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The 10 Coolest People in Worcester: Part 2

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Our list of the 10 coolest people in Worcester continues today with more residents that have set themselves apart from the pack.

These three men and two women are all making names for themselves in Central Massachusetts, and are definitely people to watch in the near future. Without further ado, here is the second part of our list of the 10 coolest people in Worcester.

Heather Keenan, Director of STEM and Leadership programs at Girls Inc. of Worcester

Heather Keenan loves her job at Girls Inc. of Worcester.

“I used to say that I wanted to be a ‘professional feminist’ when I grew up as a joke because I didn’t really think it was possible, but it is. No joke," Keenan said. "The mission of Girls Inc. is to ‘inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.’ Having a job where I am actively working toward gender equity in my day-to-day is a dream come true."

Don’t let Heather's whimsical beauty and pixie-like stature fool you, she is a huge contributor to the success of Girls Inc. Heather leads the non-profit’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative and leadership academies for middle school girls. She notes the importance of these programs because this age group starts losing interest in STEM and in taking leadership roles.

“My goal is to help girls stay interested in STEM subjects and in leadership through middle and high school and to be accepted into local colleges with a STEM major,” Keenan said.

Heather is currently working on a new pilot program at Girls Inc. called Eureka. Girls Inc. of Worcester is one of two sites in the country selected by Girls Inc. National to run it. The program is taking place at local college campuses (Clark University, Becker College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and features instruction in video game design, forensic science and the physics of hula hooping. The girls also learn media literacy and community action.

“It is a very comprehensive program that I believe will make a world of difference for our girls and for Worcester,” Keenan said.

The Danbury, CT native moved to Worcester and attended Wachusett Regional High School. She eventually graduated from Becker College with a degree in Business Management. It was during her final course called “Social Problems” that Heather decided to focus her career in the non-profit sector.

When she’s not busy inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold, Heather spends time with her daughter and running. She attributes her success to good luck and a positive attitude.

"I do work hard and feel very passionate about what I do," Keenan said. "I am very fortunate to be surrounded with like-minded people who support each other. The great thing about being successful in an organization like Girls Inc. of Worcester is that it is a shared success. We do what we do for the girls."

Carol Claros, Political Activist

She’s a mother, nurse, political activist, and though she is only 5’3” tall, Carol Claros is making some big waves in the MassGOP.

In April, the 30 year old was elected as delegate to the Republican National Convention, only to be eliminated weeks later for being told she did not return a document on time. Claros claims she has proof of filing said document, and is now appealing that decision and hopes to continue representing Hispanics and women in her duly elected position.

“The pride and excitement was short lived," Claros said. "I'd like it if the MassGOP would allow me to go to the RNC to fulfill my delegate responsibilities."

Carol’s winning attitude can be attributed to her mother, whose footsteps she followed as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Carol and her family moved to Massachusetts from Florida to pursue job opportunities. Her mom eventually went to school for nursing and completed her doctorate. She is the first Columbian woman in MA to receive her nursing Doctorate.

“I aspire to become even half the nurse that my mom is.”

From the looks of things, Carol is on her way. She overcame being a young mother and single parent, working tirelessly through it all to achieve her dreams.

“I was in school Monday - Friday, 4pm - 10pm and we had clinicals every other weekend and my commute was 45 minutes each way," Claros said. "It was the most stressful year of our lives! It was awesome when I walked across the stage to receive my graduation pin. Finally, the hard work paid off!"

Carol currently works as a nurse in the prison setting and says she developed her desire for serving others at her previous job at AdCare hospital as a nurse’s aide.

“AdCare was the best job I have ever had. It was there that I discovered I had an incredible passion for helping some of the most vulnerable people in our communities: the homeless, the drug and alcohol addicts, and the people with psychiatric disorders," Claros said. "These people fall through the cracks of the health care system. Sometimes they are forgotten or simply labeled as criminals. I have a special place in my heart for them. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you helped save someone’s life from the strong hold of addiction, the silent killer in today's society."

Carol will continue contributing to the community by becoming involved in local politics and volunteering at her daughter's school. She also volunteers at her local churches doing free flu clinics and blood pressure screenings.

“We have to take care of our community if we wish to see Worcester reach its fullest potential."

Jordan Berg Powers, Deputy Director, Mass Alliance

It didn’t take long for 31-year-old Jordan Berg Powers to realize he was at the wrong place to make change after taking various positions working for politicians in the nation’s capital.

“I spent a lot of time working in politics for politicians I would never vote for," Powers said. "Working in DC was a soul crushing experience. For me, it’s the place where good ideas go to die."

The silver lining came when Jordan found his passion again in community organizing, eventually landing a position at Mass Alliance where he trains, educates, and supports people and organizations working to improve their communities. He works in Boston and commutes from Worcester where he resides with his wife. The budding activist believes in his community, and sees great potential here.

“I actually think Worcester is already really great – it’s really about accentuating the positives and empowering the great assets we have," Powers said. "The best way to make Worcester better is to provide ways for people to have their great ideas heard and implemented when appropriate."

One might say Jordan was destined for a career in activism when looking at his family background. Born to a white father and black mother, the humanitarian takes pride in his Jewish heritage and his ethnic diversity. His grandparents were also politically minded. Powers’ paternal grandfather, George Berg, was Mayor of Northampton, PA from 1940-1948. His maternal grandfather, Ted Childs, was the first black trainer in the NFL, working with the Baltimore Colts from 1957-1962. He was also the first black trainer for the US Olympic Team, and started the first college program to help physically handicapped students attend college at Long Island University.

Childs earned 3 PhDs, one from the University of Iowa in 1948 where he overcame protests against him due to his race. He later earned his final PhD from Columbia University. Jordan remembers a poignant moment he had with Ted:

"Our relationship was one where he gave me wisdom and I listened quietly," Powers said. "The first time (and only time) he asked my opinion on something is one of my proudest moments."

Powers began his career at American University and earned a Master’s Degree at the London School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in International Studies with a focus on Human Rights and Peace. While his personal and professional background position him solidly for success, his positive outlook and desire to use his gifts for the good of mankind set him apart from his peers.

“My life’s work, I hope, is about making life better for us all by giving people the opportunity to be their fullest and best version of themselves," Powers said. "And yet, the easiest way to give people some joy is with a simple smile or a reminder that they are important and loved. To give that little moment is a great accomplishment.”

Jeff Cohen, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach, Clark University

A former star lacrosse player at Clark University, Jeff Cohen, returned to his alma mater as head men’s lacrosse Coach in 2010, and has been achieving success ever since.

During his first season, Cohen led Clark to more wins (six) than the program had achieved in the previous two years combined, and was named Pilgrim League Coach of the Year for 2010 and 2011.

Cohen says returning to Clark is especially thrilling because of the increased popularity of the sport, notably in the Boston area.

"Working at my alma mater, to put CU lax on the map in an area that will see huge participation increases will be great to be part of,” Cohen said.

Cohen was born in Hartford, CT, and began playing the sport in the fourth grade. His career flourished at Clark, where he became the University’s 5th all-time leading scorer and was named to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic (NEWMAC) All-Conference team twice, and to the Pilgrim League All-Conference team three times.

The West Hartford native was proud to begin coaching football and lacrosse at the collegiate level just one year after graduation. He spent five years coaching D1 lacrosse at Colgate University.

Cohen credits his success to his competitive nature and love for the sport.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve my understanding of how to lead these men in the most efficient way and make sure I am always learning as a coach.”

In addition to instructing on the field, Cohen mentors his players in the game of life. His team is heavily involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, a relationship he hopes to strengthen.

As for the year ahead, Cohen is looking forward to some exciting opportunities.

“We have a very highly touted recruiting class and we will be the youngest team in our league," Cohen said. "Also, we will be hosting the Worcester Cup, a four team playoff with Assumption, Nichols, and Anna Maria at Clark University to begin the spring lacrosse season March 1st.”

Bankole Samuel, Surgical Resident, UMass Memorial Medical Center

Bankole Samuel of Worcester has a lot to be grateful for. The Nigerian native moved to the United States and completed Medical School at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He is currently attaining a Residency in General Surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and is expecting his first daughter in a few months.

“I am excited to become a father in November!"

Bankole decided to become a doctor when his friend developed Sickle Cell Anemia while the two were in boarding school in Nigeria.

“I sat up with my friend while he was sick one night and knew that I wanted to one day become a doctor,” Samuel said.

That dream lives on and has taken Bankole to the front lines of helping to save city residents’ lives.

“I love the challenge and complexity associated with medicine (particularly surgery), while at the same time being able to interact with individuals on a daily basis.”

Bankole traveled to the United States when he was 20 years old with his mother and one of his sisters. His family won a lottery to travel to the US which boded well for the aspiring doctor. He worked nights as a security guard and went to school at Worcester State University. His discipline and determination carried him through medical school and helped build the stamina he would need for his rigorous chosen field.

“I am lucky that I can get by on very little sleep,” he jokes.

Like any general surgical resident, Bankole spends the majority of his time at the hospital, but he says his passion makes the hours fly by. He enjoys assisting members of the community with their medical needs and has a calming demeanor which will be an asset to his career. He is in the second year of his residency, and has high hopes for his and his family’s future.

“I am considering pursuing a fellowship in Cardiothoracic Medicine after completing my general surgery residency.” 


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