Graduates credit former faculty with influencing their careers
When Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz appointed Assistant Fire Chief Duane Nichols as fire chief this past July, he was likely unaware that he was creating the lead story for the GCC Catalyst newsletter. But the appointment of GCC alum Nichols, following on the heels of that for GCC alum police chief Jody Kasper just weeks earlier, sealed the deal.
Unlike Kasper’s pathway as a traditional student, Nichols – a self-described “lifelong learner” – travelled a different route before becoming the second GCC graduate appointed as a public safety chief for the city in less than a month.
Fire Chief Duane Nichols ’07
Nichols started at GCC in 1988 and “plugged away” at courses in the Fire Science Program for the next 19 years, receiving his Associate’s degree in 2007. The remainder of his academic journey went more quickly and he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science Management from Anna Maria College in 2011, completed the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy’s chief fire officer management training and is credentialed to serve as a fire chief by the Massachusetts Fire Service Commission.
Nichols began his career as a city firefighter in 1987 before moving on to the post of shift captain, then acting deputy chief. He served as the department’s training officer and deputy chief of fire prevention and operations. Nichols was named assistant chief when the position was created in 2007.
He also teaches courses in Fire Administration and Fire Investigation at Greenfield Community College.
“GCC was very good for me,” Nichols stated. “As a student and an instructor, I’ve been impressed with the enthusiasm for learning that is demonstrated at every level.” He credits then-Department Chair Peter Rosnick as a positive influence, recalling that Rosnick advocated for the Fire Science Program in the late ‘80s and helped create a collaboration with Berkshire Community College that helped both institutions maintain sustainable enrollment numbers. Twenty years later, Rosnick’s son, GCC alum Jesse, now works with Nichols at an EMS for the Northampton Fire Department.
Nichols was born in Northampton and grew up in Williamsburg, graduating from Hampshire Regional High School. He lives in Westhampton with his wife, Barbara, and their twins McKenzie and Andrew, 11.
Chief of Police Jody Kasper ’94
Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper was, in her words, “an OK student.” She added that in high school she “figured it out” but was unsure about her confidence and ability. “I didn’t actually know if I could make it in college,” she added. “My guidance counselor recommended I try GCC and pulled out their catalog with the instruction to pick something that sounded interesting. I picked Criminal Justice and it went from there. If GCC had not been an option, I would not have gone to college.”
Kasper credits the size of the school and quality of the professors for her success. She said that she was a “country kid” and GCC fit her comfort zone. She especially remembers retired English professor Faythe Turner, who taught her how to write an organized paper, how to research. “She was fantastic,” Kasper mused, “I thought about her a lot over the years.”
She also recalled her Criminal Justice instructor, Stella Xanthakos, who brought her CJ students to the state prison in Gardner and to Mock Court at the Franklin County Courthouse in Greenfield – an experience that confirmed Kasper’s somewhat random selection of her career choice.
After graduating from GCC in ’94, Kasper transferred to Westfield State University, where she graduated with dual Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice. She went on to receive two Master’s degrees from WSU – one in criminal justice and a second in Public Administration.
“GCC really prepared me a lot for Westfield,” she maintains. “From being able to write an incident report as an officer to a department annual report for the City as Chief, the ability to think critically and write in an organized, understandable way has been key.”
Kasper was appointed the new Northampton Chief of Police by Mayor David Narkewicz in July. She is one of just nine female police chiefs in the state and has worked for the department for 17 years. Her position as Police Chief includes managing a $5.8 million operating budget and 68 sworn police officers.
Chief Kasper lives in Easthampton with her partner, Melissa Lake, a middle school guidance counselor and her 11-year old son, Jackson.