BHCC students and alumni turn passions into purpose
Whether it’s a rewarding career in e-commerce or the food industry or making an impact in renewable energy and genetics, BHCC programs offer students specialized training and real-world experiences that allow students to pursue their interests and passions.
Meet four BHCC students and alumni who are bringing innovation to the business and STEM industries and how pathways to four-year institutions helped to make their dream jobs a reality.
Pathways in STEM
STEM transfer pathways at BHCC allow students explore their passions and propel their careers while gaining specialized training, hands-on lab experience and mentorship opportunities with leading industry professionals. Transfer pathways provide students with a strong foundation for academic and professional success and prepare students for a seamless transition to four-year schools, all at an affordable cost.
Bridget Benner, Engineering transfer alumna, Ph.D. candidate, UMass Amherst Fluid-Interactions Lab
After earning a business degree and working for several years in IT and client services, Engineering alumna Bridget Benner realized she wanted to pursue a more fulfilling and engaging career - one that allowed her to focus on the things she was excited about. Benner wanted to work in a role that promotes and protects the environment. She ultimately decided to go into renewable energy engineering, one of many STEM fields where there aren’t many women.
Breaking the gender barrier in STEM and pursuing an environmental career meant Benner had to first return to school to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. She needed a program that was flexible, competitive and supportive of her goals. Benner found all of this and more in BHCC’s Engineering Transfer Program, one of three carefully structured and purposefully designed transfer pathways that provide students fundamental knowledge and skillsets while allowing them to explore their individual interests and specialized fields of their choice.
Benner admits she was nervous to return to school years after completing her degree, but she immediately found a nurturing, engaging and inclusive community at BHCC. “Without exception, my instructors always made time for me during office hours and beyond,” she says.
"As I coordinated my transfer, my professors made it a point to have intentional conversations with me about what I wanted, where I was going, and how they could help me succeed.”
Benner is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Fluid-Structure Interactions Lab at UMass Amherst, where her research focuses on the fundamentals of flow-induced dynamic instabilities of wind-turbine blades.
Unparalleled Learning Experiences
Nadifa Abdi, Biotechnology major
Biotechnology major Nadifa Abdi credits the STEM professors at BHCC and industry mentors she’s worked with for enhancing her enthusiasm for advancing agricultural solutions, genetics and food security. Through the STEM Mentorship program at BHCC, Abdi has had the opportunity to work and learn directly from mentors at Merck Research Laboratories, BioNTech and Ten Bridge Communication.
“The community college setting provides STEM students with the best of both worlds,” says Abdi. “My professors balance intensive in-class discussions and collaborative lab work with career exploration opportunities that have allowed me to view my future career through the lenses of marketing, communication and networking.”
Throughout her experience, Abdi has built confidence in her lab skills, critical thinking and theory knowledge. At the same time, she has gained connections to a broad network of industry leaders in the Greater Boston community that have given her confidence in her ability to maneuver through the business side of the biotechnology industry. Abdi plans to continue to pursue her education in biotechnology with a focus on agricultural biotechnology following graduation.
Innovation in Business
BHCC’s Business programs aim to ignite students’ passion and purpose and enable them to create meaningful impact—whether technological, social, artistic or cultural—in their careers and communities.
Entrepreneurship alumni Ben Taylor and Charlene Pena showcased their innovative businesses earlier this spring at the 2021 IDEA Conference at Boston University, a virtual one-day event designed to inspire college students and recent graduates—locally and globally—to explore innovation and entrepreneurship.
“I am incredibly proud of both Charlene and Ben for their business accomplishments. To see them transform a vision and opportunity into thriving, sustainable businesses is what entrepreneurship is all about,” said Tony Fontes, Professor and Chairperson, BHCC Business Administration Department.
Ben Taylor, Entrepreneurship alumni
The journey for BHCC Entrepreneurship alumni and founder of Uprise Foods Ben Taylor began when he realized the positive impact of plant-based foods on health and the environment and their role in preventing unnecessary suffering. Taylor is the founder of Uprise Foods, America’s first certified fair trade plant cheese company and creators of NOOCH IT! Cashew Grated Cheeze. He and his wife Gwen Taylor launched the company as a solution that can lead to a healthy and sustainable future.
At Uprise Foods, the number one ingredient is transparency. From seed to mouth, the company uses ingredients consumers can trust to create healthy and delicious foods that are certified fair trade, vegan, organic, dairy-free, and non-GMO.
“Positive change begins with what’s at the end of our forks,” says Taylor. “Together we can create a more compassionate, healthy, and equitable world.”
In a workshop on innovation in the food industry, Taylor discussed challenges and opportunities in the industry while highlighting insights and lessons relevant to all driven entrepreneurs.
Taylor’s path—like many BHCC students’—wasn’t traditional. Prior to enrolling in BHCC, Taylor worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club and blogged about organic food and plant-based diets from an animal welfare point of view. He also started a glass blowing business and a record label. “I just follow my passions,” Taylor says. “I took a look at the plant-based market and realized I may have a bigger impact as a manufacturer. When you read something, you may remember it, but eating ties people together. It’s an experience that can be lived over and over.”
Taylor attended BHCC for two years before transferring to Northeastern University. “Business school tied together things that I already knew, and I learned from that. I took a reverse route to starting my own business. Whichever route you take, there will be learning curves.”
Charlene Pena, Entrepreneurship alumna
Entrepreneurship alumna Charlene Pena is the founder of Woven Royal and the inventor of the Afrona—the only hat of its kind made for curly and voluminous hair like Pena’s. The satin-lined headwear keeps curls and volume intact by lifting hair up and preventing it from going flat. It also protects against damage caused by the cold, UV rays and humidity.
The youngest of six children, Pena’s family migrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. After severely damaging her hair, Pena traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2017 for three months and created the first-ever Afrona with the help of a seamstress named Fela.
Through the experience, Pena realized that for people to prosper and flourish, they must feel protected in who they truly are and supported in who they want to be. Pena vowed to help women in her native country like Fela. She returned home to the U.S. where she taught herself to sew and perfected the design of the Afrona.
“When we have the freedom to be ourselves and express who we truly are, we are able to connect with the inner part of us that is royal – the part of us that is courageous, worthy, and dignified,” says Pena.
Thinking like a consumer has been critical to Pena’s business. “Since I identify as a consumer, I can communicate with my customers,” she says. “I started small, did lots of testing. I had the idea, but I still sought out feedback.”
Responding to customer needs, Pena brought Woven Royal from an e-commerce brand to brick and mortar in 2020, opening a small storefront to provide clients with a personalized shopping experience. Presenting on innovation in the retail industry at the IDEA Conference, Pena reminded entrepreneurs of the importance of adapting their businesses as consumer needs change. “Don’t be afraid to fail. As an entrepreneur, you’re a creator and an innovator. Keep pivoting. Keep going.”