also serves on and is the past chairman of the board of the Community Music School of Springfield and is the past chairman of the board of YMCA of Greater Springfield. She is a graduate of Bentley College.

Daily News

SOUTHWICK — Whalley Computer Associates (WCA) has once again been named to the Tech Elite 250 list comprised of solution providers in the U.S. and Canada that have made the investments necessary to earn the highest level of certifications from the largest and most prestigious manufacturers of technology products and services, such as Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Nutanix, VMware, HPI, and HPE, to name a few.

CRN, a brand of the Channel Company, named WCA to the Tech Elite 250 in 2016 and 2019 as well.

WCA’s engineering team has earned about 125 certifications with nearly 30 different manufacturers by numerous dedicated engineers.

Paul Whalley, vice president of WCA, said the experience of the company’s 42 years in the industry, coupled with the expertise of its knowledgeable staff of engineers and technicians who have made invaluable contributions to WCA’s success, has once again placed the tech firm in the company of the best of the best.

“All of us at Whalley Computer Associates are pleased to be ranked on CRN’s top-250 Tech Elite,” he said. “I am very proud that we have earned this honor, and many of the employees that enabled this success have been with WCA for more than 20 years.”

Founded in 1979, WCA has been providing IT solutions and services to customers throughout New England and upstate New York for 42 years. While it boasts a diverse customer base from small customers to numerous Fortune 100 companies in a wide array of industries, WCA is one of North America’s leading technology solution providers to healthcare, retail, finance, K-12, higher education, and government agencies on both the state and local levels.

Businesses and organizations call upon solution providers for an increasingly broad range of technologies, services, and expertise to help them meet today’s IT challenges, whether implementing a new type of technology or undertaking a high-stakes cloud or digital-transformation initiative.

To meet those demands, Whalley said, solution and strategic service providers must always be at the top of their game in terms of business and technology skills. To do that, solution providers must maintain high levels of training and certification from the IT vendors with whom they partner and achieve the highest tiers within those vendors’ partner programs.

Daily News

SOUTH HADLEY — For more than 40 years, Darby O’Brien Advertising has created and executed innovative branding, advertising, and political campaigns. In recent years, clients have increasingly asked the agency to bring its same out-of-step approach to another important area of business: recruiting.

Many businesses, especially in technology and manufacturing, are facing unique challenges in today’s job market. Many have plenty of well-paid positions open but are unable to find the right candidates to fill them. Then, when they find the right people, it can be a challenge to keep them. Traditional headhunters and online hiring services often fall short, offering boilerplate approaches to a problem that needs customized solutions — and offering no follow-up.

“Anyone can generate a pile of random résumés from all over the world in your inbox,” Darby O’Brien said. “Finding a quality candidate with staying power is what really matters.”

The agency decided to launch Catch & Keep after developing successful recruiting campaigns for clients including VSS CNC Machining, the Mental Health Assoc., Paragus IT, and Berkshire Real Estate.

“We take the time to dig in and understand the business and identify exactly the kind of person they’re looking for,” O’Brien said. “Then we develop targeted strategies to reach them. Some of these strategies are very out of the ordinary, but that’s why they work.”

Case studies and more information on Catch & Keep can be found at darbyobrien.com/recruiting.

Daily News

FLORENCE — Florence Bank named Cynthia Malinowski as this year’s Community Support Award winner. Malinowski, vice president and branch manager of the downtown Northampton office, joined Florence Bank in October 1999 and has 33 years of banking experience.

The Community Support Award was established by the bank in 1997 as a means of formally recognizing employees who are active participants in community events and donate their personal and professional time to local not-for-profit organizations.

Each year, the award recipient can select a nonprofit organization of his or her choice, and the bank will donate to that organization. At Malinowski’s recommendation, Florence Bank will donate $500 to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The mission of the Food Bank is to feed neighbors in need and lead the community in ending hunger.

Malinowski serves as an active member of the Greater Northampton Area Chamber of Commerce. She is also involved with the Easthampton Helping Hand Society and occasionally volunteers at the Easthampton Community Center.

“Cindy is the ideal choice for the Community Support Award,” said Kevin Day, president and CEO of Florence Bank. “Her positive energy, commitment to numerous local nonprofit organizations, and dedication to helping those in need within our community is exemplary.”

Daily News

By George O’Brien

For the past several years now, UMass Amherst athletics have been, well … under fire.

And the discussion has centered around two sports — the two sports most people focus on when they think of big-time college athletics, football and basketball.

The basketball team in Amherst has been mostly irrelevant since the Marcus Camby-led team that went to the national championship game a quarter-century ago. The football team … well, it’s been worse than irrelevant, if that’s possible. It’s been relevant for all the wrong reasons — atrocious records, historically poor defense, and endless talk that the school made a terribly wrong decision when it decided to move up to the big time and start playing with Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

With the UMass hockey team’s decisive 5-0 win over St. Cloud State in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the school has a national championship to boast, and something else to talk about. Finally. This was a huge win for the team and the school and one that could redirect the discussion about athletics at the state’s flagship university.

How, exactly, we’re not sure. It could change ideas about just what this university is, a football or basketball school (the debate has raged for years). Maybe, just maybe, it’s a hockey school. It may change the debate about just how important those two ‘big’ sports are, really, when it comes to a school’s identity, or even its finances.

But we hope it changes the discussion when it comes to just what can happen if people are determined, patient, and the pieces finally fall into place. Remember, UMass dropped hockey — not once, but twice — over the past 80 years. When this writer was covering the team for the UMass Collegian in the late ’70s, it didn’t even have its own arena; home games were played at Amherst College’s Orr Rink.

When a rink was finally built and hockey was restored in 1993, a slow rebuilding process commenced that brought the team to some success, including a trip to the nationals in 2007. The final piece to the puzzle was the hiring of former St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel, who has recruited players that have bought UMass to two straight national championships. They knocked on the door in 2019, and on Saturday night, they stormed through it.

This team looks like it could be a powerhouse for a long, long time, although, certainly, nothing can be taken for granted.

There might be those thinking, ‘why can’t this be the football or basketball team?’ But that’s not the right way to think. First, it doesn’t have to one of those two sports; a school can build an identity in other ways when it comes to athletics. Second, if this team has done anything, it’s shown that it can happen with those sports. It might take time — it might take decades — but it can happen.

So this was a hard-earned victory to be celebrated — on many, many levels.

George O’Brien is editor and associate publisher of BusinessWest.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College and the Great Northeast Athletic Conference announced that the Blazers’ GNAC core membership will begin this fall with the upcoming 2021-22 academic year.

Last October, both the institution and the league office issued a joint announcement indicating Elms would join the GNAC with the 2022-23 academic year; however, that timeline has since been adjusted.

Elms had been a member of the New England College Conference since 2007, claiming 19 league championships while leading the way in All-Academic selections.

“It was the right time to make the move,” said Elms College Director of Athletics Michael Theulen. “We are looking forward to having all of our varsity sport programs in the same league, and to competing with other institutions so closely aligned with Elms’s mission, core values, and dedication to putting equal importance on both academic integrity and athletic opportunity.”

The Blazers’ swimming and diving programs have been associate members of GNAC since 2006, last competing at the 2020 GNAC championships just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Now all 17 sport programs will compete in the same conference, including baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s golf, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, as well as men’s and women’s volleyball.

“The GNAC is a natural fit for Elms College, as seven other private Catholic colleges are currently among its member institutions,” said Elms College President Harry Dumay. “Also, our student athletes have competed with GNAC institutions in various sports both in  and out of conference, and already feel at home with its level of competitiveness, sportspersonship, and camaraderie.”

GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh, the conference office, and current members are working diligently to make scheduling adjustments to accommodate the Blazers’ programs, as Elms will now begin its GNAC journey this fall with men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

“We are most pleased at the opportunity to offer a first-class student-athlete experience for Elms’ programs beginning this fall,” Walsh said.

Daily News

NORTH ADAMS — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) has received a $28,720 Higher Education Innovation Fund Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), which recently announced a slate of $1.7 million in grants for the state’s public colleges. These grants fund initiatives that help colleges work toward racial equity in Massachusetts public higher education.

The grant will allow the MCLA Department of Public Safety to work with a consulting firm specializing in improving police departments’ relationships with their communities. The consultant will work with MCLA to develop an interactive training module for the Department of Public Safety with the goal of increasing cultural competency and engagement of its officers and staff with the MCLA community.

“I’m deeply appreciative to see our Department of Public Safety receive this grant funding,” said MCLA President James Birge. “Our dedicated public-safety officers play an important role in our community. MCLA’s student population is diverse, and their experiences with police vary greatly. This grant will help our Department of Public Safety continue to connect with our community and help them do the important work of ensuring our campus is a safe, comfortable place for everyone who studies, works, and visits here.”

Most of the grant proposals funded by DHE seek to provide faculty and staff equity training for transforming campus pedagogy, syllabi, curriculum, and campus life, with the goal of making the institution a truly nurturing environment for students of color.

“Since the inception of the Higher Education Innovation Fund, our goal has been to seed and support new ideas and proven practices across our campuses, with the overarching goal to increase success outcomes for minoritized students,” said Patricia Marshall, deputy commissioner for Academic Affairs and Student Success. “We have begun to identify the need for significant changes in the way we operate and educate, focusing on ensuring that we’re ready to meet the needs of racially minoritized students at our institutions. The innovation grants will provide campuses with the resources to amplify this important work.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Kayombo Kamawu, a longtime administrator and advocate in the human-services field, was recently tapped by Pathlight to join its leadership team as vice president of Residential Supports.

Pathlight, established in 1952, is a pioneer in services for children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout the four counties of Western Mass.

Prior to joining Pathlight, Kamawu served as vice president of Adult Services at the Kennedy-Donovan Center, where he was responsible for residential, day, and community Services, including shared living, family-support centers, and individual/supported living. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer and management information systems.

“We are thrilled to have Kayombo join Pathlight as we look forward to a post-COVID era,” said Ruth Banta, executive director. “His deep experience supporting people with disabilities makes him a key addition to our talented team.”

Kamawu has also served in various leadership capacities in community-based day supports, employment, and day habilitation service lines. He prides himself in developing strong teams and enjoys the hands-on experience gathered while working with those teams.

“Pathlight is a forward-thinking leader in this industry, and being a part of the team is a privilege,” he said. “I see this opportunity as a way to contribute to Pathlight’s greater mission: helping everyone, of all abilities, reach their full potential. I hope to sprinkle some of my out-of-the-box thinking on an already-solid foundation.”

Daily News

HADLEY — UMassFive College Federal Credit Union announced four recent promotions.

Alex Fullerton has been promoted to assistant vice president of Loan Operations. In this new role, he is responsible for providing leadership, oversight, and direction for all consumer-lending activities. Fullerton has been with the credit union for nine years and has held numerous roles, beginning as a teller, and most recently a supervisor of the Debt Solutions department.

Kristina Smith has been promoted to assistant vice president of Retail Administration. Transitioning from overseeing retail branches, she now supports frontline teams to help plan and implement organizational growth projects; manage retail policies, procedures, and training; as well as assist with retail programs to ensure operational efficiencies are maintained. Beginning as a part-time teller after graduating from UMass Amherst, her assorted roles at the credit union over the past 12 years have prepared her for this new position. Smith’s UMassFive career includes working as the assistant to the former president/CEO manager of the Mercy Medical Center branch and senior branch manager in Hadley.

Christina Reynolds has been promoted to Card Services manager. She began her career at UMassFive 10 years ago as a part-time online banking specialist in the Contact Center, eventually taking on other various branch assignments, including most recently the Northampton branch manager position. In her new role, she oversees the Card Services department, ensuring debit- and credit-card quality control and audit processes are in place while also maintaining policies to maximize efficiency and service to members.

Tara Sanderson has been promoted to loan servicing manager. She began her career at UMassFive in December of 2017 as a loan servicing specialist. She was promoted to senior loan servicing specialist in mid-2019, shortly followed by a promotion to loan servicing supervisor. In her new position as loan servicing manager, Sanderson oversees both the loan-processing and loan-servicing aspects of lending to ensure compliance and maximize efficiency and service internally as well as for UMassFive members.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College will hold its second Rev. Hugh Crean Distinguished Lecture on Tuesday, April 20 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. This lecture is presented by the St. Augustine Center for Ethics, Religion, and Culture at Elms College, and, due to COVID-19 protocols, this event will be held virtually via Zoom.

The featured speaker will be David O’Brien, professor emeritus and Loyola professor of Roman Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, where he has been a faculty member since 1969. His talk is titled “Reflections on the Year of St. Joseph,” and he will address the significance of St. Joseph as patron of the church during the Year of St. Joseph.

This distinguished lecture series was established in 2019 to honor the late Rev. Hugh Crean, who was a professor of Religious Studies at Elms College from 1973 to 1979. He was a respected pastor and theologian who dedicated his life to pastoral care, spiritual leadership, and education at Elms and with the Diocese of Springfield.

Each year, a national leader in theology, ethics, or philosophy is invited to lecture on a topic that highlights the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Last year’s lecture was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An historian of American Catholicism, O’Brien specializes in Catholic social and political thought and religion and politics. He is the author of several books, including The Renewal of American Catholicism, Public Catholicism: The American Church and Public Life, and From the Heart of the American Church: Catholic Higher Education and American Culture. He also was co-editor of Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage.

The free event is open to the public. Visit www.elms.edu/crean to register. A Zoom link will be sent to all participants prior to the lecture.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Freedom Credit Union recently welcomed Greg Landry as a mortgage loan originator in its West Springfield branch.

“We’re delighted to have Greg on our lending team,” Vice President and Chief Loan Officer Jeffrey Smith said. “In a way, it’s like he’s coming home, as he previously worked at West Springfield Federal Credit Union before it merged with Freedom in 2019. He has a long history in this community and is the perfect person to help our members in the area become homeowners.”

A graduate of Framingham State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Landry has worked as a mortgage and home-equity loan originator for more than 24 years.

“I was born and raised in West Springfield and have lived in Hampden County for most of my life,” Landry said. “In addition, I’ve been a member of Freedom Credit Union for more than 30 years. That means I understand and love this city and this region, and I’m excited to be able to help others establish roots in our community.”

Mortgage loan originators help homebuyers understand their mortgage options and assist with free pre-qualifications and every step of the application process through closing. They also work with members who wish to refinance or take advantage of their home equity with a line of credit or fixed-rate home-equity loan.

Daily News

NORTH ADAMS — The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Division of Graduate and Continuing Education will hold a virtual information session on Tuesday, April 13 at 4 p.m. This information session will offer details about the college’s MBA program, graduate certificate in business administration, master of education program, teacher licensure programs, administrative licensure, Leadership Academy, and bachelor’s-degree completion programs.

Community members seeking to advance their educational credentials by attaining a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or educator license to become a teacher, principal, or superintendent are encouraged to attend. This information session is free and open to the public, and representatives from each program will answer questions related to academics, the application process, education timelines, and more.

For more information or to register, click here. Learn more about MCLA DGCE’s programming and how to apply at www.mcla.edu.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Bulkley Richardson recently launched a Blockchain and Cryptocurrency practice group to provide solutions for businesses adopting blockchain technology in a complex and changing regulatory landscape.

The group’s attorneys have broad-based experience in key areas affecting blockchain technologies, including financial services and banking, intellectual property, securities regulation, emerging businesses, corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, taxation, and digital privacy and cybersecurity.

Blockchain technologies like cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are changing the way businesses operate. The rise of the blockchain has spurred a wave of innovation that is disrupting the market and spawning new areas of the digital economy. As blockchain innovation continues to grow and evolve, so do the legal, regulatory, and business challenges.

The Blockchain and Cryptocurrency practice group includes attorneys Mark Cress, Dan Finnegan, Scott Foster, Bart Galvin, Lauren Ostberg, Ron Weiss, and Sarah Willey. With a cross-disciplinary approach, Bulkley Richardson aims to assist clients in capitalizing on new business opportunities and meeting the challenges in this rapidly evolving industry.

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SPRINGFIELD — All States Transport Inc. recently welcomed Bill Shibley, former president of Zip Carriers in Westfield. He comes to AST with 41 years of experience, including 26 years at Zip Carriers. When the owner of Zip Carriers announced his retirement early this year, Shibley was looking to merge the firm’s longtime client base with a local transportation broker, and AST was his first choice.

“We’ve been friendly competitors for years, and AST has always had a great reputation,” Shibley said. “They’re very well-established, and it’s a similar culture to Zip Carriers — family-run, with a focus on excellent customer service. I’ve had some of my clients for almost 30 years. I couldn’t drop the ball. I knew I could count on AST to provide the same level of support, service, and expertise that I’ve always delivered. At 66, it’s a little funny to be starting out at a new place, but so far, so good.”

All States Transport Inc. is a domestic freight broker and international freight forwarder offering customized shipping solutions across road, rail, ocean, and air.

“We’re thrilled to bring Bill and his clients aboard,” said Billy Kingston, president of AST. “He’s a real pro, and it’s a great fit. AST is very growth-oriented, and we’re excited to move forward with the strong addition of Bill and his client base.”

Daily News

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the debut of non-stop service from Bradley International Airport (BDL) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) on Frontier Airlines.

“We’re delighted to announce new, non-stop service between Hartford and Atlanta,” said Tyri Squyres, vice president of Marketing at Frontier Airlines. “Our focus is delivering ‘low fares done right,’ and this new service represents our continued commitment to affordable flying and expanding travel opportunities for Connecticut flyers.”

The service will commence on June 11 and will operate four times per week. To view flight times and booking information, visit www.flyfrontier.com.

“We are excited to see Frontier Airlines expand their footprint at Bradley International Airport with the addition of new, non-stop service to Atlanta,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the CAA. “This added service strengthens our partnership with Frontier Airlines and builds on our commitment to offer more travel options to popular destinations on this renowned, low-cost carrier. As we join the aviation industry on the road to recovery, we thank Frontier Airlines for their continued vote of confidence in Bradley International Airport.”

With the debut of non-stop service to Atlanta, Frontier Airlines will now offer five non-stop destinations from Bradley International Airport this summer. The airline’s other destinations include Denver, Miami, Orlando, and Raleigh-Durham.

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HOLYOKE — Continuing a period of unprecedented growth, Pixel Health, a five-company, national healthcare-consulting ecosystem, appointed two seasoned IT professionals to fill new brand-level operations manager roles. Former Yankee Candle Chief Information Officer Dennis Shockro assumes the role of director of Operations at engineering consultancy VertitechIT. IT managed-services industry manager Jennifer Brown joins baytechIT as senior director of Operations.

“Pixel Health has almost doubled in size during the last year,” said VertitechIT President and Pixel Health Chief Operating Officer Gregory Pellerin. “Dennis’ experience as a senior IT leader with some of America’s most technologically savvy companies will allow him to assume a key leadership position within VertitechIT.” In addition to Yankee Candle, Shockro held senior operational roles at Brookstone and Northern Tool and Equipment.

Brown has more than 20 years of customer-focused and technical experience, both in the human-services and IT managed-services industries.

“BaytechIT is one of the country’s only healthcare-focused managed-service providers,” baytechIT President Patrick Streck said. “In addition to our hospital clients, we serve more than 150 medical practices, clinics, and nonprofits. As we continue to expand our MSP capabilities, we need someone with Jennifer’s experience to continue to optimize our data-driven processes and assure that we’re providing the best possible service through our U.S.-based call center and field-services operations.”

Pixel Health companies VertitechIT, baytechIT, Nectar Strategic Consulting, akiro, and Liberty Fox Technologies work with health systems, hospitals, clinics, and medical practices across North America. VertitechIT is the leading certified HIMSS Analytics INFRAM consultant in the world. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago, Pixel Health has expanded its overall workforce by approximately 40% across its U.S. operations.

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SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College announced that Beth Zapatka has been hired as the new vice president for Institutional Advancement, following a national and competitive search. Zapatka comes to Springfield College from Yale University, where she served as associate dean for Development and Alumni Affairs for the Yale School of Nursing. She will join the President’s Leadership Team on July 1.

“Beth will oversee all of our institutional-advancement efforts, including the departments of Advancement Services, Alumni Relations, and Development,” said Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper. “Beth will work closely with the President’s Leadership Team and our entire campus community to translate the passion for and loyalty to Springfield College into successful fundraising efforts and long-term alumni engagement.”

In a nine-year career at Yale, Zapatka held numerous roles that created a well-rounded set of experiences in institutional advancement that are directly transferable to Springfield College. In her most recent role in the School of Nursing, her accomplishments include securing significant new resources — nearly tripling contributions to the school — overseeing a rebranding campaign, building university-wide collaborations, broadening the use of social-media platforms, and reinvigorating the alumni and advisory boards.

“This is an important hire for the college as we prepare to publicly launch our campaign later this year,” Cooper said. “With a career spent in philanthropy, Beth’s leadership and experience are an excellent match for Springfield College. Beth also has demonstrated a keen ability to grow and develop a strong team of institutional-advancement staff and has a record of success in cultivating relationships that will advance the college’s mission and resource base.”

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SPRINGFIELD — American International College’s (AIC) 81st annual Model Congress will convene virtually on Thursday, April 15 at 6 p.m. In lieu of the traditional weekend conference, AIC’s Model Congress is hosting a free-to-attend Zoom emergency session.

Founded in 1940, AIC’s Model Congress is the longest-running continuous congress of its type in the nation, and one of the college’s oldest campus traditions. Every year since its inception, AIC’s Model Congress has brought high schools from throughout New England to campus to write, debate, and pass legislation in a simulated congress. The program, completely student-run from program development to the organization and facilitation of the legislative sessions, celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. With support from faculty and staff, AIC student leaders have kept the program thriving and secured its place as an educational opportunity for high-school students throughout the Northeast for eight decades.

In 2021, the tradition will continue, albeit differently. This year, AIC’s Model Congress will convene with an emergency session only. Due to the pandemic, the committee sessions typically held throughout the weekend-long event are suspended. Any high-school student can register to attend. Zoom information will be provided to all participants closer to the date of the event. Since this is an emergency-style debate session, participants will not know the topic of the legislation until minutes before the session begins to simulate a true emergency session in Congress.

Since the purpose of this event is to uphold the tradition of AIC’s yearly Model Congress and have fun, no awards will be presented this year. High-school students interested in participating are invited to visit aicmodelcongress.org to learn more and/or register, or e-mail [email protected] for additional information. The registration deadline is April 15 at noon.

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WETHERSFIELD, Conn. — VHB recently welcomed Andrew Harris as senior project manager and senior geologist for its Connecticut Site Investigation & Remediation (SI&R) practice and the Southern New England markets.

Harris brings extensive experience working with industrial and commercial clients to assess and remediate brownfield and legacy properties across the Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and New England. His environmental and redevelopment projects span the full project life cycle from initial due diligence and hazardous-building materials assessments, decommissioning, and demolition to remedial design, construction, and site closure. He has vast knowledge in assessing and remediating asbestos, lead, PCBs, petroleum, VOCs, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

In 2014, Harris was a member of the active working group for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to develop the department’s Guidance Document on Calculating the 95% Upper Confidence Level.

“Andy’s multi-faceted experience with all aspects of the project life cycle will elevate VHB’s ability to provide our clients with a comprehensive understanding of their environmental remediation and assessment service needs,” said Glen Kirkpatrick, national director of Site Investigation and Remediation.

In addition to being a licensed environmental professional (LEP) in Connecticut, a professional geologist (PG) in New Hampshire, and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 2.0 accredited professional (LEED 2.0 AP), Harris is also adjunct faculty at the University of Connecticut, teaching a class on how to conduct ASTM phase I and II environmental site assessments in Connecticut. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in geology from Ohio Wesleyan University and his master’s degree in geoscience from the University of Connecticut.

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SPRINGFIELD — United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) announced its latest initiative to feed the hungry in the Pioneer Valley: a food pantry in downtown Chicopee. Called Chicopee Cupboard, it will offer food to those in need on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Chicopee Cupboard, located at 32 Center St., will open on Thursday, April 15 at 10 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. People in need of food are welcome to call (413) 693-0213 to make an appointment starting on April 15 at 11 a.m.

“Last year, we surveyed our community partners, local businesses, municipal governments, and state officials on what the Pioneer Valley needs from its nonprofit sector, and identified that feeding the hungry is an area where we can do a lot of good in our community,” said Paul Mina, president & CEO of United Way of Pioneer Valley. “Chicopee is our first food pantry, and we have more plans to feed the hungry in the Pioneer Valley this year.”

More information can be found at uwpv.org/chicopee-cupboard, and donations can be made at uwpv.org/donate.

 

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BOSTON — As the battle to moderate COVID-19 continues, Massachusetts employers have become enthusiastic about the direction of the economy.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index surged 4.5 points in March to 60.9, its highest level since the pandemic and consequent business restrictions went into effect a year ago.

Confidence levels have increased 11.6 points since December as COVID-19 vaccines have raised hopes for an end to the crisis and the federal government provided a $1.9 trillion stimulus injection.

The March reading was 20.7 points higher than it was last year at this time, when the initial wave of the pandemic sent the Index reeling with its largest one-month decline on record.

Massachusetts employers created 14,000 jobs during February, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.7% to 7.1%. Nationally, the government reported Friday that U.S. employers added 916,000 jobs during March, nearly double February’s gain of 468,000.

“Employers certainly remain concerned about COVID-19 variants and rising case numbers, but they are clearly bullish about the underlying strength of the Massachusetts and national economies,” said Raymond Torto, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and chair of the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA). “Several companies told the March survey that commodity prices and domestic demand are both increasing, signaling tentative steps toward recovery.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 140 Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative.

The constituent indicators that make up the Business Confidence Index were all higher for the third consecutive month in March. Every indicator is now well above 50 and resting comfortably in positive territory.

Employers’ confidence in their own companies rose 2.8 points to 61.8. It marked the sixth consecutive monthly increase for the Company Index.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth rose 6.1 points to 60.6. The U.S. Index measuring conditions nationally surged 8.3 points to 58.7, almost 27 points higher than it was in March 2020.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, was up 5.3 points to 57.1. The Future Index, measuring projections for the economy six months from now, reached its highest level since May 2018 at 64.8.

The Employment Index gained 1.2 points to 55.8, confirming the comments of many employers about the challenges of hiring and retaining skilled workers. The hiring issues come despite the fact that more than 300,000 Massachusetts residents remain without jobs more than a year into the public-health crisis.

Confidence among manufacturing companies climbed 3.3 points to 59.5 during March, leaving it 19.8 points better than its year-earlier level. Large companies (67.4) were more bullish than medium-sized companies (60.7) or small companies (54.6). Companies in Eastern Mass. (63.7) have a brighter outlook than those in Western Mass. (56.4).

Nada Sanders, distinguished professor of Supply Chain Management at Northeastern University and a BEA member, said the disruption last week at a company manufacturing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, coupled with the resumption of lockdowns in key European countries, may moderate the optimism of employers.

“There are areas of the supply chain that were woefully unprepared for COVID-19. Retailers and suppliers, for example, built a supply-chain system that was too complex, in which the slightest crack down the line created a large ripple effect,” Sanders said. “Companies are now addressing those weaknesses, but the events of the past week, including the backup of the Suez Canal, may give employers pause.”

AIM President and CEO John Regan, also a BEA member, said the Massachusetts Legislature’s vote last week to freeze unemployment-insurance rates and create a tax benefit for small companies that received a forgivable loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program represented significant commitments to the economic recovery of the Commonwealth.

“Add to that the fact that Senate President Karen Spilka told the AIM Executive Forum on Friday that she does not support tax increases this year, and House Speaker Ronald Mariano’s similar statements several weeks ago, and employers are encouraged that lawmakers will maintain a positive environment for business growth in 2021,” Regan said.

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SOUTH HADLEY — Associated Builders Inc. recently welcomed Dan Dodge, whose role will encompass business development, pre-construction planning and logistics, and project coordination. His extensive experience in the execution of large-scale commercial and industrial construction projects will increase the capabilities of Associated Builders to better serve the business community of the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

A South Hadley native, Dodge’s career spans more than 30 years of demonstrated achievements in commercial real-estate development and construction for major retailers and Fortune 500 companies. Previously, he served in progressive roles as manager of Land Planning, construction project manager, and director of Development at Berkshire Development LLC, followed by the role of managing director of Development at NAI Plotkin.

He has evaluated and conducted due diligence on more than 200 real-estate development projects, ranging from a 50,000-square-foot single tenant property valued at $5 million to a 300,000-square-foot, multi-tenant property valued at $40 million. His experience includes project coordination for national brand anchor stores including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, HHGregg Electronics, Staples, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Dodge holds an unrestricted Massachusetts construction supervisor license, a certificate in construction project management and contracting, a certificate in AutoCAD, an OSHA 30-hour certificate, and a certificate in architectural and civil drafting and design. He is a Massachusetts-licensed real-estate salesperson and an FAA-certified drone pilot. He is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and a former South Hadley Planning Board member.

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SPRINGFIELD — The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Western New England University (WNEU) $649,111 for a five-year grant to offer scholarships to students. The target populations are students who are high achievers in high school whose family demonstrates they will benefit from financial aid. The grant will create a community-outreach program to increase the number of high-school and middle-school students entering and succeeding in STEM fields.

The grant, titled Sustainable Pathways to Success for Low-income STEM Students Emphasizing Research and Innovation, was awarded to Jingru Benner, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and a team of educators from the university including Dean Hossein Cheraghi, Michael Rust, and Anthony Santamaria from the College of Engineering; Raymond Ostendorf from the College of Arts and Sciences; and Bryan Gross, vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing. Benner will serve as principal investigator and project director.

The project will increase the number of high-school students who have access to enroll in the WNEU Mechanical Engineering program. The grant provides funding for an annual need-based scholarship that will be added on top of each student’s WNEU merit scholarship and can be combined with the university’s Women in Engineering or FIRST Robotics Scholarships.

In addition, the grant will fund critical resources for students in the program to receive targeted support to help them successfully graduate. The resources will include mentored research with faculty, entrepreneurship development, community-service projects, the option for participation in learning communities, and expert guest presentations. Students will also have access to customized career consultations to begin early career planning.

“The world needs the best and brightest minds to solve the problems of today — and those yet to be imagined,” WNEU President Robert Johnson said. “This grant will help us to welcome more deserving and high-achieving students into our supportive community. We are grateful for Dr. Benner and the team’s efforts to bring this important National Science Foundation grant to WNE.”

The program will study the impact of immersed research experiences combined with entrepreneurial mindset training on student retention and degree completion. It is the first National Science Foundation S-STEM grant awarded to WNEU, now nationally ranked with a top-100 Engineering program.

“The premise is that the combination of research experience, to deepen the student’s technical knowledge, and entrepreneurship skill development, to train the students to identify innovative opportunities and integrate classroom learning to create value for society, will improve the pathway to success for STEM students in achieving their career goals,” Benner explained. “The strategy for implementation is carefully designed and will be used in conjunction with other student services on the WNE campus.”

Such an investment has the potential to not only transform individual lives, he noted, but those they will impact through their future careers.

“The NSF grant is a vote of confidence that this program will advance the understanding of the relationship between the proposed activities and student success,” Gross said. “The findings from this project will add new knowledge toward defining what effective curricular and co-curricular activities work to improve the persistence and success rate of college students from low-income communities in STEM fields.”

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts invites the community to apply for its 2021 Creative Awards. Applications will be accepted through Thursday, April 8.

The club has simplified the rules and eliminated physical entries entirely, due to COVID-19 restrictions. As always, Ad Club members will receive a discounted rate; members will receive a personalized discount code via e-mail. Participants will have the opportunity to virtually meet the agencies, marketing departments, and freelance artists behind the work. Award winners will be announced at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show scheduled for Thursday, May 20.

Categories that qualify participants for entry include advertising, copywriting, design, interactive and web media, photography, video and motion, and student work. Visit www.adclubwm.org/events/creativeawards2021 for the guidelines and application form, or contact the Ad Club at (413) 342-0533 or [email protected].

“We are super excited to see all of the submissions for this year’s award show and are beyond excited for our virtual celebration to highlight and honor all of the hard work and dedication that went into projects of the past year,” said Susie Howard, Creative Awards co-chair.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Connecticut Bar Assoc. (CBA) announced Professor Jennifer Levi as the 2021 Tapping Reeve Legal Educator Award winner. The award is presented to legal educators who have made significant contributions to the cause of legal education over a period of years and have distinguished themselves as legal educators of the highest quality.

Levi serves as a professor of Law at Western New England University (WNEU) School of Law. She has dedicated her career to fighting for the rights of women, children, the poor, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered clients, and was a founder of the law school’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies, which is now part of the School of Law’s Center for Social Justice. In addition, she is a nationally recognized expert on transgender legal issues and the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project litigating precedent-setting cases establishing basic rights for LGBTQ people.

Established in 2012, the Tapping Reeve Legal Educator Award is presented to a member of the Connecticut Bar Assoc. who is a member of the faculty, a clinical instructor, or an adjunct instructor at UConn, Quinnipiac, Yale, or Western New England University law schools, or a member of the CBA who has contributed greatly to the legal education of his or her colleagues. The recipient must have demonstrated sustained commitment and made significant contributions to the cause of legal education in the state and have distinguished himself or herself as a legal educator of the highest quality as a teacher, scholarly writer, or both.

Judge Tapping Reeve, the namesake of this award, was an American lawyer, educator, and jurist. He is recognized as founding a law school in Litchfield, Conn. considered to be the first formal school of law in the U.S. offering a vocational curriculum for future attorneys.

Levi will be formally awarded this distinction at the 2021 Celebrate with the Stars virtual event on Thursday, April 8.

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AMHERST — The Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (ADDFab) facility at UMass Amherst will present a virtual TechTalk with Jason Lopes from Carbon3D on Wednesday, April 7.

Lopes has used 3D printing for more than 10 years at Legacy Effects to create visuals for big-name productions such as Avatar, Iron Man, and the Avengers series. He’s a fan of the Carbon materials and printing technology and will be sharing some of the ways university researchers have taken advantage of Carbon’s unique, high-quality elastomeric material to do research. He will also discuss many of Carbon’s industrial applications, including footwear, bicycle seats, and football helmets.

The event is slated for 3 to 4 p.m. Click here for the Zoom link. Click here to download the official flyer.

The next TechTalk is scheduled for Wednesday, April 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. with ExOne, which will present its water-based binder jet metal DesignLab printer.

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BERLIN, Conn. — Comcast announced the appointment of Colleen Cone as vice president of Human Resources for the company’s Western New England region, which is headquartered in Berlin, Conn. and includes more than 300 communities in Connecticut, Western Mass., New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

Cone will oversee the region’s human-resource functions, including talent management, career development, and training; benefits, with a focus on employee wellness; and employee engagement and recognition.

“Colleen brings a vast amount of valuable experience to this role during a critical time in our new work environment,” said Dennis Mathew, senior vice president of Comcast’s Western New England Region. “Her proven track record of successfully leading strategic human-resource initiatives with a focus on engaging employees at every level makes her the ideal person to ensure we exceed the current and future needs of our employees. I’m delighted to have her as part of our team.”

Prior to joining the Western New England region, Cone was the senior director of Human Resources for Comcast’s Greater Boston region, where she was responsible for employee engagement and other initiatives that addressed compliance and supported a strong and healthy workplace culture.

She also previously served as vice president of Talent and Culture for Skillsoft, where she was the senior leader responsible for employee engagement, internal communications, U.S. talent acquisition, and performance-management processes and recognition for a global workforce.

Cone holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. and a juris doctor degree from Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law. Named by New Hampshire magazine to its 2016 list of Exceptional Women in Business, she also serves on the board of directors of New Hampshire Tech Alliance and Families in Transition.

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CHICOPEE — The Office of Continuing Education at Elms College will host a week-long virtual Instant Accept Week event with students from seven area community colleges on April 6-10.

Elms College currently offers bachelor’s-degree completion programs at the following regional community colleges: Berkshire Community College (social work), Greenfield Community College (social work), Holyoke Community College (accounting, healthcare management, management and marketing, psychology), Mount Wachusett Community College (psychology), Quinsigamond Community College (RN to BSN), Springfield Technical Community College (computer information technology and security, computer science, social work), and Asnuntuck Community College (social work). Online programs include computer science, computer information technology and security, healthcare management, RN to BSN, and speech-language pathology assistant.

Students interested in being instantly accepted into one of these bachelor’s-degree completion programs are encouraged to register by clicking here.

From April 6 to April 9, individual virtual sessions will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. via Zoom. On April 10, individual virtual Zoom sessions will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Elms College representatives will discuss program details, review official transcripts, and offer instant acceptance to qualified applicants.

For more information regarding the bachelor’s-degree completion programs at Elms, click here.

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SPRINGFIELD — On April 1, BusinessWest celebrated its Difference Makers class of 2021 with a virtual presentation and lively online networking event. The main event featured videos of the event sponsors, introductions of the honorees, and comments from the Difference Makers themselves. The entire presentation is now available for viewing by clicking here.

The 2021 Difference Makers include Kristin Carlson, president of Peerless Precision; EforAll Holyoke; Janine Fondon, founder of UnityFirst.com and professor at Bay Path University; Harold Grinspoon, philanthropist and founder of Aspen Square Management; Chad Moir, founder and owner of DopaFit Parkinson’s Movement Center; Bill Parks, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield; and Pete Westover, founder and partner at Conservation Works, LLC.

The sponsors for this year’s program are Burkhart Pizzanelli, the Royal Law Firm, TommyCar Auto Group, and United Way of Pioneer Valley. The Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament is a nonprofit partner.

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SPRINGFIELD — Maria Toyoda, currently the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and professor of Political Science & Legal Studies at Boston’s Suffolk University, has been appointed senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost at Western New England University, effective July 12.

President Robert Johnson announced the appointment, citing Toyoda’s successes in cross-disciplinary collaboration, commitment to student success, procurement of grant funding, modernization of processes, and mobilization of faculty as partners in the recruitment process at her prior institution.

“We are honored to have Dr. Toyoda join us at an important inflection point in the history of Western New England University,” Johnson said. “Currently, the WNE community is crafting a shared ambition to guide us through the next phase of our evolution. Her expertise and leadership will be instrumental as WNE stakes its position as a model for the new traditional university, one that provides an education grounded in professional studies, enhanced by the liberal arts, and renowned for mentored research that produces graduates who are work-ready and world-ready.”

Toyoda will be the university’s chief academic officer and oversee the academic integrity of all colleges, schools, and institutes on campus. The position is responsible for working with the deans and faculty to maintain the quality of current programs, develop new programs, and oversee the academic-appointment process.

“Institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to train active and civically engaged citizens who are discerning in both their consumption and production of information,” Toyoda said. “WNE’s aim of shaping future citizens imbued with personal values of integrity and accountability, tolerance and respect, and social responsibility aligns with my own ideals around education that emphasizes mastery, practice, creativity, perceptiveness, and personal growth.”

In her current role at Suffolk University, Toyoda oversees 18 departments with 200 full-time faculty and staff with responsibility for an undergraduate population of 5,000 students. On March 30, she was honored as one of Get Konnected’s 50 Most Influential People of Color in Higher Education. She received her PhD and master’s degree in government at Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University with honors in values, technology, science, and society.

Toyoda succeeds interim Provost Curt Hamakawa, who will return to his previous position as professor of Sport Management. Hamakawa is also the director of the Business Study Abroad program, the Business Honors program, and the Center for International Sport Business in the university’s College of Business.

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EASTHAMPTON — Janice Beetle, a longtime writer and editor from Western Mass., has released her second book, Willful Evolution: Because Healing the Heart Takes Strength, through her own publishing imprint, Janice Beetle Books LLC.

In 2010, Beetle was laid off from her full-time job in the Valley, and her late husband, Ed Godleski, died four days later. Beetle tells the story of her grief journey in her first memoir, Divine Renovations, published in 2011. Her new book, Willful Evolution, is a sequel that tells the story of the past decade and how Beetle reinvented herself; revitalized her PR and communications business, Beetle Press; and also created Janice Beetle Books in 2019.

On more personal notes, the book shows how traveling, family, a series of adventures and bad turns, and exercise helped Beetle gain physical and emotional strength and survive online dating.

Willful Evolution is both poignant and funny, she said. “My hope is that readers will be inspired to find strength in their own lives, take risks, set new goals, and reinvent themselves.”

Beetle compares her book to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle, and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.

Through Janice Beetle Books, Beetle also helps authors of all skill levels — as well as non-writers — carry a book idea through to publication. She also offers writing coaching services.

Beetle’s books are available at janicebeetlebooks.com, www.levellerspress.com/off-the-common-books, and on Amazon.

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LEE — Lee Bank is amplifying its longstanding community-reinvestment efforts with the creation of the Lee Bank Foundation, after a record year of contributions to the Berkshire nonprofit community.

In 2021, Lee Bank projects it will distribute $250,000 through the foundation, a more formal entity for community donations. In 2020, Lee Bank awarded $179,000 to community organizations, following several years of steady growth in funding.

“Lee Bank’s community contributions stretch back to its origins in 1852, but establishing Lee Bank Foundation sharpens our focus even further,” said Chuck Leach, the bank’s president. “The foundation also simplifies the application process for organizations doing meaningful work to support our Berkshire community.”

The foundation has its home at Marble House, a former residential property at 102 West Park St. in Lee. Purchased by Lee Bank in 2018, the building was recently renovated by Allegrone Construction. The property offers gathering spaces for community groups, bank staff, board meetings, and special events, and will also be home to a new financial-wellness service, for which hiring is under way.

In recent years, Lee Bank has typically set aside at least 5% of its annual net income for the support of area nonprofits. This giving has been on the rise: in 2020, the bank contributed nearly $179,000 to community nonprofits; in 2019, $145,000; and in 2018, $120,000. Last year, Lee Bank’s distributions included $50,000 to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County.

The bank has supported more than 200 programs and organizations in recent years, including Greenagers, Community Access to the Arts, Berkshire Humane Society, Berkshire Immigrant Center, and others.

The foundation will be funded at $5 million by Berkshire Financial Services (Lee Bank’s parent company), with the goal of providing $250,000 in grants annually to nonprofits.

“The timing for creation of the Lee Bank Foundation could not be better,” said Jake McCandless, a foundation board member. “After a year of turmoil and uncertainty with COVID-19, nonprofits supporting our community and our neighbors will benefit from a streamlined process that supports their vital missions now and into the future.”

In addition to a 2021 grant goal of $250,000, Lee Bank’s employee-driven, branch-based sponsorships will continue as in the past, with a $70,000 projection this year. “In addition to foundation funding, our branch-based sponsorship awards are recommended by employees based on their awareness of local needs and activities in their branch communities,” Leach said.

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NORTHAMPTON — Viability Inc., a human-service provider, recently announced Project (VR)², a virtual-reality program dedicated to enhancing access to employment for all and inclusion and empowerment for people with disabilities and other disadvantages.

According to its creators, Project (VR)² is where vocational rehabilitation meets virtual reality (VR)². This first-of-its-kind project, deployed in the midst of COVID-19, will help people who are chronically underserved and marginalized build the vital skills required to advance their ability to gain and maintain employment.

(VR)² makes it possible for individuals to acquire essential interactive soft skills that make or break job success — communication, interviewing, adapting, and problem-solving — in a controlled, safe, and self-reflective virtual work environment. Partners of the virtual collaborative include Link To VR, Bodyswaps, Cleanbox Technology, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

The VR platform Bodyswaps offers a soft-skills simulator, much the same way companies like Boeing leverage flight simulators.

“Immersive VR learning provides access for individuals who are otherwise overlooked in the employment world,” said Kristin Rotas, Viability director. “Access to training and work experiences virtually builds confidence and readiness that will better equip participants to hold jobs that provide income along with a sense of purpose to individuals, a willing workforce for employers, and greater societal equity.”

The program also offers iPads for a 2D immersion into the virtual training and readiness environments.

Collaborating with Cleanbox and Link To VR allowed Viability to safely deploy the VR project in the midst of COVID-19. Cleanbox’s system utilizes UVC rays to eradicate 99.99% of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, essentially decontaminating the headset for reuse.

Viability’s vision for Project (VR)² expanded significantly when the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission provided assisted funding. Together, they are pioneering a new training initiative and encouraging states to bring about technological changes to their current rehabilitation efforts. To help manage the deployment, Viability called on Link To VR, a leading spatial computing company with offices in Boston.

“We were honored to take part in such a fantastic project which provides hands-on access to transformative technologies which help level a competitive employment playing field,” said Edward Zemba, CEO of Link To VR.

Viability is a community-based human-services agency providing employment services, vocational and life-skills training, and other supports to more than 4,000 individuals across five states. Viability partners with more than 600 employers and leverages community resources to overcome barriers with a mission of helping to build a world where individuals with disabilities and other disadvantages can realize their full potential.

To learn more about Project (VR)², e-mail Rotas at [email protected].

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AGAWAM — Starting on Tuesday, April 27 from 3 to 5 p.m., with continuing sessions on Wednesday, May 26 and Wednesday, June 30, the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) and its training partners from Protective Advanced Safety Services (PASS), will present a three-part training series at EANE’s Agawam training center for regional employers on workplace violence prevention.

Session topics include “Who’s Coming to Work,” “CALM: De-escalation Strategies,” and “Hire Right, Fire Smart.” All three sessions are designed to equip employers with the tools and knowledge they need to keep their workplaces safe from violence, including microaggressions, employee-relations escalations, and the worst-case scenario: an active shooter.

“With today’s volatile climate, we’re seeing people dealing with increased pressures like financial stress, domestic violence, increased drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness. All of this creates the perfect storm for employers, and they need to be prepared that some of this stress will be coming to their workplaces,” said John Nettis of PASS. We’ve designed these trainings to support employers as they are welcoming staff back to their facilities.”

Space in this training series is limited to 10 participants as EANE is following state guidelines on social distancing and capacity limits. The cost for the program is $331.50 for all three sessions. Interested parties can reach out to Allison Ebner at [email protected] or call (413) 789-6400 for more information.

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SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper announced the college’s plans for the 2021 commencement ceremonies the weekend of May 14-16. The festivities will begin on Friday, May 14 with a virtual opening celebration streamed live starting at 6:30 p.m. Following Friday’s opening celebration, the college will host eight separate in-person ceremonies, four on Saturday, May 15 and four on Sunday, May 16, at Stagg Field on the Springfield College main campus. All ceremonies will be streamed live on springfield.edu, including the in-person ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.

“After such a challenging year, these celebrations are something to look forward to and a wonderful way to celebrate the accomplishments of our students,” Cooper said. “Student input in these decisions has been important and helpful, including responses to the survey and student-leader involvement on the commencement committee.”

On May 15, the School of Health Sciences will hold its graduate commencement at 8:30 a.m. and its undergraduate commencement at 11:30 a.m. Also on May 15, the School of Arts and Sciences will hold its graduate commencement at 3 p.m. and its undergraduate commencement at 5 p.m.

On May 16, the School of Physical Education, Performance and Sport Leadership will hold its graduate commencement at 8:30 a.m. and its undergraduate commencement at 11:30 a.m. Also on May 16, the School of Social Work and Behavioral Sciences will hold its graduate commencement at 3 p.m. and its undergraduate commencement at 6:30 p.m.

Each ceremony is expected to be approximately 60 to 75 minutes in length. Graduates who have completed a degree application will receive an e-mail with instructions for registering guests, and those tickets will be valid for the specified ceremony only. No tickets will be available during commencement weekend.

“With the exception of Friday’s virtual event, the ceremonies will be in-person gatherings, designed to comply with the restrictions in place by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, while retaining elements of commencement that are important to our students,” Cooper said. “Each graduate will be permitted to invite up to two guests to the in-person commencement ceremonies, something we know is important to our students and is made possible because of the commencement guidelines provided by the Commonwealth. The ceremonies will also be livestreamed on springfield.edu, but having some guests on campus is a positive step.”

In between ceremonies, the commencement and guest areas, including the chairs and stage, will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, and all graduates and guests will be required to wear face coverings at all times and adhere to social-distancing guidelines. All seating at Stagg Field will allow for appropriate six-foot social distancing between graduates and between guest groups.

In addition, the Springfield College main campus will be open to graduating students and their guests on May 15 and 16 to allow graduates to take photos with their friends and families at their favorite outdoor campus locations before or after their ceremony.

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NORTH ADAMS — On Friday, April 9 at noon, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) master of business administration (MBA) program will present a free virtual panel on entrepreneurship and small business in the time of COVID-19, as part of its “Friday Focus” panel series examining the pandemic’s impact on business and economic development.

Moderated by MCLA Director of Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Joshua Mendel, this series features local business leaders, MBA program alumni, and faculty from MCLA’s Business Department.

To register, visit mcla.edu/mba. All events will take place virtually and are free and open to the public. This event will also be streamed to the MCLA Facebook page and will be archived on the MCLA YouTube channel for later viewing.

MCLA’s MBA program is a part-time, accelerated program designed to meet the needs of the working adult learner. Most courses meet through a combination of online and face-to-face instruction and blend classroom experience with practical, hands-on fieldwork. In addition, the program offers diverse academic programming and provides a high return on investment. MCLA’s MBA program accepts applications throughout the year, and new students may begin the program in the fall, spring, and summer.

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NEW YORK — Laurel Road, a brand of KeyBank, unveiled Laurel Road for Doctors, a digital bank tailored to physicians and dentists with products and services designed to provide the financial help and peace of mind they need through each career stage. The goal of the new digital bank is to help ease the burden for doctors of paying down student debt, finding more balance between work and life, and planning for the future.

With Laurel Road for Doctors, Laurel Road and KeyBank expand on an existing suite of tailored digital banking and lending products and extensive experience, working directly with doctors to create a platform that meets the distinct challenges of this community.

“We believe in providing our customers with the choice to digitally fulfill their financial needs, especially when it makes their lives easier to do so,” said Chris Gorman, chairman and CEO of KeyCorp. “We acquired Laurel Road in 2019 with the intention of scaling this digital-born business. Through this new digital bank offering, we are able to provide a secure online experience and customized banking solutions to meet the special needs of physicians and dentists.”

Laurel Road for Doctors is launching at the right time for many, as two-thirds of doctors plan to be more financially focused in 2021 to benefit their career and personal financial security compared to 2020, according to a new survey of 750 U.S. physicians and dentists conducted by Laurel Road and the White Coat Investor, an online community for doctors.

“From our long-standing work with doctors, we know that many face financial-management challenges while navigating high debt and high-stress careers dedicated to caring for others, leaving them little time to balance personal and financial pursuits,” said Alyssa Schaefer, chief experience officer at Laurel Road. “With thoughtful tools and resources dedicated to supporting the financial health and life goals of physicians and dentists, we aspire for Laurel Road for Doctors to be a destination for all of their financial needs.”

Physicians and dentists can find more information about Laurel Road for Doctors at www.laurelroad.com/doctors.

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SPRINGFIELD — Since 2009, BusinessWest has been recognizing the work of individuals, groups, businesses, and institutions through a program called Difference Makers.

The 2021 Difference Makers include Kristin Carlson, president of Peerless Precision; EforAll Holyoke; Janine Fondon, founder of UnityFirst.com and professor at Bay Path University; Harold Grinspoon, philanthropist and founder of Aspen Square Management; Chad Moir, founder and owner of DopaFit Parkinson’s Movement Center; Bill Parks, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield; and Pete Westover, founder and partner at Conservation Works, LLC.

The 13th annual Difference Makers celebration will be a virtual event taking place today, April 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. This event, like our hugely successful Women of Impact celebration in January, be presented using the REMO platform, and will feature networking, videos of the event sponsors, introductions of the honorees, and comments from the Difference Makers themselves.

The sponsors for this year’s program are Burkhart Pizzanelli, the Royal Law Firm, TommyCar Auto Group, and United Way of Pioneer Valley. The Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament is a nonprofit partner.

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HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is planning a virtual commencement for spring and preparing to welcome students, faculty, and staff safely back to campus for the fall 2021 semester.

HCC’s 75th-anniversary commencement will be livestreamed on Saturday, June 5 on the HCC website and the college’s social-media channels. The virtual commencement will celebrate the class of 2021 as well as the class of 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, HCC made the decision last year to recognize the class of 2020 with a virtual celebration in August 2020 and also invite graduates to participate in a more traditional graduation ceremony this year along with the class of 2021.

Planning for commencement begins months in advance, and HCC officials made their decision on this year’s ceremony based on conditions in February before new guidelines were announced allowing for limited outdoor and indoor ceremonies.

“Unlike the 2020 celebration, the 2021 ceremony will include traditional commencement moments with an emphasis on the elements our students told us matter most to them,” HCC President Christina Royal said. Those elements include having student orators from both classes and keynote speeches delivered by the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the Elaine Marieb Chair for Teaching Excellence, HCC’s highest faculty award. “We will also have a virtual procession and the traditional reading of names of graduates from both classes along with photographs submitted by members of each class.”

For the fall 2021 semester, which begins Tuesday, Sept. 7, HCC is offering a variety of class formats, including face-to-face, in-person, on-campus classes with a maximum of 10 students per classroom.

Following guidelines from the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the fall 2021 return-to-campus plan allows for maximum flexibility and adaptability, at all times prioritizing the safety and well-being of HCC students, faculty, and staff.

HCC will provide multiple course formats to suit different learning styles and personal preferences: on campus, blended on campus and remote, synchronous remote, and asynchronous online.

“HCC is paying particular attention to scheduling courses that will allow incoming students to maximize on-campus instruction if they so choose,” Royal said. “The plan provides us the flexibility to make adjustments as public-health conditions evolve over the months ahead.”

In addition to on-campus, blended, and remote offerings for fall 2021, HCC will continue to offer a full slate of fully online courses across the curriculum. As much as possible, administration offices and student services will also be open and staffed, while maintaining safe and social-distancing protocols, including mandatory mask wearing and plexiglass screens in areas where students and members of the public most closely interact with staff.

While campus offices and support services will be open to students this fall, HCC will also continue to offer services and support through online chat and Zoom for students who feel more comfortable accessing college services remotely.

“I really believe the pandemic has made HCC a better version of itself,” Royal said. “We have enhanced our support for students and have amplified student voices throughout every decision-making process, always placing students first. We have made equity a greater priority across the college, enabling us to truly and more deeply serve our community.”

Registration opens Monday, April 12 for summer and fall classes at HCC.

Daily News

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Starfires announced the addition of Annalise Eak to the staff as coordinator of Group Sales & Fan Experiences.

Eak, a Westfield native and graduate of Westfield State University, is pursuing a graduate degree at Bay Path University. For the last seven years, she has served as a marketing supervisor at Six Flags New England. She was a Starfires Game Day Operations volunteer at Bullens Field in both 2019 and 2020. She is vice president of the Westfield Babe Ruth board of directors and served on the World Series executive committee in 2019. She is a Westfield Centennial Lions Club member and Westfield Technical Academy sports volunteer.

“Annalise is a fixture at Bullens Field and a huge asset to the Starfires organization,” team owner and co-founder Christopher Thompson said. “We are thrilled to have her take on this expanded role within the front office.”

The Westfield Starfires are part of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which offers collegiate summer baseball to fans in seven New England cities. The Starfires joined the league as an expansion franchise for the summer of 2019 and play in historic Billy Bullens Field in Westfield. The 2021 schedule will be released in the coming weeks.