State honors 29 students who shine

Herinell Linares hadn’t given math a lot of thought until he took a class at Northern Essex Community College with math professor Liliana Brand.

“I liked math, but I didn’t know it was useful,” said Linares, who is graduating this spring. “She (Professor Brand) helped me to find my passion and inspired me to go to engineering school.”

Linares met Brand in 2007 when he was a new student at NECC. With Brand looking on, he and 28 other student winners were honored at the “29 Who Shine” awards ceremony held at the State House on May 10. These awards celebrate the accomplishments of 29 public college and university graduates, one from each community college, state university and UMass campus in the state.

“When I saw his talent, I asked him to take a course in engineering,” said Brand, who has been teaching at Northern Essex since 2003 and is a member of the Massachusetts Community College Council. “He did and became fascinated with electrical engineering.”

Among this year’s honorees were five veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first female African American firefighter in the city of Holyoke’s history, and an aspiring physician who designed and opened a free medical clinic for African immigrants in Worcester. The 29 Who Shine also includes students who have co-founded environmental organizations; created community art and prison writing projects; and conducted research to inform the treatment of both hearing loss and childhood obesity.

Linares, who is 23, has accomplished a great deal in his young life. He came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2006 and spoke no English when he began taking classes at Northern Essex. While attending college, he worked full time as a security guard and a banquet server. Two nights a week, he works a night shift, comes home and sleeps four hours, and then goes to class.

Linares gives thanks and credit to Brand and two others at Northern Essex, Paul Chanley, who teaches engineering, and Grace Young, who is the dean of academic advising at Northern Essex.

“Everybody should start at a community college,” said Linares. “You are a student there, not just a number. Professor Brand and others got to know me and helped me along the way.

Each of Massachusetts’ 29 public college and university campuses selected its own honoree for the 29 Who Shine awards based on criteria established by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Students were required to be residents of Massachusetts who had a strong academic record and a history of civic engagement. Please visit for more information.

As far as what’s next for Linares, he will pursue electrical engineering at UMass Lowell in the fall.

“I want to make a difference,” he said. “I have the potential to give something positive to the community.”

Linares and Brand

Herinell Linares and Northern Essex Community College math professor Liliana Brand.