Home Sections Features Archive by category Professional Development

Professional Development

Professional Development

Professional Development

Ian Noonan teaches a workforce-development class at STCC.

Ian Noonan teaches a workforce-development class at STCC.

It’s called the IT Academy.

Launching on March 12, it’s a new program within Springfield Technical Community College’s (STCC) Workforce Development Center that focuses on cybersecurity, a growing field with a constant need for new talent.

“We’re really excited about this one,” said Ian Noonan, STCC’s director of Instruction and Asssessment for Workforce Development, noting that the program will have full- and part-time options. “There is such a big need for that piece, and this is a pathway to build careers in IT and cybersecurity. We want to make it easier for folks trying to break in, maybe non-traditional students who are not going to college.”

Indeed, the Workforce Development Center (WDC) focuses its considerable energies on such students, who are not taking classes for college credit, but instead training for employment in fields that badly need a stronger pipeline of talent.

“We offer plenty of different workforce-development, certification-based programs,” Noonan said. “Some matriculate into credit-bearing courses, and some are ways to earn certifications.”

One of the more popular options is the certified nurse aide (CNA) program, which prepares students with entry-level job skills that allow them to enter the healthcare field and prepare for the state board examination to become a CNA.

Other healthcare options include phlebotomy technician, emergency medical technician, EKG technician, and a few options for people already working in healthcare, including phlebotomy certification, CPR basic life support, and dental radiology.

“We’re always looking at what the best needs are for the community and how best to support students in building skills, earning certifications, and getting hired.”

The WDC describes its offerings as “non-credit programs and classes meet the ever-changing technology and workforce demands of individuals, businesses, and industries in the region.”

Part of that role is coordinating with the STCC Career Services Center to provide internship opportunities as well as full- and part-time employment opportunities. Meanwhile, the programs and classes offered at the center include both instructor-led and web-based workforce training and certifications in a wide variety of areas, including advanced manufacturing, construction and project management, healthcare, skilled trades, IT/network certification, and certification and license preparation in areas like auto damage appraisal, drinking-water treatment and distribution, and ServSafe preparation for food handlers and managers.

“One of the bigger programs we do is a HiSET/GED adult-education program funded through the state on a five-year grant,” Noonan explained. “With that, we provide HiSET and GED prep courses, both day and evening, both in person and online, as well as for students who are just getting started. We run these sessions in eight-week programs.”


Help Where It’s Needed

Among other programs at the WDC, the Educators’ Academy provides a free, 10-week course to prepare participants for the job of paraeducator in the Springfield Public Schools. Para-educators work with teachers and other school staff to provide instructional assistance and classroom support.

Another free offering is the Hampden Prep program for basic computer use skills, which helps reduce the digital divide that keeps many individuals from accessing jobs. The course provides instruction in technology and digital literacy, and students work to improve their computer and job-ready skills as well as prepare to earn certificates.

Noonan said the WDC is also developing a green-jobs program to create a pathway to support another rising industry. “We’re always looking at what the best needs are for the community and how best to support students in building skills, earning certifications, and getting hired.”

It’s critical work, he added. “This is so important, not just for students, but for the community as a whole. We’re talking about students coming into these programs, especially for the HiSET or the GED, who weren’t successful in traditional schooling, and this is a great opportunity for them to build their academics and learn those skills they need to move into a career.”

One benefit of the Workforce Development Center is that students are assigned a college and career advisor as soon as they start classes.

“It’s incredibly rewarding work to meet our students where they are. That’s why we’re here.”

“Our students all have access to that,” Noonan said. “We’re able to support them with résumé development, interviewing skills, cover letters, anything that will help support our students with that next step.”

Students enrolled in programs at the center also get access to all the college’s resources, from disability services to the Center for Access Services, which assists with needs like food and housing assistance.

“The mission of the college is to transform students’ lives. And what we’re doing here at the Workforce Development Center sets the stage for students to transform their lives and create better lives for them and their families,” Noonan said. “We’re here to support them with whatever they need, with programs ranging from HiSET and GED prep to getting their master electrician certification. There’s a lot here to offer the community.”


Rewarding Work

Noonan said it has been personally gratifying to him to see the impact the WDC has on people who may have walked an erratic path to get an education, or may have previously struggled with high school or college, but are now able to take the first steps toward a fulfilling career.

“It’s been great work, getting to see student success from day to day, seeing students who may not have been successful with traditional schooling be successful,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s incredibly rewarding work to meet our students where they are. That’s why we’re here.”

Professional Development

Professional Development

Jennifer Law

Jennifer Law says the class in effective business writing has been a benefit to employees across the O’Connell Companies.

Jennifer Law recalls that, when she scheduled a course in effective writing for employees at the O’Connell Companies, there was some skepticism and a few moans and groans.

“I think many of them went into this thinking, ‘this is going to suck,’ or ‘I have to sit through this for a day,’” she said, adding that, as the course unfolded, and certainly when it was over, the responses were much different.

“They were all very thankful, and we got some great emails on how much they learned and how much they enjoyed the class,” said Law, controller for the company, adding that many of these emails were certainly better-written than those in the weeks, months, and years before this class, which was titled “Business Writing Excellence.”

And that was the point of the exercise.

Indeed, Law, who remembers emails and other correspondences being red-inked (literally) by a supervisor at a previous employer who spent years as a teacher, said she certainly became a better, more effective communicator because of those experiences.

“I learned so much from his doing that; it got ingrained in my brain,” she explained. “And when I read something from someone else that’s not right, that’s bouncing back and forth from tense to tense, isn’t cohesive, that doesn’t answer all the questions — that frustrates me.”

Enough for her schedule “Business Writing Excellence,” offered by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), last summer. The class drew 20 employees from all levels of the company, including Matt Flink, president of Appleton Corp., one of the O’Connell Companies, as well as accountants, site managers, and others.

“When I read something from someone else that’s not right, that’s bouncing back and forth from tense to tense, isn’t cohesive, that doesn’t answer all the questions — that frustrates me.”

The common denominator was that each wanted to understand how to communicate better and more effectively, said Law, adding that this need crosses generations, but is perhaps more apparent with younger generations that have grown up texting and, quite often, taking shortcuts when trying to get their message across.

And in the business world, shortcuts can lead to poor communication, misinterpreted messages, lost time, lost productivity, and more, she noted.

That’s why EANE offers this course, said John Henderson, director of Learning and Development for the agency, as well as another titled “Emails: That’s Not What I Meant,” an aptly named, increasingly popular course on a subject of growing importance to companies of all sizes — helping employees craft better, more effective emails.

“That class gets into not just content, but also the tone of the email and understanding who your audience is,” Henderson explained. “We all know that emails are often misread or misinterpreted by the reader, so we have a specific course on email writing.

John Henderson

John Henderson says the biggest mistake most make with email is hitting the ‘send’ button too soon.

“With any kind of communication, whether it’s email, writing, a phone call, face-to-face,” he went on, “to be an effective communicator, it helps to know who your audience is and be able to create the message in a way that will effectively work with as many people as possible.”

For this, the latest installment in its series on professional development, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at this specific need, but also at the broader issue of communication in the workplace and why employees at all levels need to find the ‘write’ stuff.


The Latest Word

Law said the O’Connell Companies invest a considerable amount of time and energy hiring the right individuals for positions at all levels of the organization.

But the investments don’t stop there, she said, adding that the company is focused on ongoing training and education aimed at giving employees the tools and the means to do their work — and serve its many different kinds of clients — effectively.

This training covers many areas, including communication and the EANE course in business writing, she said, adding that the class dealt not in the abstract, but rather with actual emails and other correspondences sent by participants, which were reviewed and critiqued, with an eye on grammar, but also on tone and simply getting the intended message across.

As noted earlier, problems with all of the above are common with employees of all ages, said Law, but especially the younger generations that grew up texting.

“These are people who always lived in that world of technology and texting and short, cut-off responses,” she said. “When you come into the business world, that doesn’t work anymore, and you see that this is how they’re communicating — very short, unclear, not thorough … and then the receiving person gets that message, and they’re confused, and it spirals into miscommunication.”

Elaborating, she said tone can be lost not only in texts, but also in emails, and improper tone can lead to a number of problems.

“These are people who always lived in that world of technology and texting and short, cut-off responses. When you come into the business world, that doesn’t work anymore.”

Henderson agreed, which is why EANE offers both the “Business Writing Excellence” class, one that more than 20 area companies have presented to employees, and “Emails: That’s Not What I Meant.”

The latter was created prior to COVID, but it became more timely, and even more important, during the pandemic, when face-to-face meetings became all but impossible and email became the chosen way to communicate — and often do business.

Henderson told BusinessWest that people make many mistakes with email, but perhaps the biggest is hitting the ‘send’ button too soon. By that, he was referencing everything from checks on grammar to a review of content to making sure the email is going only to its intended recipients.

“People rely on email as a rapid response, and they don’t put as much thought into writing an email as they would a letter,” he explained. “People hit the send button too soon rather than go back and reread what they’ve written.”

And when they do go back and reread, email senders should certainly focus on grammar — typos are embarrassing and do not convey professionalism — but they should also look hard to make sure the proper tone is set and that words and phrases cannot be misinterpreted by the recipient.

“If I’m writing an email, before I send it, I should think, ‘the person I’m sending this to, or the people I’m sending this to … how they are going to read this, and are there nuances in there that someone might take to a different interpretation?’” Henderson said. “Or they might look at it as me being rude because I didn’t start the email with ‘good morning.’”

Indeed, one of the bigger mistakes people make is simply not knowing the intended recipient for an email, he noted, adding that understanding the audience is critical to getting the message across and conveying the proper tone.

Elaborating, he said some recipients will like a reference to the weather or a question about how one’s day is going — ‘fluff,’ as he called it — while others are all business and don’t want or need pleasantries.

“Do they want something direct, or do they want something that’s more personable?” he asked rhetorically, adding that the sender should try to know the answer to that question. “We need to think about the recipient and how they want to receive that message; it’s an interesting dynamic when you’re trying to communicate through email.”

When in doubt — and there is a good deal of doubt with many in business who sends dozens of emails a day, often to people they don’t know well — it’s best to be pleasant and throw in a little of that fluff, he told BusinessWest, because not doing so might set the wrong tone.


Getting It Write

Flashing back to the class last summer and a group review of writing samples sent by company employees, Law said it was a tremendous learning experience.

“Everyone was able to reflect back, get those ‘a-ha’ moments, and say, ‘oh, yes, if I only had I said it this way, maybe I would have gotten my point across better.’”

Getting the point across clearly and concisely is one of the more important, if still underappreciated, aspects of doing business, she added.

And it should be an critical component of any employee’s overall professional development.


Professional Development

Professional Development


It’s called the MCLA Leadership Academy.

This is a program designed to help those with aspirations to be a school principal or superintendent take the next steps in their career in education. It blends academic content with practical skill and knowledge development. As students earn 31 credits, they engage in activities that include reading, writing, discussion, group projects, case studies, simulations, lectures by prominent thinkers, project-based tasks, fieldwork, and more.

“This is an area that school district leaders have identified as a critical need — they’re losing so many principals, assistant principals, and superintendents to retirement,” said Joshua Mendel, associate dean of Graduate and Continuing Education for Partnerships and Programs at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, adding that this is one of many initiatives at MCLA that fall into the broad realm of professional development — and also address an identified, and often serious, need for trained professionals.

Others include everything from programs for those desiring careers in ‘outdoor leadership’ — managing a ski resort, perhaps — to those seeking to become nurses and radiologists; from teachers needing licensure to would-be entrepreneurs.

Joshua Mendel

Joshua Mendel

“This is an area that school district leaders have identified as a critical need — they’re losing so many principals, assistant principals, and superintendents to retirement.”

Summing up this ever-growing, always-evolving portfolio of programs, Mendel said they’ve been designed with several goals in mind, but primarily to address the needs of employers across several sectors, all of whom are challenged to find sufficient talent in this difficult job market, and to help individuals find not simply jobs, but careers, or take the next big step in their career.

For this, the latest installment of its series on professional-development programs and initiatives in the region, we visit MCLA and examine the many offerings it has developed over the years and continues to hone to meet the changing needs of employers and job seekers alike.


Courses of Action

Mendel said the graduate and continuing-education programs at MCLA essentially focus on needs and opportunities identified by the Berkshire Skills Cabinet, led by MassHire Berkshire, Berkshire Community College, and 1Berkshire and created with the goal of addressing the skills gap by bringing together regional teams of educators, workforce entities, and economic-development leaders to create a blueprint for growth strategies.

“Through the Skills Cabinet, four areas have been identified as having critical growth potential and need,” he said, listing healthcare, education, tourism, and advanced technology. “These are the areas that are seeing a major increase in interest from outside corporations coming into the Berkshires, but are also our strengths when it comes to economic development in the region.”

And these are the areas that MCLA, the public, four-year college in the Berkshires, is focusing on primarily, he said, adding that the school not only serves residents of the Berkshires, but draws students from outside the area, with some of them staying in the region after graduation and starting careers there.

In healthcare, initiatives include the school’s new bachelor’s degree in nursing program that started last fall, as well as a degree program in radiologic technology, a program that resulted from the closure of Southern Vermont College and MCLA stepping in to become that school’s official teach-out partner to enable students to complete their degrees.

MCLA now offers the program, and it is helping to meet a recognized need within the community for such professionals, said Mendel, adding that interest in the program is strong and continues to grow.

The same is true for many of the programs in education, he said, noting that MCLA is helping to meet a critical need for teachers resulting from the retirement of Baby Boomers and other factors.

Elaborating, he said there are many now teaching under emergency licensure, which enables them to teach without a master’s degree. However, this is set to expire within the next year. MCLA has strategically positioned itself to address this situation through a fully online master’s program now being ramped up, with some students starting in the spring and more expected in the summer and fall.

Meanwhile, MCLA has created another new program, a +1 (bachelor’s degree and online master of education degree) program designed as an accelerated pathway for those students who seek to earn a teaching license and undergraduate degree, a second initial license in moderate disabilities, and a master’s degree in education.

“This was an area that was introduced to by the superintendents of this region at our superintendents’ roundtable,” Mendel noted. “They said, ‘we have such a demand for teachers with a background in moderate disabilities that we’ll hire 100% of the students that come out with that discipline.”

As for the Leadership Academy, launched 20 years ago, it enables students to earn their principal or superintendent licensure in Massachusetts, New York, or Vermont.

“It’s a robust program,” Mendel said, adding that about 40 students enrolled this past year, a number that could increase following the closing of the College of Saint Rose, which also has a leadership-academy program for New York’s Capital District.

A third sector that has become a focus at MCLA is tourism, an all-important sector in the Berkshires, one that has been a steady supplier of jobs and one also hamstrung in many ways by the ongoing workforce crisis. Many of the school’s MBA students enter this field, he said, adding that MCLA has created something somewhat unique, an outdoor leadership program that will be a minor within the environmental studies program starting next fall.

“There will courses in environmental studies and courses in leadership that will help students embrace the opportunities they have in the Berkshires for outdoor education and outdoor leadership,” he said, adding that there are career opportunities at ski areas, hiking programs, and related fields.

The fourth area of focus is advanced technologies, specifically a partnership with the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield, whereby the school’s MBA program is run out of that facility.

“The Innovation Center is doing an amazing job of bringing in entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and advanced technologies,” Mendel explained. “So we’ve created a partnership program with them; our MBA program meets in the cohort model, one class at a time but two classes a semester for 18 months straight, and those classes are both online and in-person, a hybrid model.

“And when they meet in person, they meet at the Innovation Center,” he went on. “The Innovation Center allows our students to meet with local CEOs that are doing amazing things in the area, it allows our students to do research with their companies and organizations, and it’s enabling them to do capstone projects with these new entrepreneurs and learning about new technologies. It’s about elevating our MBA program to focus on the critical needs within these new technology businesses.”


Bottom Line

There are many other new initiatives as well, from a minor in entrepreneurship within the business program to address a surge in interest in starting new businesses to a minor in data science, to an Early College program created in conjunction with Drury High School in North Adams that enables students to earn up to 30 college credits before they graduate from high school.

The common denominator with all these programs is a desire to meet those needs identified by employers and economic-development leaders by creating pathways, Mendel said, and then getting individuals on those paths.

Professional Development

Professional Development

Kimberly Quinonez

After getting some help rising out of poverty, Kimberly Quinonez is now in the business of helping others.

Kimberly Quinonez says she’s always had a passion for helping people, and a desire to make doing so a career.

But for most of her life, she was the one needing help.

A native of South Carolina, she grew up in a life of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and a sixth-grade education, and was desperate for a way out — and up — from all that.

After getting clean and moving to Western Mass., she completed her high-school equivalency at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) at age 43 and enrolled in the school’s two-year associate-degree program in social work. And while still earning that high-school equivalency, she told BusinessWest, she met Wally Soufane, social work specialist at Elms College, who became a mentor and essentially put her on a path to the bachelor’s degree-completion program offered at the school.

Completing that program, and the associate degree before that, were stern challenges, she said, noting that there were several times when she wanted to quit because the combination of life and school seemed like too much. But she persevered, with help (there’s that word again) from Soufane and others who helped provide her with the will to carry on.

“I kept on and kept on; I had some discouraging moments, but I just couldn’t give up because this was something that I really wanted for myself,” she said. “And I really like helping people.”

This past May, she completed that program and was among the speakers at Elms’ commencement ceremonies, her story riveting those in attendance. Today, she’s employed at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department as a care coordinator and counselor, while also working toward a master’s degree in social work at Springfield College.

“If we accept a student, our job is to support them. If they’re going to do the work, we need to support them as best we can and help them be successful, and we do that; our retention rates, over 80%, are very good, and our graduation rates, in the mid-60s, are very good.”

Her story touches on many elements of the bachelor’s degree-completion programs at Elms, said Walter Breau, executive dean of the college’s Kirley School of Continuing Education — everything from its ability to help non-traditional students set and achieve goals to the way its administrators and instructors work with students to help them overcome challenges and complete their degrees.

“If we accept a student, our job is to support them,” he went on. “If they’re going to do the work, we need to support them as best we can and help them be successful, and we do that; our retention rates, over 80%, are very good, and our graduation rates, in the mid-60s, are very good.”

Social work is one of the more popular programs at the Kirley School, said Breau, adding that others, many of them offered online, include computer information technology and security (CITS), computer science, healthcare management, speech-language pathology assistant, management and marketing, psychology, and RN-BSN.

Overall, there are now roughly 200 individuals enrolled in continuing-education (CE) programs at Elms, roughly 20% of the undergraduate population, said Breau, a veteran administrator at the college who recently took the helm at the Kirley School, noting that the goal is to grow enrollment to 300 and beyond.

Walter Breau says the Kirley School is focused

Walter Breau says the Kirley School is focused on not only enrolling people in degree programs, but seeing them through to the finish line.
Staff Photo

And there is certainly some momentum with regard to enrollment, as the region’s community colleges, bolstered by the MassReconnect Program, which provides free tuition to those over age 25, are seeing their first real rise in enrollment since well before the pandemic.

For this issue, BusinessWest continues its series spotlighting professional-development programs across the region with a visit to the Kirley School and an examination of how it can change lives, like Quinonez’s, in a profound way.


Grade Expectations

This past May, Elms’ School of Continuing Education was officially renamed the Sister Kathleen Kirley ’66 School of Continuing Education, following a donation to the school in her honor.

And the new name is quite fitting, said Breau, noting that Sr. Kathleen, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, now retired from the school, was director of Continuing Education at Elms from 1977 to 1990 and served as the dean of Continuing Education and Graduate Studies from 1990 to 1998.

“If you look at the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph, their goal is to serve the community,” he noted. “And at some point, instead of just having the traditional programs where you come to campus Monday through Friday, they understood that there was a population of individuals we could serve in a different way.”

That was the genesis of continuing education at Elms, he said, adding that, for more than a half-century now, the school has continued to serve non-traditional students with a variety of programs aimed at helping individuals not only earn degrees, but forge careers in growing fields.

These include collaborations with the region’s community colleges, whereby students can earn bachelor’s degrees on the community-college campuses. Indeed, there are social work programs at Asnuntuck Community College, Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College, said Breau, noting that many who earn their bachelor’s degrees at those locations, and on the Elms campus as well, go on to earn a master’s degree and become a licensed clinical social worker in the Bay State.

“If you’re a computer science major at STCC and you’re looking to earn your bachelor’s, we make sure there’s no loss of credits. You finish at STCC in May, and you start with us in August in the computer science bachelor’s program. It’s just another sign to students that we’ve deliberately thought about how to make you successful.”

“We have many of our students at STCC, Asnuntuck, and here on campus go forward and get their MSW,” he said, adding that there is “more than enough demand” for individuals who have those credentials.

Other popular programs include RN-BSN and speech-language pathology assistant, he said, adding that there is growing demand in both fields, and especially nursing.

Elms has articulation agreements, more than 50 in all, with the area community colleges, Breau explained, noting that these partnerships help create what he called “seamless pathways” as individuals take the credits they earned while completing an associate degree and apply them toward a bachelor’s degree at Elms.

“If you’re a computer science major at STCC and you’re looking to earn your bachelor’s, we make sure there’s no loss of credits,” he noted. “You finish at STCC in May, and you start with us in August in the computer science bachelor’s program. It’s just another sign to students that we’ve deliberately thought about how to make you successful.”

There are many such signs, he went on, adding that one point of emphasis at the Kirley School is to not simply merely get people enrolled in the various degree programs, but to see them through to completion.

And completion can be challenging, Breau said, noting that more than 75% of those enrolled in CE programs at Elms are 25 and older, which means they’re likely dealing with a number of life matters, such as work and family.

“They’re an older population who have decided, for one reason or another, that they want to fit in coursework with work, family, and other obligations,” he explained. “Our goal is first to show that it’s possible, it’s accessible, it’s affordable. People can see the end point even before they start.”

After showing it’s possible, the school then helps make it possible, with everything from flexible start dates to initiatives to help them step back in if they happen to hit pause for whatever reason, to many forms of student support, such as a 24-hour tutoring program.

Quinonez has seen these efforts to provide support up close and personal.

She said those at Elms were constantly supporting and “checking up on me” while she was in school. And they still do, months after she graduated.

“They still reach out to me today and say, ‘Kimberly, how’s it going?’” she told BusinessWest. “Elms changed me; I grew up and matured a lot — Elms College became my parents.”


Bottom Line

Today, Quinonez is working toward another degree at Springfield College and expects to complete that work in May. She said her time at Elms didn’t just help her find a career — instead of a job — but it instilled in her the desire to continue to reach higher and position herself to help people in more ways.

That’s what Sr. Kathleen Kirley had in mind when she laid the groundwork for today’s highly successful CE department at Elms.

The program has provided pathways to success and opened doors for people like Quinonez, who just needed a little help. And now they can help others.