Empower: Building Leaders, Strengthening Community


Dr. Robert Forrant from UMass Lowell, Lowell history expert from the 18th to 21st centuries

Dr. Robert Forrant from UMass Lowell, Lowell history expert from the 18th to 21st centuries


Workshop 1

Program Orientation: What Is leadership? tell us your story

Nancy Coan

The Director of the Lowell Alliance since March 2016, Nancy has worked in non-profit management for 20 years. Her experience spans a number of different sectors including international civil society development, women’s empowerment, nonprofit capacity-building, advocacy, and humanitarian assistance. She holds a Masters in International Management from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. Nancy lived and taught English as a Second Language in Slovakia for three years, and has traveled to 36 countries.

Aurora Erickson

A Program Coordinator at Coalition For a Better Acre, Aurora is an organizer focused on getting people more involved in their community. Her work includes civic engagement, community activism, and running a time exchange program. This year Aurora is working on building a Community Leadership Institute for CBA residents. Prior to coming on board at CBA, she helped start the small community organizations Lowell Votes and DIY Lowell. Lowell Votes works to improve voter turnout and make information more accessible for local elections, while DIY Lowell uses an idea submission and community voting process to help make small-scale community projects and events happen in the city.

Gordon Halm

Gordon has live in the United States for about two decades, and earned his Master’s degree of Arts at UMass Lowell studying in the Peace and Conflict Program in 2013. He is the founder of the African Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, an annual celebration that attracts visitors from different states and cultures. Currently, he is working at the International Institute of New England, where he assists immigrants and refugees coming from different parts of the world to settle in the United States. 

Gordon speaks three languages and enjoys bringing people together for a greater cause. He also volunteers his time as a mediator at the Lowell District Court with Middlesex Mediation and Conciliation, doing small claims. In February 2015, the Dracut Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to appoint him as a fence viewer for the town of Dracut Massachusetts.  When not busy with work or volunteering, Gordon enjoys playing sports and working in his garden.

Workshop 2

History of Lowell from the 18th to 21st Century

Dr. Robert Forrant

Professor of History and Graduate Program Coordinator University of Massachusetts Lowell, Dr. Forrant was recently named Distinguished University Professor 2016-2019. He teaches courses on global labor issues and international development. He has been a consultant to international, national, state and local organizations in the areas of industrial development and labor. His research activities have been funded by, among others: the International Labor Organization, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the cities of Lowell and Leominster, Massachusetts.

Dr. Forrant is the editor of three volumes on sustainable regional development, the author of numerous published articles and reports, and a forthcoming book on industrial development and decline in the Connecticut River Valley and New England. He is on the editorial boards of two academic journals, Labor History and New Solutions. With Professor Charles Levenstein, he is editor of the Baywood Press book series Work, Health and Environment. Before completing his graduate education, he worked as a machinist and union business agent at the now closed American Bosch plant in Springfield, Massachusetts and ran a community-based economic development program. He received the University of Massachusetts President's Award for Public Service in 1998. He received an American Antiquarian Society Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Fellowship in 2001 and during that year began research on Worcester Massachusetts-area machine tool firms in the period 1830-1875. He analyzes and reports on the Massachusetts industrial economy for the journal Massachusetts Benchmarks, a joint publication of the University of Massachusetts and the New England Federal Reserve Bank and he writes a monthly column on the economy for the Lowell Sun.

Linda Soupheap Sou

As the Chief of Interpretation and Education for the Lowell National Historical Park, National Park Service, Linda serves as an active member of the park management team, working collaboratively with park partners and as a critical organizational link between the actions of staff in the field and strategic park planning. Linda works to establish and sustain partnerships with community and academic institutions. She also leads and supports the planning, development, and implementation of the park’s interpretation and education programs. Linda is charged with updating the Lowell NHP planning documents, park interpretive themes, and to develop community engagement strategies and programming for Lowell’s diverse communities.

Most recently, Ms. Sou served for nine years as the Director of Lowell Community Health Center’s Teen BLOCK Programs. She worked with a team of youth development specialists serving young people from the City of Lowell in an after-school setting.

Workshop 3

Intro to Local Government: How City Hall Works, and how to influence the process

Yovani Baez-Rose

Prior to her current position as Neighborhood Planner for the City Lowell, Yovani worked as a program manager for the Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) and as a Real Estate Project Manager for Lawrence CommunityWorks, a nonprofit community development corporation working to transform and revitalize the physical, economic, and social landscape of Lawrence. She received her master’s degree in Regional Economic and Social Development from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Yovani is bilingual in English and Spanish and is a resident of Lowell.

Felicia Sullivan

A Lowell resident for nearly 20 years, Felicia is most excited when working with organizations and groups that aspire to individual, organizational and community transformation and change.  She first came to Lowell to run an active technology lab at LTC, the local media center, and also counts One Lowell and UMass Lowell among her past employers as well.  Felicia's day job is senior researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) which is part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. She teaches occasionally at UMass Boston and holds a doctorate of philosophy in public policy at that same institution.  In her spare time, Felicia loves to get involved in the community and has served on boards or advisories for many local organizations including the Angkor Dance Troupe, 119 Gallery, and the Lowell Cultural Council. She is currently actively engaged as a member of Lowell Votes. 

Workshop 4

Community Mapping and Resources

Julia Gavin

Director of Programming, Coalition for a Better Acre

Workshop 5

Leadership in Real Life

Nancy Coan

See bio in Workshop 1


Aurora Erickson

See bio in Workshop 1

Workshop 6

Keeping Cool in Conflict and Effective Communication

Seth Izen - Conflict Management

Seth earned his Master of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies from UMass Lowell and his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, majoring in Political Science and International Relations. He received his mediation training at Brown University and then served as a mediator in the Waltham Small Claims Courts. He worked at North Shore Community Mediation Center as a peer mediation trainer for students and served as Assistant Director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture at UMass Lowell. He began teaching mediation to undergraduate and graduate students at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Summer 2013. He has volunteered as a mediator at the Lowell District Court since 2011. He is actively involved in dispute resolution with the Middlesex Law Center, North Shore Community Mediation Center, and Community Dispute Settlement Center.

Lianni Kushi - Effective Communication

The Executive Director of Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) in Lowell and Lawrence, Lianni is a Lowell resident who is passionate about entrepreneurship and community development. At EforAll, Lianni works to fulfill their mission of accelerating economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in mid-sized cities. Now in five cities in Massachusetts, the organization supports entrepreneurs start businesses both small and large in scale with a number of programs, including a pitch contest series and semi-annual startup accelerator that helped hundreds of entrepreneurs advance their businesses.

Lianni is a member of the Asian American Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, serves on the Greater Lowell Community Foundation Board of Directors, and is an Associate Member of the U.S.-Japan Council.  Previously she worked at the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership and Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs' Program on U.S.-Japan Relations.  Lianna received her B.A. from Smith College and her M.A. in Economic and Social Development of Regions from the UMass Lowell.

Workshop 7

Community Organizing for Change

Urmitapa Dutta

An assistant professor of Psychology at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Dr. Dutta is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Work, Peace and Conflict Studies program, and Global Studies program at UMass Lowell. She joined UMass Lowell in 2012 after completing her Ph.D. in clinical/community psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Her doctoral dissertation on community-based approaches to understand and address ethnic conflict received two distinguished awards: the 2013 Best Dissertation Award in Community Psychology and the 2014 Illinois Distinguished Dissertation Award from the International Association of Qualitative Inquiry. 

Dr. Dutta’s research program examines the ways in which different forms of violence – direct, structural, and cultural – mediate the lives of diverse communities. She uses community-based and participatory action research approaches to develop community-based interventions to address different forms of violence and marginality. Dr. Dutta and her research team have also been involved in a photovoice project with high school youth in Lowell. They trained youth participants in community photography, who then documented community assets and deficits using photographs. At UMass Lowell, she teaches a variety of community-based courses including a course entitled, “Everyday Peace: Community-based Approaches to Peacebuilding.” Dr. Dutta was awarded the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award at UMass Lowell.  Visit her website at http://www.urmitapadutta.com.

Workshop 8

Planning Effective Campaigns and Running Effective Meetings

Heleena Mathew

Currently an organizer at the Merrimack Valley Project, Heleena graduated from Brandeis Univerisity in 2-15 with a degree in International and Global Studies, and a minor in English. She was born in Akola, India, and immigrated to the U.S. when she was six to pursue an American education. During her freshman year at Brandeis, Heleena worked as a grassroots organizer for the campaign to reelect President Obama and built support for him on campus. Over the summer, she passed on her knowledge to a team of community organizers and staffed events for the President and First Lady. She went on to become the Co-Campus Director for Massachusetts in the Obama 2012 Presidential campaign. In this position she managed approximately 200 students and built college teams from the ground up to campaign throughout New Hampshire. She spent an academic year abroad in South America.

Heleena is passionate about rights for immigrants and women and hopes to work toward progress for both these groups. During her 2013 Segal Citizen Leader Summer Internship, Heleena worked at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, with Segal Founder Carolyn Casey as her Segal Coach.

Mary Tauras

Lowell-Alliance staff member Mary was born in Guatemala to American-born international aid workers who both came from low- to middle-income families.  Before the age of 18, Mary moved 10 times and has lived in or visited 12 countries. She holds her MA in Community Psychology from UMass Lowell, with a Graduate Certificate in Peace and Conflict that focuses on community resilience, civic engagement, program development and evaluation, advocacy and public policy.

In her role as Family Advocate with Lowell Alliance, she interfaces with the Department of Children and Families and other agencies, while working to help families learn about local resources, navigate systems to meet their needs, and build the civic-mindedness and confidence to become leaders in their own neighborhoods.