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The New Faces of Medical School

First-year medical students Betsy McGovern

First-year medical students Betsy McGovern

Prithwijit Roychowdhury

Prithwijit Roychowdhury

Kathryn Norman

Kathryn Norman

Colton Conrad

Colton Conrad

Like most first-year students, Kathryn Norman entered medical school in August not knowing exactly what to expect.

But there were certainly some things she never expected.

Like a curriculum that included a visit to the Hampden County jail in Ludlow, where she and fellow classmates talked with inmates about their health and well-being and learned first-hand how social issues and mental-health conditions have impacted their lives and put them on a path to incarceration.

Or a visit to a local food store, where teams were assigned the task of taking $125 in food stamps and buying a month’s worth of food for a single mother with diabetes and her daughter, all while trying to keep proper nutrition as the basis for the spending decisions.

Or a visit from an auto mechanic who would discuss the questions he asks a car owner to diagnose problems, with the goal of driving home the message that a similar methodology — and many of those same questions — would be utilized by a physician seeking to fully diagnose an issue with a patient.

But all this and more has been part of the first five months of experiences at what is known as the University of Massachusetts Medical School – Baystate, the Springfield campus, if you will, of the Worcester-based institution.

“The very first patient that I ever spoke to was someone who was incarcerated,” Norman said of her start in medical school. “And just getting to hear about the challenges these inmates had and bringing together the medical conditions they have, which are pretty complex, and the social conditions they have, that’s very exciting.”

That’s a word used often by the 22 students enrolled at UMass Medical, who spend one day every two weeks in Springfield and, more specifically, at the facility created by Baystate Health at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute on Main Street. They are there for a class devoted to developing their interviewing skills, something not often thought about when it comes to a medical-school curriculum, but a nonetheless critical part of the equation when it comes to being a good doctor, as Dr. Kevin Hinchey explained.

Dr. Kevin Hinchey

Dr. Kevin Hinchey says the PURCH program puts emphasis on the social determinants of health and prevention, not merely treatment, of illnesses.

He’s chief Education officer and senior associate dean for Education at UMass Medical School — Baystate, and he said that, while students are mastering the art and science of asking questions, they are gaining a unique perspective on the many aspects of population health by hearing, and absorbing, the answers.

Such as those they heard while visiting an area homeless shelter.

“There was a gentleman there who has diabetes; the students were interviewing him, and he said he keeps a candy bar by the side of his bed,” Hinchey recalled. “When they asked him why, he said ‘because it’s nutrition, it has a lot of calories in it, and it doesn’t spoil.’

“This is one of the social determinants of health,” he went on. “We talk about a food desert in downtown Springfield … you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, so you get other foods. That conversation becomes important, because later, when you see that same person in your office and his blood sugar is 400, you might say that he needs insulin. But because you saw him there (at the homeless shelter), you say ‘no, he needs a refrigerator.’ It changes your concept of the disease and gives you a real example of people thinking, ‘as a doctor, I’m reacting to things; can’t I get more upstream and do some more prevention?’”

Indeed, through participation in an initiative known as PURCH (Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health), students are getting a different kind of learning experience as they work on their interviewing skills, one that Rebecca Blanchard, assistant dean for Education at UMass Medical School — Baystate, and senior director of Educational Affairs at Baystate Health, summed up by saying that what differentiates it is not what’s being taught, but how and where, and also in the way these experiences motivate students.

And to get that point across, she talked more about that visit to the homeless shelter.

“This is an interviewing class; students are building skills in interviewing — having a conversation to gain information. It’s also a track focused on how population health and disparities intersect in a human way,” she said, adding that, through their various experiences, students move beyond the act of treating sick patients and into the all-important realm of advocacy.

“They come back from these experiences asking questions that are advocacy questions,” she went on. “They ask ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we help?’”

For this issue and its focus on the healthcare workforce, BusinessWest visited the Baystate facility and talked with Hinchey, Blanchard, and several students about the unique approach that is PURCH, as well as the many unique learning experiences they’ve already shared.

Body of Evidence

As he talked about the process of applying to medical schools and the factors that weighed on his decision concerning where to go, Colton Conrad, from North Carolina, started by saying he first focused on schools with respectable primary-care rankings and also an emphasis on patient care rather than research.

Through their experiences in the PURCH program, Rebecca Blanchard

Through their experiences in the PURCH program, Rebecca Blanchard says, students training to become doctors also take on the role of advocates.

Those criteria put UMass Medical on his relatively short list, he went on, adding that, while he was applying, he noticed a secondary application “for this thing called PURCH.” Intrigued, he went on the website and did some reading.

Actually, it was only about three paragraphs, but it was more than enough to get his full attention.

“What I gained from those three paragraphs was that this was a branch of UMass Med School that was starting up the year I was starting school to take future physicians out of the classroom, out of a standard hospital setting, and get them involved in the community,” he recalled, “with the goal of better understanding the people and the patients they serve — to understand them on a deeper level than just illnesses.

“And I thought that was really cool,” he went on, adding that this quick synopsis was enough to prompt him to apply. And the visits to Worcester and then Springfield were enough to convince him that his search was pretty much over.

“It felt like … it wasn’t just a place where I wanted to be; the people also wanted me to be there,” he explained. “That was the first time I felt that at a medical school.”

With that, there was considerable nodding of the heads gathered around the conference-room table as BusinessWest spoke with several students enrolled in PURCH.

Collectively, they used that word ‘cool’ several more times as they talked about both those experiences that take place, as that short description on the website noted, outside the classroom and outside the hospital, and also about what it means for their overall medical-school experience.

Norman said PURCH adds what she called “another layer” to her education, an important one not available in the traditional classroom setting.

“Our education has been so much more grounded in actually understanding real people and the real lives they have,” she said. “And these are opportunities that I haven’t seen our classmates in Worcester have.”

Betsy McGovern, from Andover, agreed, and to get her points across, she revisited her experiences at the Ludlow jail, which were memorable on many levels, but especially for the unexpectedly candid conversations between students and inmates.

“Our inmate was talking about his struggles with diabetes and his family history of diabetes, and he mentioned, very briefly, a domestic-violence incident that occurred between his family and his mother,” she recalled, adding that the students involved were at first unsure about whether to probe deeper on that topic, but eventually did, in part because the inmate was able and willing to open up, but also because it was important to do so.

Indeed, there are many contributing factors to one’s health and well-being, McGovern went on, and traumatic experiences such as witnessing domestic violence are certainly one of them. Asking patients about them is difficult and awkward, but it’s as important as asking them about their diabetes. And gaining experience with such hard questions — and the resulting answers — is a critical part of becoming a good interviewer and, more importantly, a competent clinician.

And something else as well — an advocate, said Prithwijit Roychowdhury, another first-year student known to his colleagues longing for something shorter and easier to pronounce as ‘Prith.’

He told BusinessWest that, through their experiences in PURCH, students gain a greater appreciation for those social determinants and thus, perhaps, a better understanding of the importance of prevention, rather than simply treatment of illnesses.

“I think a lot of us are interested in being advocates and policymakers potentially, or even researchers working on policy or how well certain policies are working,” said Roychowdhury, who is from Worcester. “And to that end, getting a diverse exposure from a variety of different groups of people helps to contextualize the things you might want to advocate for.

“And as medical students who are interested in population health, we all know that it’s not purely the encounter with the patient in the examination room that matters,” he went on. “It’s about the broader context: what are the kinds of policies that are causing this particular patient to have a child who gets exposed to lead or arsenic, or are there reasons why a family has a long history of diabetes?”

All these comments help explain why the PURCH curriculum, and this interviewing class, were structured in this way, said Blanchard and Henchey, adding that the goal is to motivate students to look beyond the patient’s condition and to the big picture — the factors that made this condition possible and even inevitable, with an eye toward prevention.

“We’re getting students involved in advocacy and those discussions about what can be done to improve population health early on,” said Blanchard. “There’s genuine curiosity to be actively part of the solution, and it’s quite exciting for all of the faculty to see it from that lens.”

Learning Curves

Conrad told BusinessWest that one of the most important aspects of the road trips taken by the PURCH students is the debriefing — his word — that goes on afterward.

“When we go out as a group for these experiences, we come back and we talk about them,” he explained. “And it’s really interesting to hear everyone’s perspective, because just about everyone in PURCH has different backgrounds, different life stories.”

And these debriefings have become learning experiences in their own right, he went on, using the trips to the homeless shelter and jail (half the class visited each one) as an example.

“We all came back from those trips, and it seemed like everyone had very similar stories even though we were with very different populations,” he explained. “We all found that most of our patients had these pre-existing, oftentimes mental-health conditions that were playing out in the worst ways in every aspect of their lives.

“It’s really easy to look at the prison population or the homeless population and make fairly gross generalizations,” he went on. “But after having our debriefing, it’s a little harder to do that, except to say that a lot of people have underlying issues that are affecting their lives so negatively that they are put in situations where they’re homeless or they’re incarcerated or they are drug addicts. Out of all these experiences, what I’ve gained the most is looking at people beyond what their particular illness is at that moment; whatever they’re presenting with that day isn’t even close to the full story.”

This, in a nutshell, is what PURCH is all about, and Conrad’s comments, and those of his fellow classmates, effectively bring to life that three-paragraph description of the program that drew them in and eventually drew them to Springfield.

There are many social determinants of health, and each one plays a role in what brings a patient to a physician’s office on a given day. Some of the biggest are the many challenges that are part and parcel to living at or below the poverty line, challenges that drive home the point that there are often huge barriers to doing the right thing when it comes to one’s health and well-being.

Which explains why that visit to the grocery store carrying $125 in food stamps was so eye-opening, said Norman, adding that there’s a big difference between reading about such issues in a book or news article and seeing them first-hand.

There were fruits and vegetables at this store, but they were too expensive and they would perish, she noted, adding that those pushing the cart had to steer it up different aisles.

Conrad, who was in the same group, was actually able to bring personal experience to bear.

“My family was on food stamps for a while when I was growing up, and I remember my mom having to make some of those tough decisions,” he recalled. “And it was weird to be in her situation but in a simulation.”

By the time the group arrived at the checkout line, the cart was full of rice, beans, pasta, and other items that were in bulk, inexpensive, and transportable, said Norman, adding that those who participated in the exercise left the store with large doses of frustration.

And that led Roychowdhury back to his thoughts about advocacy.

“We need to think about what we can do about these issues, such as the food choices that might lead to diabetes,” he explained. “Regardless of where we end up … if we end up in a hospital, what can we do to advocate for our board of trustees or our administration to help create and implement programs focused on education regarding diabetes or even creating a diabetes pump clinic?

“These are things already happening at Baystate and are concrete examples we can draw from,” he went on. “They give us a lot of insight into maybe how to implement these in our population health tool kit, not purely as a clinician, but as a population-health advocate.”

Outside the Box

Returning to that visit to the food store one more time, Conrad said it was quite lifelike, but not quite the real thing, and for several reasons.

Indeed, he recalls Roychawdhury, also part of his group, advising that they buy food with a lower glycemic index. “I said, ‘dude, I don’t even know what that means; how are we expecting the average person to make healthy choices for their diabetes based on a glycemic index when I don’t know what that is?’

“Also, we didn’t have a screaming kid in our cart as we doing our shopping, and we were able to take our cars; we didn’t have to take the bus and fit everything for a month into three bags,” he went on, adding that these missing ingredients would have made the assignment that much more difficult, as it was for some people who were tackling that exercise for real on the same day his team was.

The screaming child was missing, but just about everything else was there. It was real, hands-on, outside the box, and certainly outside the classroom.

As noted earlier, Norman and her classmates didn’t know quite what to expect in their first year of medical school. But they were definitely not expecting learning experiences like these.

Experiences that will make them better interviewers — and better doctors.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Life’s Work

Lisa Rapp

Lisa Rapp says many biotech students find inspiration in the fact that their work may someday make a difference — for example, in developing a key new drug.

For college students — or career changers — seeking a career path with plenty of opportunity close to home, biotechnology in Massachusetts is certainly enjoying an enviable wave.

For example, drug research and development — one key field in the broad world of biotech — has been surging in Massachusetts for well over a decade, and isn’t slowing down, according to the annual report released in November by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, or MassBio.

According to that report, Massachusetts has more jobs classified as biotechnology R&D than any other state (see table below), with 34,366 currently employed — a 40% increase since 2007 — barely edging out California, a state with six times the Bay State’s population, and a well-defined high-tech landscape.

Meanwhile, the total number of biopharma workers in Massachusetts rose by nearly 5% in 2016, to 66,053, a 28% growth rate since 2007, which was the year former Gov. Deval Patrick launched a 10-year, $1 billion life-sciences investment program. More recently, Gov. Charlie Baker renewed the state’s commitment to the industry when he announced a five-year, $500 million ‘life sciences 2.0’ initiative.


“Massachusetts is historically one of the first states that got into biotechnology, then Deval Patrick made a real financial commitment, and provided funding, to try to keep it here,” said Lisa Rapp, who chairs the associate-degree Biotechnology program at Springfield Technical Community College, adding that Cambridge has long been the key hub, but biotech companies can be found throughout the Commonwealth.

Still, while the industry is growing rapidly, Rapp noted that biotechnology often is not on the radar of people considering their career options. Biotechnology encompasses a broad range of applications that use living organisms such as cells and bacteria to make useful products. Current applications of biotechnology include industrial production of pharmaceuticals such as vaccines and insulin, genetic testing, DNA fingerprinting, and genetic engineering of plants.

“I don’t think many students are aware how many jobs there are in the state. There are more jobs the farther east you go, but there are absolutely jobs here too,” she said, noting that research and development companies tend to cluster closer to Boston, while Western Mass. tends to be stronger with biomanufacturing.

The research and development job gains come as the state’s collective pipeline of drugs is rapidly expanding. According to the MassBio report, companies headquartered in the state have 1,876 drugs in various stages of development, nearly half of which — 912 — are being tested in human trials. That’s a significant increase from last year, when 1,149 drugs were in development, including 455 in human trials. Treatments for cancer, neurological disorders, and infections are among the most popular.

“There are more opportunities now than ever to get good jobs in Massachusetts,” Rapp said. “The state has the highest concentration of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the world.”

“We’re in the middle of a genomic revolution right now, on the cusp of this brave new world,” said Thomas Mennella, associate professor of Biology at Bay Path University, who directs the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations, which has become a key graduate degree in the biotech world (more on that later).

“My read on the field is that no one is sure where this is going to go, but everyone believes it’s going somewhere special,” he went on. “This generation now coming out will advance that revolution, and we’re preparing them the best we can to make them as adaptable as possible and follow the flow wherever the field leads.”

Meeting the Need

Since 2012, Rapp said, STCC has received $375,000 in grants to enhance its Biotechnology program, and especially the cutting-edge equipment and supplies on which students learn current techniques in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“Our curriculum is designed to meet the ever-expanding need for trained biotechnology personnel, she added, noting that students who complete the two-year program can apply for jobs in the biopharma industry, or may advance to four-year institutions to pursue higher degrees in biotechnology.

“The career-track associate degree is meant to lead to direct employment in the field, and then we have a transfer track for students looking to transfer to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree or additional education,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s about half and half, but the last few years, there has been a little more interest in the transfer pathway.”

Bay Path’s bachelor’s-degree program has evolved over time, Mennella said, first in response to industry talk that students nationally weren’t emerging with high-tech instrumentation skills, and then — when programs morphed to emphasize those skills — that job applicants were highly technically trained, but not thinking scientifically.

“Our degree here is meant to bridge that gap, meet in the middle,” he explaned. “They’re graduating with the best of both worlds.”

But he called the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations the “cherry on top of the program,” because it sets up biotech undergrads with the tools they need to manage a lab — from project management to understanding the ethical and legal implications of their work — which, in turn, leads to some of the more lucrative and rewarding areas of their field.

“We’ve packaged four courses together as an online graduate certificate program, so even students who just want to learn how to manage a lab and manage people can take those four online courses as a graduate certificate,” he explained.

The idea, Mennella said, is to make sure graduates are as competitive as they can be, in a field that — like others in Massachusetts, from precision manufacturing to information technology — often has more job opportunities available than qualified candidates. He wants his graduates to demonstrate, within six months to a year, that they can slide into lab-management positions that, in the Bay State, pay a median salary of almost $120,000.

“The state is hungry for highly skilled technicians that can do the day-to-day work to keep the lab running,” he noted. “We want them geared toward the really good technical jobs in this area, but have that second [managerial] purpose in mind. We’re striking both sides of the coin.”

Cool, Fun — and Meaningful

Rapp noted that many students are looking for a challenging role in medical research that doesn’t involve patient contact, and a biotechnology degree is a clear path to such a career.

“Generally, they have some underlying interest in science — they think science is cool and fun, which, of course, it is. And with laboratory jobs, they might have an interest in science and not necessarily in patient care,” she explained. “And they like the hands-on work in a laboratory setting.”

Whether working for pharmaceutical companies, developing and testing new drugs, or for biomanufacturing companies working on medical devices, or even in a forensics lab, opportunities abound, she said.

“I feel like many students want to feel like they’re doing something meaningful here,” Rapp added. “If they’re involved in designing or testing drugs, helping some future patient, I feel that’s a message that reonates with the students — that maybe they’ll be doing a job that helps someone in some way.”

At a recent Biotechnology Career Exploration Luncheon at STCC, professors from area colleges discussed opportunities in the field, and agreed that job reports like the one from MassBio may only scratch the surface when it comes to opportunities in a field that grows more intriguing by the year.

“Biochemistry and molecular-biology principles are critical in a number of growing fields in health and technology,” said Amy Springer, lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor at UMass Amherst. “Having a fundamental knowledge in these topics provides a student with translatable skills suitable for a range of areas, including discovery research, medical diagnostics, treatments and engineering, and environmental science.”

As Mennella said, it’s a brave new world — and a story that’s only beginning to unfold.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Connecting to a Better Future

online-medi-517935648useIt’s no secret that hospitals and other healthcare settings are pushing for nurses with higher education levels, but it can be difficult for a working RN, often with plenty of family responsibilities, to go back to school. The RN to BSN Completer Program at the American Women’s College of Bay Path University solves that issue with a fully online format and plenty of support to help students succeed — and open doors that had previously been closed.

The 22 registered nurses who graduated in May from the American Women’s College of Bay Path University with their bachelor’s degrees — the first class to complete the new, innovative program — weren’t just improving their own career options, although they certainly did that.

On a broader level, they were responding to a call from the National Institute of Medicine for 80% of nurses to eventually achieve a baccalaureate level of education, one that encompasses the big-picture issues faced in settings ranging from hospitals to skilled-nursing facilities to public-health organizations.

“The national challenge for 80% of nurses to be BSN-prepared by 2020 indicated to us a great need for a flexible, affordable solution for registered nurses whose lives are already so full, between caring for others at work and, on top of that, having families, hobbies, and other personal responsibilities,” said Amanda Gould, chief administrative officer for the American Women’s College (TAWC).

Bay Path’s solution, she said, is an accelerated, 100% online program that lets students — many of whom are already juggling an RN position with family responsibilities — an opportunity to broaden their education on their terms, around their rigorous schedules.

The RN to BSN Completer Program, as it’s officially known, allows for licensed, registered nurses with an associate or diploma degree to return to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Bay Path’s program is fully online, allowing students to enroll and participate from across the country, and the accelerated format means that, for most students, the degree can be achieved in 18 months.

Post-graduation surveys of the inaugural graduating class revealed that two quickly found promotions, one as a hospital ER manager and another as a manager of care coordination, said Maura Devlin, deputy chief learning officer at TAWC. A new survey underway is expected to reveal more such career moves, as well as a number of graduates preparing to continue on toward master’s degrees at other schools.

Amanda Gould

Amanda Gould says the online RN to BSN program is a tangible response to the national call for 80% of nurses to eventually have bachelor’s degrees.

Programs like this one will continue to bring the Bay State’s number of BSN-level nurses closer to 80% — the state had already set a goal of 65%, with the number currently around 50% — but it will also open doors that may be starting to close for RNs. Although there are no official numbers, Gould and Devlin said, RNs see hospitals and other organizations pushing for higher levels of education, and favoring BSN-level nurses in hiring and promotions.

Bay Path’s new nursing program, now educating its second class of enrollees, is doing what it can to meet that demand, and early returns have been positive.

Expanding Access

Backing up a little, the American Women’s College was founded in 2013 with a mission to expand access to higher education to the 76 million American women who do not have a college degree. Its 28 programs run the gamut from accounting to criminal justice; from child psychology to early childhood education; from entrepreneurship to food science and safety.

Many students enrolled in various RN-to-BSN programs in this region haven’t necessarily had to leave a job to do so, but they have been challenged to fit classes in between work and family life. The online option at TAWC allows students to engage in classroom activity — much of which takes place on forums and discussion boards — on their own schedule.

The RN-to-BSN track technically requires 120 credits, but 30 are awarded up front for the students’ RN training and experience, and other credits (up to 84, in fact) can be transferred in as well, depending on the student’s prior education, training, and experience.

Devlin said the courses are patient-focused and reflect the ‘nine essentials’ of baccalaureate nursing education established by the American Assoc. of Colleges of Nursing. These include a liberal education base; evidence-based practice; quality care and patient safety; information management; policy, finance, and the regulatory environment; communication and collaboration; population health management; professionalism and values; and general nursing practice.

“These are our program outcomes,” Gould said, adding that administrators have explicitly defined some fields students may see as options for professional growth upon attaining their degree, such as case manager, infection control, home care, hospice care, occupational nurse, managerial positions, public health, risk management, and specialty care.

There’s a self-reflective element to the program as well, Devlin said, and students are encouraged to consider their unique attributes and leadership skills. “The program has the BSN candidates thinking about themselves as leaders in the field of nursing, and positions them to go on to those types of roles.”

Classes are run in a cohort model, meaning the students navigate through the courses together, although they don’t have to be online at the same time. The classes are conducted in six-week sessions — six of them per year — and taught by master’s level nursing educators.

“When we surveyed the first cohort of 22 students in May, every one of them said they would recommend the program,” Gould said. “That was really validating.”

The American Women’s College was developed to improve performance, retention, and graduation rates for nontraditional learners, and does so partly through the development of Social Online Universal Learning (SOUL), a data-driven approach to online education at TAWC, Gould said. Among its features, SOUL features customized instruction, dedicated educator coaches to help students who start to struggle, and virtual learning communities to engage other students who share their goals and professional interests.

And there are definitely some common challenges. Seventy percent of TAWC students are first-generation college attendees, one-third are single mothers, and more than half are Pell-eligible, which speaks to economic need. “We really do feel it’s kind of mission-driven, in that we’re creating a new entry point to college for this population,” she said.

She cited one student, a 38-year-old who had dropped out of high school when she became pregnant, who now works as an administrative assistant. “Her daughter is now college age, and she wanted to be a role model for her daughter,” Gould explained, so she enrolled in the American Women’s College and is now one of its top students.

Maura Devlin

Maura Devlin says the first cohort of graduates is already seeing broadened career opportunities and even promotions.

“She’s kind of representative of a lot of students we serve who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families,” she told BusinessWest. “Their motto has become ‘it’s my time.’ For a long time, they’ve put their families first, and they’ve finally come to a place where they give themselves permission to get their education.”

First Steps

The American Women’s College received some good news in October when the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) voted to grant full accreditation through 2022 to the RN to BSN Completer Program.

“The collective commitment to quality education demonstrated each day by our faculty, staff, and community partners to provide our students with the knowledge and skills they need to be outstanding nurses is at the heart of our work, and our program status reflects that,” said Marjorie Bessette, director of the Nursing program.

Meanwhile, TAWC maintains partnerships with Baystate Health and Mercy Medical Center to work together to increase the number of nurse practitioners with BSN degrees.

“As a nurse, I want to give the best possible care that I can to patients. It’s my job to save lives. Completing my BSN has ensured that I can do just that,” said Laura Mazur, a nurse at Baystate Medical Center who graduated from Bay Path’s program in May. “I used to think of myself as an in-class learner, but as a floor nurse working the midnight shift, I simply didn’t have the time to spend in a classroom. The online program through the American Women’s College fit well into my life.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

The Plot Thickens

An architect’s rendering of the new branch library to be built in East Forest Park.

An architect’s rendering of the new branch library to be built in East Forest Park.

As she talked about libraries, and borrowed (that’s an industry term) from Mark Twain when she said their death was greatly exaggerated, Molly Fogarty used some words and phrases that definitely brought her argument home.

That’s because these are not the kinds of things that would have been said about these institutions a century ago, or perhaps even a decade ago.

“Libraries help level the playing field,” said Fogarty, director of the Springfield City Library. “They help people cross the digital divide; they’re technology hubs.”

Elaborating, he said that, in this computer age, access to the Internet isn’t anything approaching a luxury. It’s a necessity, for those who want to learn, apply for a job, or fact-check a work project.

And providing that access is just one of the ways libraries have changed over the years, from when they were mostly, but not entirely, book repositories.

“Books are still a big part of what we do, but there’s so much more,” she said. “Libraries are the one place where you can get help, get questions answered, use a computer, borrow materials, attend a program … and it’s all free. We have 700,000 visitors a year, and if we weren’t here, where else would they go?”

Molly Fogarty

Molly Fogarty stands in Wellman Hall at the main branch of the Springfield City Library. It’s empty at this moment (the library was closed at the time), but within five minutes of opening each day, she said, each computer is occupied.

Which brings us to the planned new East Forest Park branch of the Springfield Library. This is a facility that has been talked about for decades, and it’s been on the proverbial drawing board for a few years now. Funding has been secured from the city and state that will cover a good deal of the $9.5 million price tag, and a capital campaign, titled Promise Realized, has been launched to raise the remaining $2 million.

Matt Blumenfeld, a principal with Amherst-based Financial Development Agency (FDA), which has coordinated fund-raising campaigns for new libraries and additions across the state and beyond, said the Springfield project provides an intriguing tutorial, if you will, on the changing and expanding role of libraries and their continued importance to individual communities.

Library-building projects contribute jobs and additional vitality to downtowns and specific neighborhoods, he told BusinessWest, but the libraries themselves act as community resources vital to residents.

“It’s much more than the children’s room and a lending library,” he said, adding quickly that these components are obviously still part of the equation. “It’s a community information hub, and that’s so important in communities where there is a lot of need.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest looks at the East Forest Park branch project and the many ways in which it captures the changing landscape for libraries and shines a bright spotlight on their growing, not waning, importance to those who walk through their doors.

A New Chapter

Blumenfeld calls it his cubicle.

This is the small office cleared for FDA on the fourth floor of Springfield’s Main Library on State Street, one of the city’s enduring landmarks.

Two desks have been shoehorned into the space, which is a command post of sorts for the Promise Kept campaign, which was launched in September and will continue for the next 15 months or so.

Blumenfeld, who has operated out of such spaces at more libraries than he can count, will be in his cubicle at least two days a week by his estimates as he coordinates the campaign and makes the case for individuals, families, and businesses to donate.

It’s a strong case, and, as noted earlier, one he’s made often in this region over the past several years. Indeed, FDA coordinated the campaigns for new libraries or expansions in West Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke, among many others.

He said Springfield’s campaign, already off to a solid start, is similar to many others in that many of those being asked to contribute have questions about the future of both books and libraries.

“The challenge we always have in a campaign is to get donors to understand that the library of the future serves many of the same functions as the library they think about,” he explained. “The Holyoke Public Library was founded with the motto ‘the People’s College,’ and that’s really the sense of what a library is. It’s a learning commons for everyone, and all you have to do is walk through the door.”

The case for libraries is best summed up in those phrases used by Fogarty earlier. Indeed, while libraries will always be a place to borrow a book, video, or piece of music, and also a place where people can find quiet and a place to read, study, and conduct research (often with others), these facilities now level that playing field Fogarty mentioned.

And this role takes on new meaning in communities like Springfield, where many families live at or below the poverty level and Internet access is often beyond their budget and, therefore, their reach.

To get her points across, Fogarty talked about what would be a typical day at the main branch, and specifically the computer room.

Matt Blumenfeld

Matt Blumenfeld says that today, libraries are community information hubs, and, therefore, vital resources for cities and towns.

“When we open the central library, within five minutes, all of the computers are being used,” she said, adding that there are 45 of them currently, and they will be used by roughly 100,000 visitors over the course of a year.

“People are waiting to get in,” she went on. “And we have a reservation system; if a computer isn’t available when they arrive, they can make a reservation for later in the day — and they do.”

There’s a reason for this — actually, several of them, she said.

“There is a digital divide in this country; if you have a computer at home and you have sufficient Internet access, your children are able to do their homework at home, you’re able to do research at home, you can apply for a job at home. If you don’t…”

Her voice tailed off as if to say, before she actually said it, that those on the wrong side of this divide are at what would have to be considered a societal disadvantage.

“You can’t apply for a job right now unless you do it online,” she went on. “That’s the way you can do it. So we’re bridging that digital divide for a large number of people.”

And this bridge involves more than a computer and a mouse, she went on, adding that library staffers will assist patrons with setting up an e-mail account, with writing a résumé, and in countless other ways.

They’ve been doing all that in what has passed as the East Forest Park branch for the past 15 years or so. This would be the small storefront, a former video store, actually, on Island Pond Road. There are six computers at that facility, said Fogarty, adding that there will be 56 at the new, 17,000-square-foot, single-story branch to be built on the grounds of the Mary Dryden School on Surrey Road.

The new facility will feature a so-called ‘teen zone,’ a children’s area, and “quiet study rooms,” said Blumenfeld, adding that now, perhaps more than ever, libraries have become gathering spots and resources for all members of a family.

Fogarty agreed, adding that the Springfield City Library has literally thousands of programs for young people and adults alike, and they are focused on everything from workforce training to adult literacy; from poetry to creative writing. And many of them have waiting lists.

The Last Word

The tagline for the Springfield City Library reads “All Yours, Just Ask.”

Those four words speak volumes — in every way, shape, and form — about this institution and all those like it. There is so much there for the visitor, and all he or she has to do is ask.

It’s always been that way, but today, when there is a digital divide that represents an extremely deep crevasse, the importance of libraries, contrary to what may be becoming popular opinion, has never been greater.

And in that respect, ‘Promise Kept’ is more than a slogan attached to a fund-raising campaign — it’s an operating mindset.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Degrees of Growth

The AIC campus

The AIC campus has seen considerable change over the past decade, and the picture continues to evolve, with a planned addition and renovations for an existing building to house exercise science classes.

American International College has again earned placement on the list of the fastest-growing colleges in the country. Overall, the institution has nearly doubled its enrollment over the past decade or so, largely out of necessity. But the methods for achieving such growth — specifically in response to trends within the marketplace and a high-touch approach to student needs — offers lessons to schools of all sizes.

Jonathan Scully was searching for a word or phrase to describe the situation when it comes to enrollment on college campuses today.

He eventually settled on “it’s scary out there,” which certainly works, given the current trends. Indeed, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there were 18,071,000 students taking classes on American campuses in the spring of this year. That number was 19,619,000 million three years earlier, a nearly 8% decline. According to most reports, the numbers have been falling rather steadily, about a percentage point or two the past several years, with no real change on the horizon.

There are a number of reasons for this drop, noted Scully, dean of Undergraduate Admissions at American International College (AIC), who listed everything from smaller high-school graduating classes to a relatively strong economy — when times are worse, people often stay in school after graduating or return to school because they are unemployed; from outmigration to steep competition for a smaller pool of students.

Whatever the reasons, most schools — from community colleges to some prestigious four-year institutions — are struggling to maintain their numbers and, at the same time, their standards for admission.

AIC has managed to not only buck these trends but achieve status as one of the fastest-growing schools in the country, said Scully and Kerry Barnes, dean of Graduate Admissions.

Jonathan Scully

Jonathan Scully says AIC takes a high-touch approach with students, both before and after they arrive on campus.

Indeed, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently named AIC one of its “fastest growing colleges in the United States,” the sixth time the school has made that list in recent years. Among private, nonprofit doctoral institutions, AIC placed fourth among the top 20 colleges and universities in the country, with a 95% growth rate. Overall, AIC nearly doubled its enrollment between 2005 and 2015. (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, ranked ninth, is the only other school in the Commonwealth that placed in the same category.)

Most of this growth has come at the graduate level, where overall enrollment has risen from 415 to more than 2,000 over the past decade, but there has been improvement on the undergraduate side as well, with the overall numbers up 5% over that same period, much better than the national averages.

AIC has achieved such growth in large part out of necessity. A decade ago, the school was struggling mightily and needed to make a number of adjustments, in everything from its physical plant to its enrollment strategies, to attract students to its campus. But the climb up the charts has also resulted from ongoing and heightened attention to the needs of both the business community and students.

Regarding the former, said Barnes, the college has surveyed the marketplace and worked with businesses across a number of sectors to identify in-demand skill sets and areas of need when it comes to trained professionals. This has led to creation of new degree programs in areas ranging from occupational therapy to casino management.

“We’ve been able to identify key trends within the marketplace,” said Barnes, “but also work with local businesses to say, ‘what do you really need?’ and ‘what do you want students to have in order to be successful in their positions?’ or ‘what are your current employees looking for, and what do you need them to know?’”

Such questions, and the answers to them, have led to the creation of new degree programs, specific areas of study, and even new facilities, such as the expansion of a building on State Street, across from the main campus for exercise science programs.

As for the latter, said Scully, AIC is working hard — much harder than it once did — to assist students (many of them first-generation college students) both before and after they actually start attending classes in an effort to make them more comfortable and better able to meet the many challenges confronting them.

“We focus on a high-touch approach, and we take it all the way through — from recruitment to the time students are on campus,” he explained. “We realize that students aren’t always going to be ready for the rigors of college, not ready for application process, not ready to take that step on their own. And rather than say ‘figure it out — or don’t,’ we hold their hand the whole way and give them whatever they need.”

Add it all up, and it becomes easy to see why AIC has now become a regular on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s fastest-growing colleges chart.

For the this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked with Barnes and Scully about how the school intends to continue earning placement on that list, even as the enrollment picture becomes ever more scary.

Class Action

They call it ‘summer melt.’ And they’re not talking about ice cream.

Indeed, college administrators use that term to refer to those students they lose between the time they sign on the proverbial dotted line and when classes begin in the fall. There are many reasons for this meltage, said Scully, including financial matters and other personal issues.

“It’s a big problem for a lot of institutions, especially those like AIC,” he explained, referring to the large percentage of low-income and first-generation students at the school. “A student pays their deposit, they intend to enroll, but they fall off for any number of reasons.”

AIC has devoted a considerable number of resources — all of them in that category of hand-holding — to the matter, and as a result, it has seen its melt rate drop from 18% a few years ago to 11%, just below what would be average for schools with AIC’s size and demographics.

This dramatic improvement in a critical area is just one example of how AIC is bucking national trends with regard to attracting and retaining students — and the manner in which it is achieving such results.

Kerry Barnes

Kerry Barnes says graduate programs at AIC have enjoyed explosive growth as the school responds to changing needs in the business community.

But before getting more in-depth about the present and future, it would be prudent to first take a look back — to where AIC was about a decade or so ago.

Talk about scary … that would be an apt description of the picture on campus. Neither Scully nor Barnes was around back then, but they’re both from this area, and they both know what the conditions were like.

“It was a very different place back then,” said Scully. “The physical plant was in decline, the enrollment numbers were falling, technology was lacking. But sweeping reforms were instituted, and they continue today.”

Indeed, both Barnes and Scully give considerable credit to AIC President Vince Maniaci, who arrived on campus in 2005 and made increasing enrollment his first priority — again, out of necessity and real threats to survival.

“There’s a lot to be said for a leader who’s willing to take educated risks,” Barnes told BusinessWest. “We’ve been very thoughtful in our growth, and Vince has supported that, and so has the board of directors. And that’s very important for a school our size to rebound from where we were 10 years ago.”

AIC’s successful efforts to roughly double its enrollment are attributable to a number of factors, said Scully and Barnes, but mostly, it all comes back to working harder, listening better, being innovative, and being nimble. And they have examples for each category.

With regard to working harder, Scully noted everything from those hand-holding efforts he described to more aggressive recruiting across the school’s main catchment area — Massachusetts and Connecticut.

He said there are eight admissions staffers, a big number for a relatively small undergraduate population (roughly 1,500 students), but it’s indicative of that high-touch approach and a reason why the melt numbers are comparatively low.

And this approach continues after the student arrives on campus.

“We hand things off to the academic side, to the student-life side,” said Scully. “They pick up the baton and run with it, and make sure students are treated the same way we treat them during the recruitment process; they get what they need, they get the attention, and they never become a number.”

As for the listening part, Barnes noted, again, that it involves a number of constituencies, including one she called simply the “marketplace.”

By that, she meant careful watching of trends and developments with regard to jobs — where they are now and where they’ll in be the years and decades to come — but also concerning the skills and requirements needed to take those jobs.


As one example, she cited education and, specifically, a requirement in Massachusetts for teachers to become licensed. “We’ve been able to identify programs with growth potential, specifically to meet the needs of the local K-12 districts,” she explained. “We’ve been able to work with those districts to make sure we’re bringing the right licensure programs to their areas; that’s been hugely successful for us.

“We’ve been able to create very structured growth within our own programs to help meet what the market in Springfield needs,” Barnes went on. “In healthcare, we’ve had considerable growth in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and family nurse practitioners, but we’ve also been able to branch off and start key programs like the resort and casino management program, an arm of the MBA program.”

Scully agreed, noting that, with undergraduate programs — and all programs, for that matter — there is an emphasis on creating return on investment for those enrolled in them, something that’s being demanded by both students and the parents often footing the bill.

“We’re focused on programs that the market demands, that are interesting, and that are ROI-driven,” he explained, referencing, as examples, offerings in visual/digital arts, public health, theater, exercise science, and other fields.

“There’s going to be a high demand for exercise science graduates, athletic trainers,” he explained. “So we’re giving the market what it needs.”

As for innovation and nimbleness, they go hand in hand — with each other and also the ‘working hard’ and ‘listening’ parts of the equation. It’s one thing to listen, said Barnes, and it’s another to be able to respond quickly and effectively to what one hears and sees.

AIC has been able to do that, not only with new programs, but also in how programs are delivered, such as online, on weekends in some cases, and in accelerated fashion in other instances.

“We’re being very smart about the programs that we’re offering, and we’re working closely to update everything on the academic side to make sure it’s relevant,” she went on, adding that, in addition to relevancy, the school is also focused on flexibility and enabling students to take classes how and when they want.

“I think it’s cliché to say we’re nimble, but we are,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re able to a do a lot of things that larger institutions can’t, and we’re really in tune with our students and what they need.”

Determined Course

All this explains why AIC is making the best of a scary situation, especially on the undergraduate level.

The school’s presence on — and rise up — the fast-growing colleges list is significant and makes for good press for the institution. More important, though, is how such growth was accomplished.

Words such as ‘relevancy,’ accronyms like ROI, and phrases such as ‘high-touch’ do a good hob of telling this story.

It’s a story of a remarkable rebound in a relatively short time — with more intriguing chapters to come.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

A New Chapter

Laurie Flynn says her new role with Link to Libraries enables her to make her passions — reading and children’s literature — her profession.

Laurie Flynn says her new role with Link to Libraries enables her to make her passions — reading and children’s literature — her profession.

Laurie Flynn says it’s not often that one gets to make their passion their profession.

And it was the opportunity to do just that which prompted her to put aside a budding marketing business she co-founded a few years ago and become president and CEO of Link to Libraries (LTL), the decade-old nonprofit that, as the name suggests, puts books on the shelves of school libraries and other agencies and promotes childhood literacy on many levels.

“It just seemed like this serendipitous, perfect opportunity to bring together what I’ve learned professionally and my personal passion for children’s literature, and also for reading and writing,” said Flynn, who has made LTL only the latest example of making her passion her work.

Indeed, Flynn, who returned to college (Simmons College in Boston, to be more specific) in 2011 to earn a master’s degree in writing for children, has long been a children’s book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, handling middle-grade and young-adult books across all genres. And for nearly two years, she was the Western Mass. regional coordinator for Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit that works to incorporate books into pediatric care and encourage families to read aloud together.

Desiring to take her work with literacy and children’s literature to a still-higher level, Flynn assumes many of the responsibilities carried out by Susan Jaye-Kaplan, co-founder of LTL, as it’s called, along with Janet Crimmons, in 2007. Jaye-Kaplan told BusinessWest she will remain quite active with the organization, as a board member, fund-raiser, and volunteer, among other roles, but acknowledged that, as LTL continues to grow, geographically and otherwise, it was time for the nonprofit to hire a paid, full-time president.

LTL’s warehouse at Rediker Software is crammed with books bound for area schools and nonprofits.

LTL’s warehouse at Rediker Software is crammed with books bound for area schools and nonprofits.

“This was a very necessary step to continue growing Link to Libraries and broadening its impact,” she said of the decision to hire a director. “We were at a crossroads, growth-wise, and this was the direction we needed to take.”

Flynn, who moved into LTL’s donated office space at Rediker Software in Hampden in late September, told BusinessWest that her first few months will be spent “learning the territory,” a phrase with multiple meanings.

First, there is the actual physical territory, meaning the dozens of schools and nonprofits across Western Mass. and Northern Conn. that LTL serves; she’s already visited several, and more trips are scheduled. There is also LTL’s operating structure, complete with a network of hundreds of volunteers handing assignments ranging from reading in the classroom to packing books bound for area schools.

And there’s still more to that word ‘territory,’ including everything from the art and science of selecting the books that will be distributed to soliciting new sponsors for LTL’s hugely successful Business Book Link program, which recruits businesses large and small to sponsor individual schools.

Actually, Flynn was already familiar with much of this territory through her work reviewing books, with Reach Out Read, and also work as an LTL volunteer. Indeed, she was, and would like to go on being, a volunteer reader at Homer Street School in Springfield.

But she acknowledges that she has much to learn, and is eager to get on with doing so.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked with Flynn about her new role and her decision to turn her passion for books and childhood literacy into her new business card.

Turning the Page

Flynn brings an intriguing résumé to her role with LTL, one that includes time working in both Parliament and the U.S. Capitol.

The former was a relatively short stint — an internship undertaken while she was enrolled at the London School of Economics in 1993. The latter was much more involved, covering the first half-dozen years of her professional career.

A Washington, D.C. native, Flynn started working as deputy press secretary for U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) in January 1995, and a year later became his press secretary, serving in that role until 1998, when she became communications manager in the office of the Secretary of the Senate.

In that role, and also as a staff assistant handling special projects and communications in the office of the Clerk of the House, she was heavily involved with press inquiries and other aspects of construction of the $621 million U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), a large underground addition to the Capitol complex that opened in 2008.

After relocating to Western Mass., she became an independent communications consultant, specializing in event planning and execution, product launches, and writing of documents related to corporate marketing and mission.

And after spending two years with Reach Out and Read, she co-founded Red Mantel Communications (her partner had a red mantel in her home, where the two would often brainstorm), which specialized in media and public relations, event planning, and other communications-related work.

“I was fortunate enough, since it was our own company, to focus on communications work I really wanted to do,” she explained. “Much of it had to do with nonprofits and with helping corporations focus their philanthropic giving as a way to generate good press for not only the business, but also the organization; we really tried to focus on local agencies when we could to help raise their visibility.”

Among her clients was Balise Motor Sales, which had already forged a unique relationship with Homer Street School — the late Mike Balise, a principal with the company, purchased winter coats for students there — and took it to a higher level by adopting the school through LTL’s Business Book Link program.

Flynn, who read to fourth-graders at Homer Street, said she was content in her work with Red Mantel, but when she heard that LTL was going to commence a search for its first full-time paid director, she became intrigued.

But first, she needed convincing that Jaye-Kaplan, the energetic face of the nonprofit, was really going to take at least a small step back in her role as leader of the agency.


“I couldn’t imagine her actually stepping away — I thought she would change her mind, which would have been fine,” Flynn said. “But she was firm — she was going to step back.”

The position attracted a number of applicants, most of them with backgrounds in education, nonprofit management, or both, and Flynn eventually prevailed in a search process that ended in early September.

Looking ahead, Flynn said her informal job description is to build on LTL’s solid foundation and advance its work to not only put books on library shelves and in students’ hands, but to encourage young people to read and impress upon them the importance of doing so to attain jobs and careers.

“I just have a deep love and appreciation for the importance of reading in kids’ lives,” she told BusinessWest, adding that the Business Book Link program is an important part of this mission.

And not simply because the businesses donate money to purchase books for the schools they’re sponsoring. A perhaps even bigger component is how those businesses become involved with the schools — by reading to students, but also funding field trips and other initiatives — and having their employees visit the classrooms and become role models of sorts.

“That community involvement, and getting representatives of the business world to come into the classroom and take the time to sit down with those kids … that’s just so important and so unique,” Flynn explained.

Overall, she said would like to see the organization broaden its work and its mission in some important ways, but without ever straying from its reason for being.

“I’d like to see Link to Libraries grow as a resource — a source of literacy information and a way to connect teachers with books,” she explained. “I’d love to see us expand that way and create a new niche, as a children’s literacy resource.”

Meanwhile, she would like to use books and reading as a way to help young people “find their own voice.”

“By sharing a love of reading and stories,” she told BusinessWest, maybe we can inspire kids to write their own.”

As she contemplates how to do that, Flynn said the region’s many noted children’s authors, including Jane Yolin, Holly Black, Richard Michelson, and others, could play a role in such work.

“These authors could become a resource for teachers and educators in our community, offering them new and interesting ways to approach reading to kids to make it interesting and relevant.”

Book Smart

As LTL celebrates 10 years of carrying out its unique mission, this is an appropriate time to pause and reflect, said Flynn, adding that the milestone, and her arrival as the first paid director, are turning points for the organization.

Together, they symbolize the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the agency. And while the specific plotline of this chapter isn’t known yet, the story is likely to be one of continued growth and deeper impact within the community.

As for Flynn, she is excited to be helping to script this chapter. That’s to be expected when your passion becomes your life’s work.

—George O’Brien

Education Sections

The ‘Arms Race’

Westfield State University President Ramon Torrecilha

Westfield State University President Ramon Torrecilha says investments like the school has made in its food services are necessary in a changed landscape in higher education.

When people hear the phrase ‘arms race in higher education’ — and they’re hearing it a lot these days — what usually comes to mind are dining commons that offer more choices than a five-star restaurant, dorms that look more like hotel suites, and elaborate gyms, rock-climbing walls, and related athletic facilities.

And while that’s certainly part of the picture when it comes to this arms race — terminology generally used to describe a heightened competition for students and especially top talent — there are aspects to this equation that are far less obvious to the casual observer, according to the college presidents we spoke with, including:

• A new administrative position — director of Enrollment Management — at Westfield State University, noted its president, Ramon Torrecilha;

• A considerable investment in additional personnel and facilities in the Career Services Office at Western New England University, said its long-time president, Anthony Caprio;

• Development of a “student experience master plan,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, noting, for example, that the dormitory towers in the Southwest residential area do not exactly lend themselves to social interaction; and

• Renovations to the Hatch Library at Bay Path University to create what President Carol Leary called “collaborative and adaptable spaces for group learning in an environment that is also sensitive to technology.”

These steps and others are being taken because this arms race — a phrase that none of these presidents seemed particularly eager to say out loud because of the somewhat negative connotation attached to it — is about much more than competing for what has long been a smaller, seemingly more discerning, pool of high-school students with ramped-up facilities. Indeed, it’s also about — or more about, according to those we spoke with — helping these students succeed and generating value for the huge investment that they and their parents are making in their education.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says that, as schools compete for students, geographic boundaries and the line between public and private schools have become blurred.

Thus, you’re hearing words and phrases that college administrators hardly ever said out loud until recently — like ‘value,’ ‘customers,’ and ‘return on investment.’

“The value proposition of higher education has changed insofar as the discourse these days is on the return on that investment,” said Torrecilha. “There is a much bigger emphasis on outcomes; students and parents are very interested in knowing what the outcome will be from a four-year education.”

More to the point, they’re interested in securing a solid outcome, meaning a job with a salary worthy of four years of tuition and fees.

“As the cost of education has escalated, more attention has been paid — and rightly so, frankly — to what the student is getting out of their education,” said Subbaswamy. “As the cost has shifted from the state to those families over the years, both students and families are more aware of what they’re giving up, and universities are more attuned to providing value.”

Meanwhile, the presidents we spoke with said there is a fine line between making an investment in a new dorm, dining commons, student union, or science center because it helps in the recruitment process — and because competitors have already built such things — and doing so because these are necessary investments in efforts to help students succeed.

And they would argue that, on their campuses, it has been more for the latter than the former.

“At Bay Path, our response to the ‘arms race’ is all about value — how we provide students with the academic experiences that will best prepare them for the future,” said Leary. “In response to our students’ expectations for value, we strive to contain the cost of education. We are one of the lowest-priced private colleges in the Northeast, and the American Women’s College is exceptionally cost-effective. The investments we make, and increasingly the areas where our donors support Bay Path, are in financial aid, academic advising, and career preparation, including paid internships.”

While Subbaswamy admitted there was one facility on the UMass Amherst that might — that’s might — fall into the category of “keeping up with the Joneses,” as he put it (the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center for UMass Basketball), he and other presidents said their schools are not spending money on items that don’t add to the value proposition and the overall learning experience.

Said Leary, who recoiled at the word ‘amenities’ as it is so often used in discussion of the arms race, “there are not many frills with a Bay Path education.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the many aspects of this arms race, and especially the ways in which area schools are heightening their focus on student success and generating that sought-after return on investment.

Food for Thought

Subbaswamy couldn’t recall the exact wording or many of the specific design details, but the advertisement in the Boston Globe several months ago certainly caught his attention.

It was placed by the University of Pittsburgh, which, to his recollection, was touting itself in that advertisement as the “best public university in New England.”

“Since when did Pittsburgh become New England?” he asked BusinessWest, adding that this marketing initiative speaks volumes about what’s happening in higher education today and the forces that are fueling this arms race.

In short, borders, geographic and otherwise, are coming down as schools recruit needed students, said Subbaswamy and others we spoke with, adding that there is now little distinction between public and private four-year schools — especially as many states pull back on funding and shift the burden to students and their parents. Meanwhile, many institutions, like the University of Pittsburgh, are casting a wider net in the search for students, and taking steps to land them.

And marketing efforts, like that Boston Globe ad, are just one vehicle. For example, in 2015, the University of Maine launched something called its Flagship Match program, whereby students in Massachusetts, for example, could enroll at the Orono campus for the same price they would pay to attend UMass Amherst, a deal that slashes roughly half off Maine’s nearly $30,000 out-of-state rate.

And the tactic has worked. Indeed, the number of Massachusetts students planning to attend UMaine has nearly doubled since the introduction of the program.

But, as noted, discounting the cost of an education is only one of the strategies being put to use. New dorms, dining commons, and, yes, the occasional rock-climbing wall have been built in an effort to turn the heads of students and especially their parents, said Caprio.

Anthony Caprio

Anthony Caprio

We’re aware that the audience has changed. They want bigger, they want more modern, they want to have privacy, they want a lot of room around them.”

And they’re doing it because such facilities are now expected, and, to some extent and with some constituencies, demanded, he went on.

“We’re aware that the audience has changed,” Caprio explained, using that term as a collective for students and their parents. “They want bigger, they want more modern, they want to have privacy, they want a lot of room around them.”

In some respects, that’s because this is what they’ve grown up with, not only at home, but also at some of the high schools going up in communities across the state and the country. “Some of these high schools have better athletic facilities than we do,” he said, without a trace of exaggeration in his voice.

Caprio noted that even elite, Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale have been making huge investments in non-academic aspects of their campuses, presumably because even these institutions need to do so in this changed environment.

Torrecilha agreed. “When students come to a new-student orientation, they don’t ask to see the classrooms — they want to know where they’re going live; they want to see what the residential hall looks like and feels like,” he said.

This focus on campus life also explains why WSU recently made a huge investment in creating its own food-services department and significantly upgrading its offerings.

The ambitious project, undertaken in partnership with UMass Amherst, which currently has the top-rated food-service division in the country, was described by Torrecilha as a risk, one he considers well worth taking.

“I spent a lot of nights thinking about this because it meant bringing a $13 million operation into the school budget,” he said, adding that WSU previously used an outside vendor to prepare food. “And once you hire these people, they become part of your payroll. So it was risky, but it was worth it; our participation rate is up considerably.”

Meanwhile, WNEU is also investing in a new dining commons, a $28 million renovation Caprio said is being undertaken out of necessity, not exactly a desire to keep pace, although he acknowledged that’s part of the ‘necessity’ part.

“When we deliberated about this, we said, ‘we have to modernize,’” he explained. “We had a building that was very nice, but it was totally inadequate — it was too small and not conducive for anything but students chowing down their food and getting the heck out of there because someone was trying to grab their seat. That’s not the kind of place we want it to be.

“Students are used to different kinds of diets, and there’s such a new awareness about the quality of food, the types of food available, and how it’s prepared,” he went on. “It’s simply impossible to ignore all of that, and you need to have the right facilities to do it.”

A Study in Value

But while the competition for students has escalated, thus adding to the building and renovating boom talking place on many campuses, so too has the need to show a return on the investment that students and their parents are making, said Torrecilha, adding that both phenomena are part of a still-changing landscape in higher education.

“We’re much more outcomes-driven than ever before,” he told BusinessWest, using that collective to refer to colleges and universities of all shapes and sizes. “Institutions of higher education are being asked to demonstrate that their students will be able to be placed in a job or, in some cases, transition to graduate school.”

And this sea change has led to other types of investments, some of them far less visible — such as those in counseling, career-placement facilities, and enrollment-management efforts designed to not only get students into a school but also get them onto the podium at commencement ceremonies — yet are also part of the arms race.

Carol Leary

Carol Leary says that ‘value’ in higher education is not about rock-climbing walls, but instead about providing a solid return on the investment made in attending college.

Leary said such efforts fall into that broad category of ‘value,’ and noted that this concept is so important to the school and its administrators that it is one of the four main tenets of its Vision 2019 strategic plan and was the primary area of focus for the board of trustees during this past academic year.

“Last fall, the board participated in a series of focus groups with students, parents, alumni, and employers so trustees could hear first-hand how our customers define value,” she went on. “What we learned — and it was no great surprise to us — is that the cost of education, academic advising, and career preparation are top of mind. Not one word was mentioned about luxury dorms, rock-climbing walls, Jacuzzis, or other amenities that some people think of when they hear the term ‘arms race.’”

She believes these focus-group responses are directly attributable to the diversity of students Bay Path serves — more than half are first-generation college students, and an equal number hail from families with what she called “extraordinary financial need.”

“And the majority of our students work one if not multiple jobs to pay for their education,” she went on, adding that two-thirds of Bay Path’s undergraduate students are adult women enrolled through the American Women’s College (AWC), which offers programs online.

“While unique, their expectations are aligned with our traditional students,” Leary said of the AWC students. “They want a major and an experience that will enable them to excel in careers or graduate school.”

And with that phrase, she summed up succinctly what has become a point of heightened emphasis for all schools.

Indeed, while ‘student success’ is not exactly a recent phenomenon, that two-word phrase wasn’t heard much in the corridors and offices within higher-education facilities until this century, said Subbaswamy.

Now, it is the primary directive, and there are many elements that go into this quotient, including facilities like new science buildings (UMass Amherst, WSU, Bay Path, WNEU, and other schools have one, by the way), additional personnel and resources in career centers, WSU’s director of Enrollment Management, and, yes, even those new dining facilities.

“The fields we’re expanding into at this school are ones that require very modern facilities,” said Caprio, echoing the thoughts of his colleagues as he spoke. “We need to have modern laboratories, whether we’re teaching pharmacy or any of the sciences we’ve expanded into, or engineering, or our new programs, like occupational therapy.

“You need to have ultra-modern, up-to-date, current laboratories, because without those tools, these students cannot be prepared to go out and work in the profession they’re choosing to go into,” he went on. “We’re not doing it for show, nor are we doing it because the students can’t tolerate anything more simple; we know what we have to provide in order to provide the kind of education these students need and that they expect to get the jobs they desire.”

Leary used similar language as she talked about Bay Path’s renovations to science labs on its main campus and the building of the Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center in East Longmeadow.

“We created state-of-the-art facilities to make sure our students have hands-on experience with cutting-edge equipment,” she noted. “Advanced technology has literally transformed teaching and learning in disciplines like neuroscience, occupational therapy, and physician assistant studies. Thus, these new facilities are driven purely by academic needs. I think that is important.”

At UMass Amherst, said Subbaswamy, the more than $1.8 billion in campus infrastructure work undertaken over the past 10 years has been far more about replacing neglected facilities built 50 or 60 years ago — “catching up,” as he called it — than keeping up with the competition.

Course of Action

As he talked about the arms race and the greater emphasis on outcomes today, Torrecilha mentioned another new and apparently necessary expenditure for his institution — the purchase of student names from the College Board.

When I meet with parents, or at our open houses, I talk about how we bring about return on investment to them, and how we’re not at all ashamed or hesitant to say that believe in art for art’s sake and education for education’s sake. We really work hard at trying to provide services and guidance to our students so they understand the world of work and understand the pathways to getting effective jobs.”

This is something the school has never done before (many colleges and universities have been doing it for decades), but is doing now as part of the heightened focus on enrollment and enrollment management, he explained, adding that the school will be acquiring roughly 100,000 names at 42 cents each.

These are the names of young people, most all of them in Massachusetts and the bulk of them from the eastern part of the state, an area WSU has traditionally recruited many of its students from. And they are considered to be potentially solid fits for the institution.

“We’re being more strategic in the way in which we recruit students,” he explained, adding that, as part of this initiative, he wants WSU to start the recruitment much earlier than a student’s junior year in high school — when it traditionally begins — and perhaps as early as elementary school.

WSU’s purchase of students’ names is part of that heightened emphasis on outcomes, said Torrecilha, adding that the school’s new director of Enrollment Management also falls into that category. It’s an important hire, and it speaks to how the business of higher education is changing.

“Westfield State University, like a lot of state institutions, didn’t have to think about enrollment until very recently,” he said, driving home his point by noting that, until this year, the school processed all applications by hand. “It was one of those cases of ‘build it and they will come’; we never had to think about the incoming class, but times have changed.”

Today, the school is far more focused on attracting students, creating what Torrecilha called the “right mix” of students, and guiding those students to success — be it in graduate school or the job market.

This is increasingly a sector-wide approach, said Subbaswamy, noting that his school, like most others, is making greater investments in the realm of student success, many of them outside the classroom — through everything from additional behavioral health services to larger staffs and more resources for the career centers, to that aforementioned effort to improve social interaction in 20-story dormitories.

“Students are here for four years — and we are really acting on behalf of their parents,” he said. “It’s an awesome responsibility to have 22,000 18-to-22-year-olds under your care for eight months of the year, and that’s how we have to approach it.”

All this brings Caprio back to that phrase ‘return on investment,’ one that the individual holding his job three decades ago likely wouldn’t have uttered.

“But I use it just about every day,” he said. “When I meet with parents, or at our open houses, I talk about how we bring about return on investment to them, and how we’re not at all ashamed or hesitant to say that believe in art for art’s sake and education for education’s sake. We really work hard at trying to provide services and guidance to our students so they understand the world of work and understand the pathways to getting effective jobs.”

Torrecilha agreed. “We want our students to identify their passion and find a major to fulfill that passion, but also be productive citizens in the sphere of work or graduate school.”

Bottom Line

Returning to the subject of WNEU’s new dining commons, Caprio described that facility in a way that effectively articulates the many components to this arms race and why it is changing the landscape on so many campuses.

“This will be a place where students come all day and eat, and have space to work if they wish, and work in groups to continue the learning experience in a very comfortable manner that’s convenient to them,” he explained. “Some people would say that really is unnecessary, that it’s unneeded extravagance.

“But it’s not,” he went on, “if you define yourself as a place where people come to learn and learn in groups and have meaningful exchanges in that particular setting. It’s no longer just a cafeteria. It’s a learning center for all practical purposes.”

Thus, it’s an important part of the nationwide effort to bring new emphasis to that word ‘value’ and produce a return on an obviously huge investment.

This is a new age in higher education, one of hotel-like dorms, dining facilities with ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘gluten-free’ stations, and a ‘student-experience master plan’ at the state university.

And all institutions are still adjusting to this new order.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Determined Course

Harry Dumay

Harry Dumay says Elms College generated considerable momentum under Sr. Mary Reap, and he hopes to build on that progress.

Soon after Harry Dumay reached that point professionally where he determined he was ready and willing to pursue a college presidency, he did what many people in that situation do.

He put together a wish list, or a preferred list, if you will, of the type of institution he eventually wanted to lead. And he did so because, in such situations, as so many eventual college presidents have told BusinessWest over the years, ‘fit’ is all-important — to both the candidate and the school in question.

When asked about what he preferred, Dumay ran off a quick list:

• A Catholic institution would be ideal — he had already worked in high-level positions for two of them, Boston College and St. Anselm College in New Hampshire;

• A sound financial footing was also high on the list — and there are many institutions not on such solid ground;

• A commitment to strong academics was a must; and

• Above all else, he desired to lead a school with a strong track record for diversity — not merely ethnic diversity (although that was certainly important), but the broad range of student and educational diversity (he would get into that more later).

Because Elms College in Chicopee could check all those boxes and others as well, Dumay not only desired to fill the vacancy to be created by the announced retirement of Sr. Mary Reap last year, but he essentially made the nearly 90-year-old school the primary focus of his presidential aspirations.

The more I started looking into Elms College, the more I started to become fascinated by it, and I just fell in love with the place.”

“The more I started looking into Elms College, the more I started to become fascinated by it, and I just fell in love with the place,” he told BusinessWest.

Dumay, who was serving as vice president for Finance and chief financial officer at St. Anselm when Elms commenced its search, said he was quite familiar with the school through another role he has carried out for several years — as a member of the New England Assoc. of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

He knew, for example, that not long ago, the school wasn’t on that sound financial ground he desired, and that it was only through a significant turnaround effort orchestrated by Reap that the school was no longer on a list of institutions being watched closely by NEASC for financial soundness.

“Sister Mary has essentially completed a turnaround of the financial situation at the institution over the past eight years,” he noted. “She took it from numbers that were not satisfactory to having successive years of positive margins and putting the college very well in the black.”

But as she put Elms on more solid financial footing, Reap also maintained and amplified what Dumay called “an entrepreneurial spirit” that manifested itself in new academic programs and construction of the Center for Natural and Health Sciences, which, when it opened in 2014, was the first new academic building on campus in more than 30 years.

And she led efforts that enabled the school to make great strides in what has become a nationwide focus on student success and, overall, greater return on the significant cost of higher education.

As he talked about his goals and plans moving forward, Dumay, who arrived on campus July 1, said his immediate assignment is to meet as many people within the broad ‘Elms community’ as possible. This means faculty, staff, trustees, and area business and civic leaders, he said, adding that his primary role in such meetings is to listen to what such individuals are saying about Elms — its past, its present, and especially its future.

This listening and learning process will continue at a retreat next month involving the school’s leadership team, he went on, adding that his broad goal is to attain a common vision concerning where the school wants to be in the years to come and how to get there and execute that plan.

But in most all respects, Dumay said his primary focus is on keeping the school on the upward trajectory charted by Reap. For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked at length with Dumay about that assignment and his approach to it.

A Stern Test

As he prepared to sit down with BusinessWest on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month, Dumay was wrapping up one of those meet-and-greets he mentioned earlier — this one a quick lunch with trustee Kevin Vann, president of the Vann Group.

As noted, there have been several of these sessions since he arrived, and there are many more to come as Dumay continues what could be described as a fact-finding, opinion-gathering exercise concerning not only Elms College but the region, and students, it serves.

As he mentioned, Dumay already knew quite a bit about Elms — and most of this region’s colleges and universities, for that matter — before arriving on the Chicopee campus. He is determined, though, to add to that base of knowledge.

He’s learned, for example, that nearly a third of the school’s students are first-generation, meaning that they’re the first in their family to attend college. Dumay said that statistic certainly resonates with him — he, too, is a first-generation college graduate — and that his career in some way serves as a model to the students he will soon lead.

A native of Quanaminthe, Haiti, Dumay came to the U.S. to attend college, specifically Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., a historically black, public, land-grant university founded by African-American veterans of the Civil War.

He graduated magna cum laude, and would continue his education with a master’s degree in public administration from Framingham State University, an MBA from Boston University, and a doctorate in higher education administration from Boston College.

He would put those degrees to use in a number of different positions at some of the nation’s most prestigious schools.

He worked as director of Finance for Boston University’s School of Engineering from 1998 to 2002 (he was hired and later mentored by Charles DeLisi, who played a seminal role in initiating the Human Genome Project), before becoming associate dean at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work from 2002 to 2006, a rather significant career course change — in some respects, anyway.

“From engineering to social work … those are vastly different worlds,” he explained, “but my job was essentially the same: working on aligning resources —— technology, processes, and people — to support the work of the faculty.”

Dumay then took a job as chief financial officer and associate dean at Harvard University’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2006, and served in that capacity until 2012.

That timeline is significant because he was at Harvard at the height of the Great Recession, which took a 30% bite out of Harvard’s huge endowment and not only prompted the delay of an ambitious initiative to expand the campus into Allston — a plan that included the School of Engineering — but also brought about campus-wide efforts to create greater operating efficiencies. And Dumay played a significant role in those efforts.

“That was some of the most rewarding work I’ve been part of,” he said. “And there were some great opportunities for learning how organizations can structure themselves to be more efficient.”

He then took another significant career course change, moving on to St. Anselm, where, instead of working for a specific school or division, he become CFO of the institution and later became senior vice president and, in many respects, the right hand of the president. In that role, he played a key role in developing a new strategic plan for the school.

After nearly two decades of work in higher education in these leadership roles, Dumay said he considered himself ready, professionally and otherwise, to pursue a presidency.

And others were encouraging him to take that next step.

“For a while, being a number two on a campus seemed to be very satisfying and very appealing,” he explained. “But, progressively, my former president started to encourage me to seek a presidency, even though I had been thinking about it as well.”

Elms College

Harry Dumay says Elms College, like most colleges and universities today, is putting a strong focus on student success.

At the advice of his former president, he attended a year-long program sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges designed to help individuals discern whether they have a ‘vocation for a college presidency.’

“Those are their words,” said Dumay. “They want people to think about this not as a job, not as a step in one’s career, but as a vocation, as a calling, because there’s a certain work to be done as a college president.

“It eventually became clear to me that the influence that I wanted to have and the way I wanted to contribute to higher education, a presidency was the best position, the best vantage point to make that happen,” he went on.

While many who reach that point where they can truly say this is a calling cast a somewhat wide net as they explore and then pursue opportunities, Dumay took a more specific focus. And when Reap announced her intention to retire last year, Elms became the focus of his ambition.

“This was the one search I was seriously involved in,” he said.

School of Thought

What intrigued him was the institution Elms has become over the past 89 years, and especially the past few decades — one that could easily check all those boxes mentioned earlier, and especially the one concerning diversity and the many forms it takes here.

The student body is just one example, he said, adding that it has historically been ethnically diverse and added a significant new dimension when men were admitted for the first time in 1997.

But it is diverse in many other respects as well, including the depth of its programs and the nature of “how teaching happens,” as Dumay put it.

“Elms College has a diversity of formats in which it provides a strong Catholic liberal-arts education,” he explained. “It happens on campus, it happens through online education, it happens with the residential population, it happens with people who commute, and it happens off campus through a number of sites. That’s a broad definition of diversity that appealed to me.”

Beyond the diversity, the school also has that solid financial footing that Reap had created, momentum in the form of new programs in areas from health sciences to entrepreneurship, and something else that Dumay identified — “courage.”

He used that term in reference to the school’s decision to admit men 20 years ago, but said it has been a consistent character trait.

“Institutions that have made big shifts like that … to me, that shows resiliency, forward thinking, and courage,” he explained, “because it takes courage to change an institution’s trajectory like that and make decisions that will not be popular with all constituents. To me, that was impressive.”

Equally impressive has been progress at the school in that all-important area of student success.

I’m not sure how that effort is going to continue with the current administration, but higher-education institutions have, in general, taken that message to heart. Instead of getting that mandate from the federal government, this sector has been telling itself, ‘we’d better to be able to prove ourselves … we need to show how our students are receiving value for the dollars they’re investing in their education.”

This isn’t a recent phenomenon, he noted, but there has been considerably more emphasis on ROI as the cost of education has continued to climb.

The Obama administration made that focus a priority, he went on, adding it worked to put in place measures for how well a specific school’s degree programs were translating into success (salary-wise) in the workplace.

“I’m not sure how that effort is going to continue with the current administration,” he went on, “but higher-education institutions have, in general, taken that message to heart. Instead of getting that mandate from the federal government, this sector has been telling itself, ‘we’d better to be able to prove ourselves … we need to show how our students are receiving value for the dollars they’re investing in their education.”

Measures created or emphasized in this regard include everything from graduation and retention rates to the starting salaries of graduates in various programs, he continued, adding that Elms has achieved progress in this regard as well.

“Sister Mary had started an initiative to really focus on student success as part of our strategic plan,” he explained. “And as part of that, there is a plan to create a center for student success, and she started a campaign to raise funds for it.”

That facility will likely be ready by the end of summer, he said, adding that the school’s commitment to not only enrolling students but giving them all the tools they will need to graduate and achieve success in the workplace was another factor in his decision to come to Elms.

Moving forward, Dumay said that, after several more meetings like the one he had that day, and after the leadership retreat in August, and after gaining a better sense of where the college is and where it wants to go, he will commence what he said is the real work of a college president.

“That is to ensure the coherence and the articulation of a common vision, so we can all be pulling in the same direction,” he explained, adding that this is the essential ingredient in achieving continued progress at any institution. “Anything that anyone has been able to do has begun with getting everyone in the same frame of mind and saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’”

Grade Expectations

As he talked about that process of getting everyone at an institution of higher learning on the proverbial same page, Dumay acknowledged that this can often be a stern challenge in this sector.

“The theory is, higher education is like steering a car on ice,” he said with a smile on his face, adding that such work can be made easier through clear articulation of a vision and the means through which it will be met.

And this is the essence of a college president’s job description, he said, adding that, back at that year-long program for aspiring college presidents, he definitely came away with the sense that he did, indeed, view this as a calling, or vocation, and not a job or stepping stone.

And Elms, as he noted, was the natural landing spot.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Bringing Classrooms to Life

By Alta J. Stark

Steven O’Brien emceed Western New England University

Steven O’Brien emceed Western New England University’s Student Media Festival, part of his spring internship as chair of the festival.

Today’s college graduates understand it takes much more than book learning to compete in the job market; employers are looking for real-world experience. Students gain that experience through internships in their field, but they gain more than that. BusinessWest spoke with a few from this year’s graduating class who said their internships gave them confidence, inspiration, connections, and, in one case, a whole new career focus.

As thousands of new graduates from the region’s colleges and universities prepare to start their careers in a competitive labor market, the range of their majors is as varied as their diverse backgrounds and talents. But they’re finding it often takes more than a degree to prepare for the work world.

Increasingly, who gets the plum jobs comes down to the work experience students accrue well before they graduate.

“As students transition out of the university into the real world, employers are looking for students with experience,” said Andrea St. James, director of the Career Development Center at Western New England University. “College internships are now a major component in providing students with on-the-job skill sets they need to succeed. We encourage students to get that experience early and often.”

All colleges boast active career centers that help cultivate meaningful and practical experiences for students, but a unique consortium of career-center professionals is bringing it all together in the Pioneer Valley. Comprised of career directors from American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, Western New England University, and Westfield State University, College Career Centers of Western Mass (CCCWM) provides companies and organizations a central venue in which to connect with a pool of potential interns and entry-level candidates located in Western Mass.

“We meet monthly to learn from each other. We want to help students not only build their résumés, but help direct where they may want to take their education when they leave,” said St. James.

CCCWM cross-posts job and internship opportunities, participates in career fairs throughout the year, and educates and empowers students through special events and focus groups, she added. “It’s a great resource to add to the specialized career preparation that’s available to students in their schools’ career centers. We encourage students to start exploring opportunities in their first year because an effective combination of education and career programs is a valuable complement to the academic experience.”

Laurie Cirillo

Laurie Cirillo says her department at Bay Path empowers women to take charge of their own career path.

In addition, career counselors help internship-seeking students make and maintain connections with friends, peers, professors, and alumni who may be helpful in their search. To hear the students tell it, those efforts are paying off.

The Right Channels

As a communications major at Western New England University, Steven O’Brien is learning how to tell stories creatively and effectively. He’s an incoming senior who’s spent the past three years studying mass media, television, radio, online media, and media production. This past spring, he jumped at the chance to turn his academic learning into real-life, hands-on experience.

“Ask anybody who has anything remotely to do with finding a job after college — anybody from the career development center, any of my professors — and they’ll tell you internships are critical because more and more employers, even for entry-level positions, are looking for people who have experience in the field,” he said.

O’Brien chaired WNEU’s 15th annual Student Media Festival, which celebrates student-produced music videos, news reports, newspaper articles, radio programming, commercials, public-service announcements, and digital photography.

“The Media Festival is a huge part of the spring semester for everyone who enters WNE. My focus was to make this the best it could be and do my job well because a lot of people were counting on me to do that,” he said.

SEE: List of Colleges in Western Mass.

He worked closely with Professor Brenda Garton-Sjoberg, who told BusinessWest that internships place students in the driver’s seat to navigate through career options, as well as providing outstanding networking opportunities.

“They allow students to experience a job through academic credit to determine if that’s the best path for their future down the road,” she explained. “I believe internships are essential for anyone, especially students interested in careers in communications.”

Simply put, O’Brien added, “being in the internship environment forces you to either sink or swim. It puts you in a position that, if you don’t have these skills, you have to find them quickly. If you’re not familiar with something, you need to know about it, and you need to learn about it.”

We encourage students to start exploring opportunities in their first year because an effective combination of education and career programs is a valuable complement to the academic experience.”

What O’Brien liked best about the internship was wearing many hats. “It was really a multi-faceted internship that went beyond the norm. It dealt with myriad skills and disciplines from public speaking and PR to marketing, media production, event planning, social-media marketing, and e-mail marketing. To get a taste of each of those, I think, was incredible.”

St. James agreed. “It’s the soft skills that he’s building that all employers value; yes, it’s the networking, the résumé building, but knowing how to manage personalities, the critical thinking, the teamwork, the motivation, communication, the small talk that has to occur to bring this people together — that’s really invaluable.”

O’Brien aced the internship in more ways than his grade. He also networked himself into a paid summer internship with the festival’s media sponsor, Cloud 9 Marketing Group, a fairly new startup founded by a recent WNE graduate.

“I worked with him throughout the entire process, and got to know him,” he said. “After the festival, I e-mailed him to ask if he was looking for interns this summer. We met, and now it looks like I’ll have an internship this summer that grew from my spring internship.”

Gaining Empowerment

Alison Hudson has been performing since she was 3 years old. She says she’s always known she wanted a career that would include her love of the creative arts and her passion for psychology. She graduated from Bay Path University in May, majoring in forensic psychology, with a minor in performing arts. In the fall, she’s going to Lesley University to seek a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a focus on drama therapy.

Hudson said her senior-year internship was critical because it showed her she was on the right path for her future. Specifically, she interned as a residential assistant at Berkshire Hills Music Academy, a live-in community for young adults with developmental disabilities, who gain communication skills through music therapy.

“The students are really wonderful,” she said. “They welcome you into their lives, and it’s very rewarding.”

Tori Bouchard, certified trainer and 2017 Springfield College graduate (left), with Sue Guyer, chair of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at the college.

Tori Bouchard, certified trainer and 2017 Springfield College graduate (left), with Sue Guyer, chair of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at the college.

Prior to her internship, Hudson wanted to work with veterans and rehabilitated criminals, but her work at the academy pointed her in a different direction. “This internship gave me the confidence to take on the challenge of grad school and follow a career path of working with people using performing arts as therapy,” she said.

In fact, helping students build confidence helps them graduate, move on to graduate school, and get a job, said Laurie Cirillo, assistant dean of Student Success at Bay Path’s Sullivan Career & Life Planning Center. “We’re trying to empower women to be in power over their own destiny.”

To help students grow and develop self-reliance, Bay Path has adopted a unique take on the internship experience, which has become a hallmark of the university. “We don’t place our students; they work with a career coach to match themselves,” Cirillo said. “We provide a solid support system and strategies for success, but we’ve found multiple benefits to having students open the doors to the next steps of their lives and careers.”

When Delmarina Lopez entered Bay Path as a freshman, she didn’t think she could do that. The young Latina woman with a love for the public sector recalls that she was ready to transfer out.

“College was a rude awakening for me, academically, culturally, and financially, but President [Carol] Leary wasn’t going to let me go. I received amazing support, guidance, and mentoring. I stayed, and I do not regret it.”

Lopez, who’d already achieved success in her young life as the first high-school-age, community-based intern for former Gov. Deval Patrick, became more active on campus, serving as Leary’s presidential ambassador, as well as president of the Student Government Assoc. She started as a criminal justice major, then switched to legal studies after interning with attorney Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross of Springfield.

“I knew her as one of a handful of Latina leaders in our community. It was good to work with someone who looked like me and has a similar background,” Lopez said. “She taught me the importance of mentoring and bringing someone up with you, not just focusing on yourself. I learned that law isn’t about competition; it’s about justice.”

Lopez applied to multiple law schools across the country and was accepted at 12; she chose to stay close to home, entering Western New England University Law School this fall on a full scholarship.

Cirillo says helping build a woman’s self-efficacy is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. “Many students come here with a lot of self-doubt, but by the end of their college experience, they’re able to stand back and see what they’ve achieved, and what lies ahead as they realize their potential.”

Trainers in Training

Springfield College is well-known for its athletic programs. “We’re preparing students for careers in the fitness and health industry, providing them with classroom and hands-on training from day one,” said Sue Guyer, chair of the school’s Exercise Science and Sport Studies program. “Undergrads and grads work with varying populations, from top-level athletes to still-developing high-school athletes and the elderly, and they’re influencing their lives for the better.”

Tori Bouchard completed six internships during her studies to become a certified athletic trainer. It’s a program requirement to complete a clinical rotation each semester, starting sophomore year.

“Through these rotations, we’re able to connect to patients, coaches, other athletic trainers, and other healthcare professionals, and athletic directors. We’re able to grow as athletic trainers,” Bouchard said. “We’re able to see and meet all sorts of different people. No case is the same. No patient is the same patient. So you take the theories you’re learning in the classroom, and you apply them to the setting, and not everything is always textbook. Nothing is ever textbook, actually. So, sometimes you’re learning one thing, but you realize  — under supervision of the preceptor — ‘oh, this isn’t necessarily going to work for this case, but I also know about this technique.’”

Guyer said it’s impossible to measure the true value of the experiential learning. “It’s invaluable to have the opportunity to mentor into the profession,” she told BusinessWest, noting that the rotations can also have a positive impact at understaffed schools, which may have large populations of student athletes, but just one athletic trainer on staff.

“If Springfield College sends two interns to that high school, they’ve added two qualified people to help maintain the health and well-being of students,” she went on. “What we’ve learned is, if a student is able to see, feel, experience, treat, and rehabilitate athletes, that it really brings the classroom to life.”

Bouchard agreed. “The connections with people are unbelievable,” she said.
“You learn so much just by talking to other people, learning what they’ve learned, and you grow as a person.”

Bouchard has passed her certification exam and is presently looking for a paid internship before heading back to graduate school. “I think I still have more to learn in the clinic,” she said. “I think you’re always learning something new, and I want to learn who I really am when I’m working on my own team without another athletic trainer.”

That is, after all, what the college experience is really about — young people learning who they are, what they can do, and how to realize their potential.

Education Sections

Down to a Science Center

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

John McDonald hit the pause button ever so briefly in his conversation with BusinessWest and went to the window.

He then scanned the parking lot for his pick-up truck, found it, and gestured toward it. “There … that was our other lab space — my truck,” said McDonald, an assistant professor in the Environmental Science Department at Westfield State University. “Occasionally, we’d have field labs, such as animal necropsies, and we’d have to do those on the back of the truck, parked next to Route 20. We had zero functional lab space.”

The window he pointed from is one of many in the spacious classroom/lab area dedicated to Environmental Science at the Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center at WSU, which opened last fall and was officially dedicated earlier this month.

The space represents everything this department didn’t have before — especially ample room and modern facilities such as a wet lab complete with drains in the floor. And while this department represents perhaps the most dramatic ‘before-and-after,’ ‘night-and-day’ scenario when it comes to the new building, there are many such stories to be told here.

Like the one the Department of Nursing and Allied Health can tell.

Marcia Scanlon, chair of that department, said that, prior to the opening of the new center, the Nursing Department made do with some classroom space on campus and, for hands-on skills work, a room with three hospital beds and two simulators in what amounted to rented space at Baystate Noble Hospital, about a mile from the campus.

Now, Nursing has a spacious suite of facilities in the 54,000-square-foot facility, including three simulation rooms, an eight-bed health-assessment room, an eight-bed nursing-skills lab, two control rooms, four high-fidelity mannequins, and 12 additional low- and mid-fidelity mannequins representing adults, children, infants, and newborns.

All this represents quite an upgrade, not just in space and convenience (students no longer have to make their way to Baystate Noble), but in overall learning opportunities, said Scanlon.

“By having all this on campus in this center, that gives students better access,” Scanlon explained. “It gives them better visibility, better access, and more opportunities to come for extra help if they need it.”

Jennifer Hanselman, professor and chair of the Biology Department, and Christopher Masi, chair of the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, told somewhat similar stories.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

They, like Scanlon and McDonald, said a tremendous amount of research and input gathering, including visits to many other health and science centers in this region, were undertaken before the architects and construction crews went to work.

“We affiliated very closely with Springfield Technical Community College, which is a renowned simulation center for its Nursing and Allied Health,” said Scanlon, as she discussed just one example of this process. “We went and toured there to look at their technology and their equipment, and how they integrate it  — how often do they bring students to use it, and how do they use it? We made several trips there, and they actually came here, put hard hats on, and walked through our space to give us advice.”

Those exercises have yielded a facility that takes WSU to a new, much higher level in terms of its facilities, learning opportunities, and ability to recruit top students.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest went inside the new science center to get a feel for what it means to those departments now housed there, and the university itself.

Grade Expectations

As WSU cut the ribbon on the new center on May 5, a good amount of time was spent explaining just who Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens was. And such a discourse was needed, because most in attendance — not to mention the students now doing work in the facility — don’t know the story.

And they should.

Stevens completed four years of coursework at what was known then as the Westfield Normal School in only two years. In 1905, she published a series of papers in which she demonstrated that the sex of an offspring is determined by the chromosomes it inherits from its parents. Her discovery had an immeasurable impact on science and society; however, despite the significance of her work, Stevens’ notoriety went unheralded even as her male colleagues received recognition.

It is fitting, then, that the school named the center after her, said speakers at the ribbon cutting, especially in light of the role the facility will play in advancing a statewide strategy in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, especially with women.

At WSU, women comprise 51% of the student population, said a spokesperson for the university, and within the school’s STEM majors, there has been 69% growth in male majors and an impressive 109% increase in female majors over the past 10 years. (Nationally, only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female.)

The new science and innovation center should only help improve upon those numbers, said the educators who spoke with BusinessWest, noting that the facility features state-of-the-art facilities and interactive classrooms, with an emphasis on collaborative learning.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Translation: the Environmental Science Department has come a very long way from the back of John McDonald’s pickup truck. And the same can be said for the other departments that now call the center home.

Elaborating, McDonald said his department had a small classroom in Wilson Hall, where most science programs were housed, some counter space and cabinets, and “a hood that didn’t work and a walk-in freezer that didn’t work, and no workspace other than a collecting hallway to another classroom that was about 10 feet long.

“It was pretty meager,” he went on, adding that environmental science is a relatively new major, one that now has considerable space in which to grow.

“Getting this room, and the adjacent workroom and storeroom with a working walk-in freezer, has been a huge boon to what we’re able to do with our students,” he said of the large space now occupied by his department. “The space doubles as a teaching classroom, but we can get it as dirty as we want with soil samples, water samples, or wildlife samples.”

Meanwhile, the Nursing Department has undergone a similarly dramatic transformation through its new facilities.

Indeed, as she offered a tour of the suite, Scanlon showed off a host of amenities that were just not available to students at Baystate Noble.

These include the wide array of simulators, representing everything from newborns to a pregnant women to a senior citizen, complete with a hearing aid. These simulators can take the role of either gender — “they all come with wigs and interchangeable parts; I can make them ‘Bob,’ and I can make them ‘Dorothy,’” said Scanlon — and present students with myriad medical conditions and problems, from high blood pressure to a skin rash to heart palpitations.

There were also the control rooms guiding work with those simulators (at Noble, an educator would work from behind a curtain), as well as a ‘medication-simulation room,’ which, as that name suggests, allows students practice with retrieving and dispensing medication.

And then, there are the large, eight-bed health-assessment room and nursing-skills lab. Designed to replicate conditions in a hospital, where nurses would obviously be caring for multiple patients at a time, these facilities provide learning opportunities simply not available at Noble.

“I think this is the beginning of something big,” she said while describing what the new facility means in terms of education opportunities, using a phrase that everyone we spoke with would echo. “We’re just trying to learn the technology and see how to implement it. But in the future, this will be transforming; we’ll have inter-professional education, and we’ll be able to do things using this technology that we weren’t able to do before. And it will provide a higher degree of safety because we have the actual equipment the hospitals have.”

Masi used similar language as he talked about the facilities dedicated to the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, noting, as others did, that the Science and Innovation Center represents a significant upgrade.

“Our new facilities provide us with a safer space to work in,” he explained. “We can now deal with more students at a given time, and we can work with them in a safer environment.”

Elaborating, he said there were 144 students enrolled in the General Chemistry classes in the new facility and roughly 80 in Organic Chemistry, both sizable increases.

“By moving from one building to the next, we can get more students in, which is important, because other majors are requiring Organic Chemistry,” he explained, adding that, beyond sheer capacity, the new space creates a more collaborative learning environment. “We’re excited to have the space and to be able to get to some of the things we’ve been slowly working on in the past.”

Hanselman, meanwhile, said the new space brings similar improvements and new opportunities for the Biology Department, which currently has roughly 230 students enrolled in that major.

“The modernized lab facilities offer us the opportunity to certainly work and prepare our students more effectively,” she explained. “We have a goal of working with our students in the scientific process; we emphasize research experience, and we planned this space accordingly.”

As examples, she pointed to two dedicated labs and a tissue-culture facility.

“Those lab spaces are never scheduled for classes; they’re used only for student research,” she explained. “This is giving us a chance to really work with students and develop their skills.

“These labs are designed in a way to promote inquiry-based instruction for those 100- and 200-level lab courses,” she went on, adding that they provide an environment conducive to problem solving and critical thinking.

Class Acts

As noted earlier, Scanlon was speaking for everyone when she said the first year of activity at the new Science and Innovation Center was merely the beginning of something big.

Something much bigger than McDonald’s pickup truck. Something that, as many of those we spoke with said, will be transforming.

Something to which Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens would be proud to lend her name.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]