Three Assumption Alumni Named to New England Business Journals 40 Under Forty
Assumption University recognizes Eric Kneeland ‘16, Joel Kent G’13, and Maura Cook ‘08, for their professional success and dedication to their cities in being named to the Worcester and Hartford Business Journals 40 Under Forty list.
The 40 Under Forty award recognizes “outstanding young leaders” who are growing their communities and “leading into the future”, according to the Worcester Business Journal website. Recipients come from various industries and backgrounds who have made contributions to their company and the city in which they work and live, with a promising future of making a larger impact.
Eric Kneeland ‘16
Eric Kneeland ‘16 is the director of programs and operations for the Worcester Regional Research Bureau (WRRB). The WRRB is a not-for-profit organization that serves Greater Worcester by conducting non-partisan research on public policy with the goal of promoting informed public debate and decisions. Originally from Portland, Maine, Kneeland came to Worcester, a place he calls “home” nearly ten years ago when he began school at Assumption University. He studied political science with a double minor in management and sociology. Having joined WRRB as a research intern, he discovered that Worcester “had something special” with many dedicated individuals seeking the city’s success. Deciding he wanted to be a part of this, Kneeland continued working for the research bureau in roles such as program associate, and even the bureau’s officer in charge during a seven-month period while the board of directors searched for a permanent executive director.
The variety of policies and issues that Kneeland researches at the WRRB such as, economic development, education, municipal finance, public administration, infrastructure, and transit, is his favorite part of the job. He stated, “The Worcester Regional Research Bureau has been an important voice in the region on public policy issues, informing the public and decision-makers. I take that mission to heart. It's important that residents understand the issues when they go to the ballot box to elect their leaders, and it's crucial that our leaders make their decisions based on data and facts. I’m honored to be a part of an organization that strives to provide this information in a non-partisan manner.”
Since 2018, Kneeland has increased the WRRB sponsorship revenue by 35%. He has done this through uncovering new sources, upgrading technology, redesigning the company website and implementing new tools for utilizing data. In addition to the internal management work done for the bureau, Kneeland has also represented WRRB through community engagements such as managing the candidate debate series and the 2018 State of the City.
Reflecting on his undergraduate career, Kneeland stated that his favorite thing about attending Assumption was “the surprise of each new course.” Citing the many lessons he learned from a diverse array of courses and topics like graphic design, environmental principles, public relations, accounting, sociological impacts and more, he said that each course “offered a lesson to me beyond the classroom and many of them still carry with me today.”
Outside of the classroom, Kneeland was active in the Assumption Against Cancer an organization that hosts the annual Relay for Life. Playing a big part in fundraising during his time in this club, he helped to raise over $20,000 for the two years he led fundraising. It is through this that he “learned the value of collaboration.”
Kneeland recalls a few professors who positively impacted his learning. He attributes Richard Gendron, Ph.D., his honors thesis advisor, as a mentor who guided him, improved his writing abilities and pushed him intellectually – “to think critically and creatively.” Another stand-out professor whom Kneeland recalled was Greg Weiner, Ph.D. (now President of Assumption University). Dr. Weiner “taught a majority of my course-load because his classes were consistently in my favorites each semester,” said Kneeland who credits the professor with teaching him how to properly create and assert an argument with evidence. For life post-graduation, Elizabeth O’Hara, Ed.D., aided Kneeland in “crafting a vision” for his career. Finally, it was Mary Beth Burke, teacher of a Public Policy course at Assumption when Kneeland was a student and a researcher at WRRB. Kneeland was offered the opportunity to intern with the research bureau because of Burke, who “later became [his] colleague and friend.”
Now, a quite accomplished professional and leader in Worcester, Kneeland proposed a few lessons he learned at Assumption that he has carried with him into his career. The first is to “get out of your comfort zone, it’s okay not to know something. A liberal arts education pushes you beyond your comfort zone and requires that you ask questions and remain open-minded.” The second recognizes the unique skills and gifts endowed to each human person. Kneeland says to “feel confident in your own abilities. You have something equally as valuable to share. Collaboration creates the best result.”
Joel Kent G’13
Joel Kent received his bachelor's degree from the College of the Holy Cross and went on to receive his Master of Business Administration from Assumption University in 2013. Mr. Kent is a senior project manager for Fontaine Brothers Inc., in Worcester. Originally from Kingston, RI, Mr. Kent is now a resident of Worcester with his wife and children and dedicates his career to serving the city and beyond.
For Kent, education has played a large part in his life from a young age. His father was a high school English teacher and “instilled the importance of education” on his children. With a special place in his heart for education, he began his career as an AmeriCorps teacher at the Nativity School in Worcester for two years before working for the school in a facilities and finance management position. During this time Kent was able to receive his Assumption MBA at no costs due to the two schools' partnership.
Kent recalls that “a number” of the classes in the MBA program challenged him as well as some he would consider “formative in [his] professional development.” He names two courses taught by Cary Leblanc, Ph.D., in the MBA program: Organizational Development and Change, and Organizational Communication. He stated, “I still regularly think about and refer back to the lessons I learned [in these classes].”
Now as a member of the Fontaine Brothers Inc., Kent has a focus on projects in education. As a senior project manager, Kent also manages the intern program, having mentored over 40 students. He also oversaw the public school construction of 1 million square feet in Massachusetts and oversees the environmentally friendly LEED-certified projects. Kent stated, “Somewhere around 23% of waste in the United States is attributed to the construction industry, and buildings today account for about 40% of global energy consumption. The industry has been working to identify better ways to design and build buildings, and I'm proud to help keep our company on the forefront of these developments.”
In acknowledging the talent and commitment of his colleagues in working on many important construction projects in the area, Kent says the best part of his job is that “every day I get to drive by the buildings we've built together, and I get to see the daily progress on the buildings we're currently building.”
Kent currently serves as vice president of the board at Preservation Worcester and on the endangered structures committee, as well as a supervisory committee member at Millbury Credit Union, and on the board of the Fontaine Community Foundation.
Kent enjoys spending his free time with his wife, Emily, and two young daughters.
Maura Cook ‘08
Maura Cook graduated from Assumption University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in English and Political Science. During her undergraduate studies, she served as a resident assistant, president of the Residence Hall Association, feature editor for Le Provocateur newspaper and service director of the Reach Out Center. Her ambitious work ethic has held true as she currently serves as the vice president for marketing and development at United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. Throughout her nine years at the United Way, Cook uses fundraising, marketing, and engagement tools to increase revenue and impact in the community. Her two biggest accomplishments at the United Way were creating “Making Choices”, an interactive exercise for employees of United Way to better understand the challenges of families utilizing their services and working to create the “Building Foundations Breakfast” that raised $300,000 during the virtual event and $420,000 at the in-person event for homelessness. In addition, she also serves as an adjunct professor of communications and public administration at Sacred Heart University, the institution where she received her master's degree in PR and Corporate Communications.
Cook remembers multiple professors who she felt were “truly invested” in her success. The first was Bernard Dobski, Ph.D. She recalls his expectations of excellence as different than her usual academic encounters during this time in her life. These expectations taught her resilience because of her own investment in herself to be the best she can be. Cook stated, “that hard work and dedication combined with open, clear communication and the ability to be vulnerable about things you are unsure of or not strong in can get you the desired result. Professor Dobski invested in me.”
She recalls another faculty member in the political science department, Peter Shultz, Ph.D., stating, “I always appreciate that Professor Shultz met students where they were, treated us like adults and like people and challenged our thinking. He was never afraid to be unconventional and I loved that about him.”
It was through these interactions and courses that Cook was able to learn more about herself and make meaningful connections to other courses of study. It was in her journalism courses that Cook discovered her passion for non-profits. Determined to be a journalist in her undergraduate career, Cook was required to write a profile on a Worcester non-profit in Professor Mike Land’s class. Having been involved in volunteer work since the age of eight, Cook took a deep look into the Friendly House, a place for homeless families. She stated, “Writing this profile changed my life.” She spoke with children, parents, and staff and began to see the struggles of these families and the cyclical nature of homelessness. Giving the example of a child missing school, “I began to understand that if they missed the bus, the parents had no way to get them to school because they did not have transportation or money for a cab and other forms of public transportation would take too long,” she said.
It was through this journalism experience that she also learned the challenges of organizations that have limited funding and a great task set before them to help people in the place they are and to help them move on to more permanent homes. “After writing that profile, I decided that while telling people’s stories is important, I wanted to be more involved in the change and I decided to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector,” Cook reflected.
As an adjunct, Cook tries to emulate the great qualities of some of her Assumption professors. She stated, “I have learned how much work and passion higher ed professionals bring to the students. The faculty and staff at Assumption always poured into the students and I know what that experience meant to me, so I strive to do that now in my higher education work.” Remembering the teaching style of Professor Santos, an accomplished media professional who taught her capstone class, Cook enjoyed the real-world wisdom and experience that was brought into the classroom. She now tries to incorporate her experiences into the classes she teaches at Sacred Heart University.
Outside of work, Cook enjoys spending time with her family and considers herself an “avid runner and Peloton enthusiast”. Cook had severe asthma as a kid and 10 years ago a doctor told her it was likely she would never be able to run far distances, such as a half marathon; however, given her ambitious character, she has run 15 half marathons and one full marathon since that conversation. She stated, “running gives me a chance to clear my mind, to achieve something every day. It gives me a sense of community.” She enjoys running with her partner, Ian, and has participated in "several races with one of [her] best friends from Assumption.”
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