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.

BY TARYN PLUMB

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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May/June Artscope: The State of Clay in Lexington



Beyond Pots and Figurines
May/June 2016

The State of Clay in Lexington
by Taryn Plumb



Clay: What does the word bring to mind? Earthenware pots sold along a desert road amidst swirls of dust? Armies of identical figurines? Mass-made tchotchkes?
Then you’ve never really seen what clay can do.
The 9th Biennial State of Clay, to be held May 7 through June 5 at the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society in Lexington, Mass., features the work of more than 60 Massachusetts artists who work the medium in a variety of unexpected and inventive ways.
It’s a very diverse range of work, from sculptural, to functional, to wall pieces, representing very different statements and views,” said Joan Carcia, a potter who co-founded the exhibition with Abrams.
Since it was conceived in 1997, the show has featured more than 300 artists from across the Commonwealth. This year’s finalists were culled from 154 applicants who live in, work in, or otherwise have ties to Massachusetts. Nearly 500 pieces were submitted, with those appearing in the show handpicked by renowned ceramicist Wayne Higby of Alfred University in New York State.
It’s a very strong art that is really gaining its deserved reputation,” said Abrams, a retired drama teacher who picked up wheel-throwing after college and has spent the last several years experimenting with clay in a variety of ways. “We’ve really come to appreciate how strong the ceramic community is in Massachusetts. This is a very productive state in terms of ceramic expression and links between ceramic artists.”

To read more, pick up a copy of our latest issue! Click here to find a pick-up location near you or Subscribe Here.


May/June Artscope: Arnie Casavant's Seasonal Expressions




Exploring Light and Shadow
May/June 2016

Casavant’s Seasonal Expressions
by Taryn Plumb



For Arnie Casavant, it’s not the subject itself that entices — but the light hitting it, giving it life, shadow, color, dimension, personality.
It’s the time of day that it’s painted,” said the Quincy artist. “I have absolutely no interest in painting from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. It’s the least inspiring time. The colors just aren’t there for me. The sunlight in the morning and the evening provides me with a dramatic effect on a subject.”.
I want people to notice the atmosphere, the color,” said Casavant, who retired in 2005 from his 27-year career as an art teacher at Oliver Ames High School in Easton. In his ongoing study of light — much of which he does plein air — Casavant creates an unmistakable sense of movement.
Boston Public Garden,” for instance, depicts a familiar scene: The bridge over the lagoon, portions of the business district flanking the background. However, Casavant’s unique perspective creates a sense of movement, an impression of freshly falling snow. Meanwhile, in “Country Road,” his airy brush strokes allow viewers to feel a summer breeze nudging the field grass and the tree branches.

GUIDING LIGHT:
As he described it, he was “always attracted to light, always aware of light.” As a kid, he recalled noticing the rays of light streaming into his family’s apartment in a Fall River triple-decker; later, after graduating from high school, he had that same awareness when he was working in the city’s mills. Even today, he enjoys the sunset every night — and the first thing he does when he takes his dog out for a walk every morning is look up at the sky to see where the sun is, and what colors are in play.
Meanwhile, he is also drawn to the subjects that often blur into the background of everyday life. For instance, tankers carrying natural gas and rock salt into Boston Harbor, or the rusting and gritty overpasses of the highway systems running in and around Boston. “I found the beauty in the urbanscape,” said Casavant. “As artists, at least representational artists, we look for the beauty in things.”

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Testament to Never Giving Up

A Path Less Traveled 
Posted May 4, 2016 in "Staff"

For Mike Vaudreuil, lifelong learning provides a new start



It was 2007, a burdensome time for many.
Mike Vaudreuil had lost his house, his once-prospering business–and, worst of all, his hope. He was beaten down. He needed something, anything, to survive not only economically, but mentally.
So the Worcester native took a temp job as a custodian at WPI.
Eight years later, on May 14, he’s set to walk the stage in his cap and gown at the university’s 148th commencement ceremony. The 54-year-old will collect his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
His is a story of resilience.
“It’s taken everything I had, and a lot of things I never knew I had,” says Vaudreuil. “I’m so ready for the next chapter.”
Setbacks? You have no idea.
Vaudreuil, who’s spent his life in and around Worcester, initially studied at Wentworth Institute of Technology after he graduated from high school “many, many years ago,” as he described it. He earned an associate’s degree in aeronautical technology.
But by the time he graduated, the industry was going through a recession, following the 1978 signing by Jimmy Carter of the Airline Deregulation Act. So to get himself through, he took a job with a friend’s construction company.
He thought it would be temporary. But with the housing boom, construction prospered, and, naturally, he stuck with it. For the next two-and-a-half decades, he was a plasterer by trade, eventually running his own business.
And then: The Great Recession. Within six months, he was forced to shut down his business. “It dumped me out of the economy pretty quickly,” he says, much as he and his wife, Joyce, tried to fight it, losing their savings and their home in the process.
It was a traumatic time; he was jaded and disillusioned. “I worked hard and I did a good job, and I thought that was what the recipe was to be successful,” says Vaudreuil. “But it wasn’t.”
So he took the temp job at WPI, which soon became full-time. As an employee, he had the ability to take tuition-waived classes; on a whim, he signed up for some psychology courses, essentially as a “constructive way to spent time, occupy my mind,” he explains.
“I had no notion of getting a degree,” he says.
After a few courses, though, he realized that maybe there was something there for him–until he went to a job fair and came to the conclusion that the post-college job prospects in psychology weren’t all that promising. Another dead-end. He wasn’t going to let that happen again.


A NATURAL FIT

So he shifted his focus to mechanical engineering. It was a natural fit, because he was always a “hands-on tinkering kind of guy,” and mechanical engineering also has much broader implications in industry.
Still, at first, he wasn’t sure if he could do it. He was apprehensive; he was in his late 40s, he’d been working in construction most of his career. “I was questioning whether I had the aptitude to pursue it,” he says.
But after a few classes, he says, his confidence grew. “I realized, ‘I can do this.’”
And he did. He took more classes, and also enrolled in summer sessions (all the while working full-time second shift as a custodian, and also doing part-time work in plastering.) It was hectic, for sure, but things finally started to fall into place.


NON TRADITIONAL STUDENT

There were challenges, of course—No. 1 being time. Group work was especially hard, because he didn’t have a lot of leeway. He did see other “non-traditional” students along the way, although he quips that not many were at “my advanced age—my advanced experience.”
However, he notes, “I was extremely impressed by my fellow students—at no time was I made to feel like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. I can’t say enough about the student body here—they’re impressive young people. And the faculty, as well, treated me like any student, challenged me like the rest of the students, motivated me, inspired me.”


MAJOR QUALIFYING PROJECT

That included associate professor Ali Rangwala, with whom Vaudreuil did his Major Qualifying Project, (creating a reusable dust fuel cartridge). The project was “successful for the most part,” says Vaudreuil, who (if he can find the time, that is) would like to work on a second-generation prototype this summer.
But he particularly credits his wife, Joyce, with getting him through; for a while, they were all each other had.
“She has been my cheerleader, my greatest counsel, my shoulder to cry on—she’s also given me the kick in the pants I’ve needed at times,” he says. “She’s been everything I needed when I’ve needed it. Graduation will be a victory for both of us.”
As for the future? Vaudreuil says he is up for anything, describing himself as creative and hands-on–particularly when it comes to prototype building–and “very at home” in machine shops and manufacturing facilities.
“I’m open to many different opportunities,” he says. “I’m extremely motivated. I really want to hit the ground running. I want to make up for lost time.”

BY TARYN PLUMB

Original story link

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

(Another) Al-Assad on Syria's Future

Al-Assad on Syria
Posted April 12, 2016 in “Campus”

Human rights proponent Ribal al-Assad to speak on Syria and Middle East tomorrow



Like any armed conflict where passions are high, lives are lost and in turmoil, and opposing parties stand on vastly contrasting sides of the political spectrum, the civil war in Syria is a complex and volatile situation. As is the case with many circumstances across the Middle East, it is one that has no quick fixes or easy answers.
“We need to hear all points of view,” says Bland Addison, associate professor specializing in history and international studies in WPI’s Department of Humanities and Arts. “We shouldn’t discount any of points of view until we’ve heard all of them.”
WPI students and other interested locals will have the opportunity to hear one of those distinct points of view in a talk tomorrow (April 13) by Ribal al-Assad. The Syrian human rights proponent will offer the discussion, “Syria, the Middle East, and the New Cold War: How three tiers of conflict created an Apocalypse,” at 11 a.m. at Fuller Labs in Lower Perreault Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
A Syrian refugee, al-Assad, 40, is the son of former Syrian vice president Rifaat al-Assad, and first cousin of divisive current president Bashar al-Assad. He is founder and director of the Organisation for Freedom and Democracy in Syria, and advocates for a peaceful transition to democratic order in his home country and in relations with Israel.
“We want to concentrate on our future country,” he told Robert Fiske, Middle East correspondent for the UK-based news outlet The Independent, in a 2010 interview. “A country cannot be built on past grudges. We have to forgive – I don’t know about forget – and we have to live together, all Syrians who believe in democracy and human rights, to have a new era. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed. Syria will change.”
Al-Assad’s talk was organized through the Worcester World Affairs Council, one of 95 such nonprofit groups across the U.S. dedicated to informing and engaging its members and their communities in international affairs. It is one of several such discussions scheduled this spring at various World Affairs Councils; he is also speaking this week in Boston and Portland.
Although the conflict has been raging in Syria for nearly five years – resulting in an estimated 500,000 dead and five million displaced refugees – the topic is particularly pertinent now, Addison points out. Russia, Assad’s main ally, recently announced its removal of some troops from Syria in an effort to prompt Assad to more seriously consider peace negotiations.
“The question is, ‘Where do we go from here?’” says Addison. “It is going to take a very complex solution – there is no happy fix.”
The conflict and the overall unrest in the Middle East are ongoing topics of discussion among his students, he says, coming up regularly in courses and seminars.
“We are delighted to have this source of information,” says Addison. “The students are eager to hear what he has to say.”

Who: Ribal al-Assad, son of former Syrian vice president Rifaat al-Assad and first cousin of current president Bashar al-Assad
What: A discussion, “Syria, the Middle East, and the New Cold War: How three tiers of conflict created an Apocalypse.”
When: Wednesday, April 13, at 11 a.m.
Where: Fuller Labs in Lower Perreault Hall
This program is free and open to the public.

BY TARYN PLUMB

Original story link

The Missing Link?

Intel Science Winner
Posted on April 8, 2016 in “Students”

Mass Academy student Amol Punjabi a top winner at Intel Science Talent Search




Many of us can claim to want to change the world—but at just age 17, Amol Punjabi is already on his way there.
The Mass Academy senior has developed a software program that helps to determine whether disease-causing proteins are susceptible to drug treatment.
Named ViaPocket, it makes use of artificial intelligence, and with it Punjabi has discovered six “druggable” spots on intrinsically disordered proteins commonly involved in cancer and heart and immune system diseases. Typically, the instability of disordered proteins makes them a difficult target for drugs; that in mind, Punjabi sought a way to identify more stable pockets within those proteins where drugs could more easily bind.
“I showed that my program is more accurate than the best previous method,” said Punjabi, of Marlborough.
For his efforts, he was recently recognized as one of three top winners at the 75th annual Intel Science Talent Search in Washington, D.C. Considered the country’s most prestigious science and math competition for pre-college students, it is organized by the nonprofit Society for Science and the Public. Forty finalists from 38 schools in 18 states participated in the event, which featured astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson as keynote speaker.
ViaPocket took First Place Medal of Distinction in the “Basic Research” category, which came with a $150,000 award. Other top winners include Paige Brown of Bangor, Maine, with a First Place Medal of Distinction in the “Global Good” category, and Maya Varma of Cupertino, Calif., with a First Place Medal of Distinction for “Innovation.”
The trio of winners is “using science and technology to help address the problems they see in the world, and will be at the forefront of creating the solutions we need for the future,” Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science and the Public, said in a statement.
Mass Academy senior Yashaswini Makaram was also a finalist in the competition. The Marlborough 17-year-old received a $7,500 award for a project she has been working on for two years that applies biometrics to cell phone security.
Punjabi, for his part, began working on his software project while involved in the Research Science Institute summer program at Harvard Medical School. He has also authored papers on nanoparticles, and serves as captain of the Science Olympiad team at Mass Academy, and lead pianist of its jazz workshop.
“I was shocked,” he said of his win. After spending time with the other finalists, he noted, “I knew how brilliant and unique each one was, and I in no way expected to win an award.”
He plans to use the prize money for his education, he said. He has been accepted to Harvard University, MIT, and Stanford University, and is still deciding which one to attend, as well as what his major will ultimately be.
“I’m not sure yet—maybe math, computer science, chemistry, or something I’m yet to explore,” he said.
As for his future career? That’s also yet to be determined. However, he stressed that “I want to continue working in the biomedical field, helping find cures and treatments with my research.”

BY TARYN PLUMB

Original story link