Saturday, October 8, 2016

My book is out!!

My first book, "Haunted Boston," is now available. It's available at all major retailers. Want a signed copy? Visit the book's Facebook page here. And please provide reviews and feedback!

Boston Globe story: When life hands you a 10th...

10th child puts ‘9 Lazy Kidz’ brand in a pickle

By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent

When’s the big day?” “Is it a boy or a girl?” “Do you have any names picked out?”
This is the typical flurry of questions that follow the announcement: “We’re having a baby!”
But for Martin and Michelle Ervin of Hull, the reaction was a little different.
Although they did receive congratulations, one of the first follow-up questions was: “Well, what about the brand?”
That’s because for the past several years, the couple has been building up a family business, playfully called 9 Lazy Kidz, that features gourmet, all-natural hot sauces — a planned line of nine in total, each one named for, and based on the personalities of, the Ervins’ nine children.
So a 10th child — although an exciting and welcome addition to the family — has created quite the business quandary.
“This started out as a hobby,” said Ervin, director of operations for the Boston law firm Prince Lobel Tye LLP. “I did it as a platform to share stories about my kids. I enjoy it; the kids enjoy it. What’s exciting for us now is the new baby, how that impacts the brand, and building momentum around the brand. To me, it’s a great story.”
Helping them in that quest for brand identity, the family will be the subject of a case study at Bentley University this fall. Because they don’t want students to be influenced before the project begins, professors have asked that the specific details be kept confidential.
However, as Ervin explained, it will be a comprehensive process, with students “doing everything” related to the brand, “soup to nuts, top to bottom.”
Speaking of which, an introduction is in order. The “kidz” range in age from 25-year-old Aisha (pronounced “Asia”) to infant Reign Prince Ervin, born on June 22, at a healthy 10 pounds, 5 ounces. In between (and in descending order) are Tiara, Ramon, Martin Jr., Skye, Myles, Quintin, Malik, and Chance.
So far, the family has released four hot sauces based around them — “Aisha’s Entitlement,” “Chance’s Ugh Garlic Sauce,” “Q’s Spicy Mango Sauce,” and “Skye’s Sweet Apple Heat.” Although the couple aren’t doing much to promote or evolve the brand, the sauces can still be purchased online, at Ervin estimates that they’ve sold about 7,000 so far, at local retailers, fairs, festivals, and events, as well as through their website.
The upcoming Bentley case study isn’t the first time the family has sought help wrangling the brand. Last year, they took part in the Ad Club’s Brand-a-thon, during which they were paired up with Salem, N.H.-based marketing agency 36 Creative.
Over a 72-hour weekend, the firm strategized and ended up suggesting a change to the name “Nine Lazy Kids” (no numeral or “z”), simplifying the busy colorful labels, and switching the design scheme from actual photos of the children on their namesake sauce to more timeless illustrations.
“There was so much playfulness that they lost some of that established feel, that feeling of trust and honesty,” said Trent Sanders, managing partner of 36 Creative. He reflected that “their family is just amazing — there’s some system to the madness.”
Considering the recent developments — and expansion — in the family, the Ervins haven’t yet put those suggestions into practice. They’re waiting on the Bentley research to make their next strategic move.
As for Sanders’s thoughts on changing the name altogether? “It is tempting to ask the question,” he said, suggesting that, in lieu of a name change, the story behind the brand can be told differently. “It’s all about telling the story and how you do it as a brand.”
In the meantime, Ervin has taken more than a month off from work, allowing his wife to focus her full attention on the baby, while he’s temporarily assumed the day-to-day duties of the seven “kidz” still at home (wake-up calls, chores, food preparation, chauffeuring).
“I’m enjoying being a dad for the time that I have. I’m trying to make the most out of it,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate that I get to be part of these 10 kids’ lives.”
And what about the possibility of 11 Lazy Kidz?
Ervin answered without hesitation: “This is definitely the last. There will be no 11th. I don’t think I have it in me.”
He quickly added with a laugh: “And Michelle doesn’t either.”

Original story link

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Housing Quandary on Nantucket

Alleviating Nantucket's Housing Crunch
IQP team works with island group to create incentives for affordable housing

September 6, 2016

Many of us have a certain image of Nantucket (as it has been beatifically portrayed in many a movie and the affable 90s sitcom “Wings”): Independently wealthy; a haven for seekers of a simpler life; quaint artisan shops, yachts and fishing boats bobbing just off its shores.
While there’s no doubt the small island just 30 miles off of Cape Cod is stunningly beautiful, thrumming with tourism, and a desirable attraction for the well-to-do, it isn’t without its socio-economic issues.
In fact, because housing prices on Nantucket are six times the median on the nearby mainland, about half the people who call it their full-time home struggle to afford housing.
It’s a major problem for the island,” says Dominic Golding, associate teaching professor and director of the Nantucket Project Center. “There’s a major shortage of housing, and the housing that is available is extremely expensive.”
But with some help from WPI, it’s a challenge the island is (at least a little bit) more equipped to tackle.
Based on extensive research by an IQP team, Housing Nantucket, an island nonprofit, has been able to secure certification as a Community Development Corporation (CDC). That ultimately opens it up to receive support from the state Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) program; it is now able to offer $150,000 in state tax credits to financial backers, provided it can fundraise at least $300,000 a year.
Essentially, as Golding explained, it’s a “carrot” to potential donors.
Any money raised through the CITC program will go directly toward building and maintaining affordable rental units on the island.
Housing Nantucket, which has been around since 1994, serves year-round residents who earn between 50 and 150 percent of the Area Median Income. According to the agency, homeownership is “prohibitive” to about 90 percent of year-round residents.
As Golding explained, it has a significant impact on the island’s economy: Although 10,000 to 12,000 people live there throughout the year, that swells to about 60,000 in the summer with the influx of tourists and part-time residents. That increase equals more available jobs--but few affordable (or available) places for workers to live.
Every person I talked to during my trip to Nantucket agreed that housing has been, and still is, a very important topic that needs to be addressed and soon,” says Nhi Phan ’17, a biomedical engineering major who worked on the project. “I'm looking forward to seeing how Housing Nantucket is going to push forward in the coming years and how this project has helped them do so.”
Over a 14-week period last year, Phan and two fellow students spent time on and off the island researching its housing situation as part of their IQP. That process involved learning about the CDC certification process, querying locals and community leaders, and interviewing other Massachusetts CDCs about their roles in their own communities, their outreach efforts, and their operations. The project culminated with an assessment of Housing Nantucket’s services and community involvement, along with an outline on how to apply for CITCs, as well as proposed recommendations to help secure CDC status.
What surprised me most was learning that housing is truly prohibitive to the majority of Nantucket residents,” says Elizabeth Beasley ’17, an actuarial mathematics major who also worked on the project. “Housing prices on Nantucket are extremely high, as one might expect, but there isn’t a range of low cost alternatives. So the work that Housing Nantucket does to provide affordable housing options is vitally important.”
Ultimately, the project was beneficial not just for the residents, but for her and her fellow students--specifically by illustrating how great an impact an IQP can have on a community.
I'm glad that I had this opportunity to learn not only how to coordinate as a team, but also to contribute to something much bigger than just one term project,” she says, noting the exposure to real-word problems that can be tackled with theory, practice and “great team work. I'll carry these lessons with me as I start my career, and remember that the work I do will impact not just a community, but real people.”

- By Taryn Plumb

Original story link

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sept/Oct Artscope: Tim Rollins and K.O.S. Come Home

Unbound in Portland

The Kids are Jammin’
by Taryn Plumb

When Tim Rollins arrived in the Bronx as a 26-year-old in the early ‘80s, it was, as he describes, “on fire” — literally, of course, due to the conflagrations that consumed the borough for an entire decade, but also culturally. It was an electric, inspiring and frightening backdrop for what would ultimately become his life’s work.
After growing up in rural Maine and attending the University of Maine in Augusta, he was recruited to “the toughest ghetto in America,” as he described it, to develop a curriculum fusing art, reading and writing for “at risk” youth.
What eventually resulted was the group “Kids of Survival” (K.O.S.), which over time morphed into a traveling workshop that has produced art for prestigious museums and exhibits all over the world. This fall, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. are bringing their unique and inspiring perspective, process and story to the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in two special ways.
The first: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — a 13’ x 34’ work acquired by the PMA that will find a permanent home in the museum’s Selma Wolf Black Great Hall — will ultimately serve as a welcome for all visitors as they enter. The second: “Unbound: Tim Rollins and K.O.S.,” a special exhibition composed of works inspired by classic literature, poetry and music.

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A Rite of STEM Passage

Mentoring Excellence
Posted on July 15, 2016 in "Summer"

Award winning Camp Reach embarks on 20th year

Think of it as a rite of STEM passage.
Every summer, Camp Reach welcomes a select group of rising seventh grade girls to campus for a comprehensive program focusing on discovery and hands-on engineering.
This year, the award-winning program is celebrating a milestone anniversary—20 years exposing young women to the myriad possibilities available to them in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.
“I learned that I could go out and become an engineer,” says Lizzy Fitch ’16, of Princeton, a former camper who now serves as program coordinator. “Camp Reach sparked my interest in the STEM fields and is what eventually helped me decide to attend WPI. It gave me the confidence to become a woman in STEM.”
Each year, 30 girls entering the 7th grade are chosen to attend Camp Reach, a two-week, selective residential program comprising of hands-on design activities and academic workshops. The camp will be held this year from July 24 to August 5.
With its proven track record, the program has earned significant distinctions; most notably, in 2011, President Barack Obama named it one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
It continues its mission this year with an immersive program. As Fitch explained, the biggest element over the 14 days is an in-depth design project. Girls are split into three teams of 10, each group also comprising of a middle school teacher and teaching assistants. They are then given a problem to solve by a sponsoring local nonprofit—in the past, those have included Friendly House/Interfaith Hospitality Network and Regional Environmental Council (REC), among others.
After workshopping, brainstorming, designing, and tinkering, they then present their findings to the sponsors in a closing ceremony.
Fitch, who earned her BS in management engineering this year and is studying for her MS, recalls the particular gratification in that design project when she was a camper. “I thought it was great that we got to give back to the different nonprofit Worcester organizations while still learning about the engineering design process,” she says.
She was 12 when she participated in Camp Reach; she initially heard about it through her sixth grade math teacher and, as she puts it, “I immediately knew I had to apply.”
Meanwhile, Camp Reach also includes afternoon workshops focusing on different engineering principles day-to-day, Fitch says. And in the evenings? It’s time for a little bit of fun; the girls get to design their own dream shoes and newspaper dresses, à la “Project Runway.”
One of the most important elements, Fitch says, is that the young campers are exposed to influential females to look up to—most notably teaching assistants, or camp staff members who are in the 11th and 12th grades. “A large part of Camp Reach is providing the 30 campers with as many female role models as possible,” she explains.
Ultimately, she says, “I hope that the campers will gain confidence to pursue STEM-related careers in the future. I want them to understand that they can become engineers and scientists if they want to, and that they should be proud to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and math.”


Original story link

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Success at ANY age

Coming Full Circle
Posted on June 20, 2016 in “Staff”

Custodian-turned-engineer Michael Vaudreuil hired by aerospace firm Pratt & Whitney

For years, he hustled juggling a full schedule of classes with a full-time, second-shift custodial job. And most of the time in between (what little of it he had) was spent on his coursework and his Major Qualifying Project; he even picked up the occasional plastering gig, too.
But Michael Vaudreuil—maybe the name sounds familiar?—has finally gotten his payoff. The custodian-turned-engineer, whose story went viral after WPI’s 148th commencement ceremony on May 14, has accepted a position at Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut. As of July 11, he will be an engineer with the aerospace manufacturer’s Production Integrated Product Team (PIPT).
“I’m going to quote one of my favorite movies—they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” the 54-year-old says with a laugh (and shame on you if you don’t get the reference). “I’m looking forward to the satisfaction and fulfillment that will come with the job.”
It’s a fitting start to a new chapter of his life.
Vaudreuil’s story—enduring setback after professional setback, losing his home, his life savings, and for a while, his hope—has resonated with millions. From NBC Nightly News, to the UK’s Independent, dozens of media outlets around the world picked up the story about the middle-aged custodian who earned his mechanical engineering degree from the university he cleaned at night. One video of him graduating garnered more than 11 million views.
“I was certainly welcoming of it, because I thought it would help networking-wise,” he says of the media attention. “To the degree that it took off was a bit surprising. It was almost an out-of-body experience. You see this happen, things go viral—now it’s happening to me.”
Following his segment on NBC Nightly News, four people from Pratt & Whitney reached out to him on the same day, independently of each other. It was flattering, he recalled, because he could tell they saw something in him. Tom Prete, vice president, Engineering, at Pratt & Whitney, said the firm is proud to hire the recent WPI grad.
“Pratt & Whitney engineers design and develop products that change the world. As we continue to grow our global workforce, we are proud to add Michael Vaudreuil to our talented team,” says Prete. “Our employees are critical to our success and the reason we are in the midst of one of the most exciting chapters in our company’s history.”
“I feel like I kind of won the lottery,” Vaudreuil says.
Still, he hasn’t let any of that deter him from his goal. “I really haven’t lost sight of the eye-on-the-prize type of thinking,” he says. “Getting that job is always what it’s been about. That’s the moment I fought for, for so hard, all of those years.”
Right now, he’s still working as a custodian at WPI—which he expects to continue through June—but his Auburn home is up for sale and he’ll soon be relocating to Connecticut. Both he and his wife, Joyce, (whom he credits with supporting him wholeheartedly throughout the trying and emotional process of earning his degree) are looking forward to the move.
In his new position, he’ll be working in the Hot Section Engineering division at Pratt & Whitney, which deals with jet engine combustion chambers, and turbine and exhaust systems. For him, it was a perfect fit, because years ago, he earned an associate’s degree in aeronautical technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology.
Ultimately—beyond moving on with his new life and his new job—Vaudreuil says he hopes the media attention helps change the perception of older graduates and job candidates.
“This last year was filled with a lot of anticipation and excitement, but also trepidation,” he recalls. “The reality was sinking in that I was going to be a 54-year-old graduate.”
Sometimes, he notes, the life experiences of older job candidates can get overlooked or taken for granted, or there’s a stereotype that their better days are behind them and they’re just riding it out to retirement.
But as is clear with Vaudreuil, never assume, never underestimate—and never give up. “Nobody’s going to question my work ethic, my energy level or my desire,” he says.


See national coverage of Michael’s story here:

Original story link

July/August Artscope: Gloria King Merritt

Making Lemonade in Vermont
July/August 2016

Gloria King Merritt’s Happy Accident
by Taryn Plumb

It basically started out as a fluke.
Four years ago, a tendon snapped in Gloria King Merritt’s thumb (the result of a 40-year-old injury). Her hand had to be rewired; she couldn’t do the simplest things, like fasten buttons or tie her shoes.
Her doctors told her that in order to get her dexterity back, she should repetitively make quarter-inch marks with a pencil on a pad. That got old pretty quickly; it was not only boring, but mind-numbing.
So instead, she picked up a tablet and a stylus and began experimenting with digital art. As she put it, she “devoured” software, and within 12 weeks, had a complete drawing.
Now I’m addicted,” said the Woodstock, Vermont-based digital artist, whose work will be on display through July 17 as part of “Domesticated Beasts and Dreams of Home: Early Summer Group Show,” also featuring works by Bonnie Barnes, Joe Fucigna, Julie Goetz, Cynthia Kirkwood, John Matusz, Charlotte Potter and Mark Eliot Schwabe at The Bundy Modern, just off Route 100 on Bundy Road in Waitsfield, VT.

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