Page 50 - BusinessWest May 12, 2021
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 Matthew Kushi
Academic Matters Coordinator, Graduate and Professional Programs, Isenberg School of Management, UMass Amherst; Age 32
    As a student in UMass Amherst’s sport management program, Matt Kushi harbored dreams of being an athletic director at a small college or high school. Such dreams never came to pass, but Kushi has forged an intriguing and rewarding career nonetheless.
Actually ... two of them.
By day, he’s Academic Matters coordinator for the graduate and professional programs at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. And by ... well, day and night, actually, he operates Kushi Farm and North Hadley Chili Pepper Co., LLC, which, as that name suggests, specializes in hot peppers and hot-pepper products, including jelly.
Both pursuits came about as he was trying to figure out what to do with his life after graduation from UMass in 2010 into a down economy where jobs, especially those in sport management, were scarce.
At Isenberg, Kushi serves as a liaison between his office and faculty and staff for several graduate and professional programs. He also coordinates academic matters such
as scheduling courses, classroom technology needs, and course evaluations.
As for the peppers ... well, that’s a continuation of
a family tradition, and family business, that goes back
a century or so, one that Kushi, who also majored
in history, discovered while doing some research for Hadley’s 350th birthday. Indeed, his great-grandfather grew tobacco and asparagus (the crop for which Hadley
“I found that very interesting, that I had farming in my blood,” he said,
noting that he started dabbling
in growing vegetables and giving
them to people in 2010. “The next year, I took a 20-by-20 plot in the family garden and started growing a few things like peppers and cucumbers and started selling them to people, and found I could make a few dollars.”
Today, he sells his peppers, which
he describes as “middle-hot” jalapenos and hot red cherry peppers, wholesale, mostly to regional distributor Pioneer Valley Growers. It’s a business that’s taken root (pun intended), but is only one of many passions competing for his time.
Kushi is also chair of Amherst’s
Agricultural Commission, a member of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, coordinator
of Hadley’s holiday tree-lighting ceremony,
and owner and president of the MDK
Initiative, which operates a special-
projects entity with a focus on disability, diversity, and inclusion, and educational resources for families of individuals with disabilities.
—George O’Brien
     is famous) on land Kushi now tills (and lives on) today.
  Pema Latshang
Founding Executive Director, Teach Western Mass; Age 39
    When two local school districts faced a severe teacher shortage, they called in Pema Latshang.
She began her career as a middle-school teacher in the Bronx and worked her way up as an education administrator. After nearly
10 years, Latshang, a Western Mass. native, returned to the area to live closer to her family and raise her two children where she grew up.
In 2015, she was hired as director of Professional Learning and Educator Leadership for Holyoke’s public schools. “In that role, I worked on professional development with teachers and figuring out how to provide more resources to support educators in Holyoke,” she explained.
In 2016, Springfield and Holyoke schools were both facing huge teacher shortages. Between the two cities, nearly 300 vacancies were emerging every year. On top of that, many of the shortages were in licensed areas such as special education, English as a second language, math, and science.
“Think about what it takes to find that many teachers,” Latshang said. “It was a huge issue that was putting a real strain on the schools.”
Administrators from the two cities formed a collaborative called Teach Western Mass
(TWM), but they did not have anyone to run
it, so they approached Latshang to be the founding executive director of the organization.
“We founded it with an objective of quantity, quality, and diversity,” she said. “So our aim
is for highly capable teachers who represent diverse populations in our cities.”
In addition to recruiting, TWM has a residency program that provides training and licensing in specific areas of teaching. In its first year, the residency program placed 20 new teachers, then followed with 30 the following year and 40 last year.
“We hope to place more than 50 teachers this year from the residency,” she said. “That’s on top of our general recruiting, which can also be up to 50 teachers.”
Latshang knows that schools and communities have the potential to be inclusive places that accept and empower everyone to be their best. In her role with TWM, she works hard to make that potential a reality.
“I believe in seeing the good in people and building on their strengths,” she said. “Everyone is doing their best, so how can we help them achieve their goals?”
—Mark Morris
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