Governor Patrick and Education Leaders honor Community College, State University and UMass Graduates for Contributions to the Commonwealth

Greenfield Community College student Ernest A. Baird is one of “29 Who Shine,” a group of outstanding Massachusetts public college and university graduates honored by the Department of Higher Education at a State House ceremony on May 8. Every year, one graduate from each of the 29 Massachusetts public campuses is recognized for their academic achievements and record of student leadership and community service. Ernie, 42, of Northampton, will graduate from GCC this spring with an Associate in Science degree with a concentration in Engineering Science. Nominated for the award by GCC President Bob Pura, Ernie will transfer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering. He plans to pursue a career as a chemical engineer.

This is Ernie’s second time at GCC. In the late 1990s, Ernie started at GCC right after finishing high school. He wasn’t ready for college, did not do well, and did not continue with his education. For many years, Ernie worked at a local manufacturing business, driving a forklift and loading trucks. Ernie is married and has a six-year-old son. He worked hard, yet realized he was living paycheck to paycheck and had an essentially “empty resume” that provided no way for him to move into a better paying job. Ernie decided to try GCC again. At GCC, Ernie has realized math and science are easy and enjoyable for him. With the support of GCC’s faculty and staff, Ernie has excelled in his classes and in his work as a Peer Tutor.

Commenting on Ernie, President Pura said, “Ernie’s journey is one of great courage. His is also the story of how significant GCC is in forging economic mobility and strengthening the middle class in our community. Ernie demonstrated great courage, grit and wisdom coming back to GCC to create a better life for himself and his family. Ernie then excelled in math, science, and engineering. He will now transfer to UMass ready to take it to the next level. Ernie will ultimately work as an Engineer here in the Valley. From stockroom clerk to engineer doing the work he loves; that is the stuff dreams are built on. We are so proud of Ernie and are privileged to have played a role in his journey.”

Associate Professor of Mathematics Ian Winokur, Ernie’s mentor, said, “Ernie is a superstar. He got straight A’s only because A+ isn’t offered as a grade at GCC. Ernie combines strong mathematics ability with great skill at helping those who struggle with math. As a classmate and Peer Tutor, Ernie is able to meet students wherever they are in their understanding of math and explain mathematical concepts at just the right level for them to move forward. Ernie has a great rapport with students of all ages and abilities and enjoys helping them with math. Through his work as a Peer Tutor, Ernie has helped countless GCC students increase their math skills.”

Ernie appreciates the support he’s received at GCC. He said, “I was 39 and very intimidated when I walked into my first class at GCC. The instructor, Ian Winokur, was welcoming and made me feel like I belonged. I had never imagined being able to get a college degree. Ian’s teaching and support changed that. Now, I’m on my way to being a chemical engineer.”

Ernie and Ian participated in the 29 Who Shine Student Recognition Ceremony on May 8. For information about 29 Who Shine, visit www.mass.edu/29whoshine/home.asp.

By Mary McClintock, ’82