The people in Central Mass. are pretty incredible ~ always coming up with new and exciting ideas. Here are 14 that we think stand out from the crowd, so keep an eye on them this year!

Adam Reed Rozan
Director of Audience Engagement at Worcester Art Museum

When it comes to engaging the audience at WAM, Rozan, 35, of Worcester, is your man.

He helps ensure that the audience has a quality time. In fact, Rozan is the first person to hold this position and has been at WAM since Feb.1.

Rozan is especially excited about one major exhibit in 2014. The Higgins Armory collection will be on exhibit at WAM beginning March 28. This exhibit will be on display for two years. The Higgins Armory collection will be combined with WAM’s collection.


There are many classes you can take at WAM, and Rozan said his goal is to get people more involved, to “come in, meet in galleries and have discussions.”

Every Thursday, there is a nude model and there is also a drawing club, just to name a few of the activities at WAM.

Originally from California, Rozan likes to go around Worcester and explore the area. He usually winds up the day at Volturno or Armsby Abbey.


Alana GordonIMG_2454

Alana Gordon, 31, of Worcester, is not your average photographer. After suffering a knee injury while pursuing her passion ~ dancing ~ Gordon was forced to stop dancing competitively. She then turned her focus to photography.

Her photo shoots are not what you might expect. Gordon focuses on themed photo shoots that are “usually large productions,” with a Steampunk feel.

There will definitely be more themed photo shoots in 2014. Gordon likes to go by her own motto, “I don’t copy; I create.”  In the past, she has created photo series based on themes such as Alice in Wonderland, the seven deadly sins and more.

Gordon said she does not pick her models for her shoots based on looks; instead, she bases her picks on their personalities. She said she considers models to be artists, as well.

After a photo shoot, Gordon likes to unwind by hanging out with friends and those who worked with her to create another great series of photos.


Amanda RiikIMG_2420
Communication Specialist for the City of Worcester

In June 2013, Amanda Riik, 34, of Worcester, joined the city of Worcester as a communication specialist. She comes from a background that includes nine years of working in the public relations field. Now, she using those talents to promote all that Worcester has to offer.

Riik foresees a year of growth in 2014. “I have always been a motivated and determined person who strives for success,” she said. “The words ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ are not in my vocabulary, and the sky’s the limit to what I am going to do in 2014. I am a competitor at heart.”

Riik also serves as the secretary for the Department of Transitional Assistance Worcester Advisory Board and is a board member on the Worcester State University Alumni Board and Destination Worcester.

When she’s not working, photography is Riik’s hobby. She is self-taught photographer, and some of her photographs are currently on display at Blackstone Bistro Restaurant.


Barbara ZerilloIMG_2436
Founder of Worcester Young Professionals Women’s Group

About two years ago, when Barbara Zerillo, 29, moved back to Worcester, she was having difficulty meeting new people. The answer was obvious: Form her own group.

Zerillo, assistant director of Career Services at Clark University, said the Worcester Young Professionals Women’s Group is an LGBT group but is open to everyone. It has expanded its members from 10 in the first month to about 130 members two years later. Group members come from many different professions and use the group to socialize with each other.

Zerillo said she sees the group continuing to grow in 2014. She also would like the group to participate in more charity events.

In her spare time, you can find Zerillo running around the city, literally. “Running is a big thing for me,” she said.  Recently, Zerillo ran a half marathon and often participates in running 5Ks with her group members.


Crystal ByronIMG_2426
Artist, creator of Things to Do in Central Mass

Remodeling her family’s living room was what Crystal Byron, 31, of Worcester, had in mind. She never thought she would develop a new passion for her own artwork.

Byron has always enjoyed creating things in her spare time and decided to take things to the next level two years ago.

Byron uses mixed media such as LED lights, moss and other kinds of material to make her artwork, which she calls Living Room Landscapes on Etsy. “Whatever I think is going to look neat,” is her motto when gathering pieces to create her art. Byron finds making her artwork to be a time of relaxation and makes a few new pieces each month.

But that’s not Byron’s only creation. About five months ago, Byron started a website focused on fun things to do in Central Massachusetts. She was having a hard time trying to find things to do with her kids, so she had to do some footwork. The footwork led to her website.

A website and an art business? Byron is definitely someone to watch!


Dan DiRobertoIMG_2375
Real estate agent

After attending Quinsigamond Community College for a year, Dan DiRoberto’s brother introduced him to real estate, and he decided to give real estate a chance.

“After shadowing him for a few months, I decided to leave school after my first year and work in real estate full time,” he said. Now, DiRoberto, 24, of Worcester, is the leader of The DiRoberto Team under RE/MAX Advantage 1 and has three agents working under him.

In 2014, DiRoberto said he sees himself continuing to do even larger amounts of business than his team already has. His plan for 2014 will bring his business a larger inventory from landlords and sellers.

“So what I see as far as work goes for 2014 is growth and making ‘The DiRoberto Team’ well known in real estate,” DiRoberto said.

Working countless hours per week, DiRoberto said he does not find that much free time for himself. But he always manages to make it to the gym five days a week. He loves to be around his family and friends, and a Sunday Patriots game is a must in his schedule.


Jamaal Dockery and Matthew WeeksIMG_2389
Clothing Designers and founders of THERLGN

The idea of having a clothing line was never in the plan for Jamaal Dockery, 25, of Leominster, and Matthew Weeks, 24, of Worcester. RLGN began as a blog discussing what was going on in the fashion world.

Since the blog began in 2011, Dockery and Weeks have expanded their creativeness and started a clothing line, RLGN. They describe the line as as luxury street art pieces with influences from Yohji Yamamoto and Olivier Rousteing.

In 2014, Dockery and Weeks said they see their clothing line expanding. They also would like to see their products being sold in boutiques and online and plan to launch a new website in 2014.

This duo will also continuing to work with R&B musician, Sebastian Mikael, on upcoming style projects.

When taking a break from their busy work schedules, Weeks likes to indulge in listening to music and spending time with family and friends. Dockery also likes to spend time with his friends and family when he isn’t working.

“There is nothing more important than vibing with the family. When I’m with my friends, it’s nothing but laughter,” Dockery said.


James KeyesIMG_2428

From an early age, James Keyes, 34, of Sterling, has always been fascinated by artists and musicians.

“I wanted to do what they were doing! It seemed so much more exciting than anything else,” Keyes said.

So, in 1994, Keyes and a friend decided to start a band during their freshman year of high school. That’s where it all started.

In 2001, Keyes joined The Numbskulls and decided to go solo in 2009. With his sound described as “stripped down, bluesy folk with alt-country overtones,” Keyes released his latest album, The Middle, at the end of 2013.

This year, Keyes wants to get back on the road again. He has toured New England but never has ventured to the West Coast or the southern states. Keyes said he thinks it’s time to tour these regions in 2014.

Although playing music is his passion, Keyes found enough time to buy a house this past year. He said he’s definitely a homebody who enjoys hiking and relaxing by the fire.


IMG_2410Lauren Monroe
Founder of Worcester Think Tank

A singer, songwriter and actress, Lauren Monroe is as dedicated to changing the face of education as she is to the arts.

After graduating from University of Massachusetts Amherst, Monroe educated international students on Peace Boat. That got her thinking about what would become Worcester Think Tank.

Worcester Think Tank is an education resource center that focuses on science, technology and art.

Students ranging from 9-18 engage in courses, after-school programs and workshops at the Think Tank. Homeschooled children are encouraged to attend these courses also.

“Think Tank is a niche where homeschoolers can outsource,” said Monroe, 34, of Worcester.

In 2014, Monroe said the Think Tank will see a partnership with the Ecotarium, as well as Worcester Center for Crafts. There will be new teachers at these locations.

“The biggest realization for Think Tank is to expand collaboration and creative projects.”

There will also be an after-school program offered at Shaw Elementary in Millbury, Mass.

You can find Monroe listening to live music in her spare time, as well as providing her own live music. She also enjoys hiking and traveling when she has the time.


Matthew FosterIMG_2370
Owner of Foster Gallery

Matthew Foster, 39, of Worcester, opened his gallery in 2009 as a side hobby. This gallery wasn’t just for his work, but for local artists, as well.

Foster said his inspiration was a “desire to stay connected to the art community.” At Foster Gallery, the focus is community engagement.

There are usually six shows a year at the Foster Gallery. Foster said he pushes socializing between the artist and the audience with the use of technology.

In fact, Foster has opened shows via podcast to help engage the audience. Also, Foster has created a mobile app during the showings for interactivity with the audience. Not only are artists able to have their final works on display, but Foster also encourages them to show what he calls their “documents of process” ~ the sketches and different runs of trial and error that led them to their final works.

Foster has a full-time job working with technology. “My artwork is what I do in my spare time.” He also enjoys collecting original comic art.


Moses DixonIMG_2444
Legislative Aide

In January 2013, Moses Dixon, 26, Worcester, began working with State Rep., Mary Keefe (D-Worcester).

Originally from Hartsville, S.C., Dixon earned a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in community development from Howard University. He also served a full year as a Howard University Fellow to the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nevada).

“I first met Representative Keefe when I was interning for City Councilor Sarai Rivera as a graduate student at Clark University’s Master’s Degree in Community Development program,” Dixon said.

After countless hours of knocking on doors and making phone calls for Keefe’s election, Dixon was asked to work with her after she won the general election.

In regards to 2014, Dixon said, “I plan to continue to work for Representative Keefe as she moves into her second year of her first term.”

When Dixon has free time, he loves going to political events as well as jazz concerts. He also likes to hang out with friends, play golf and travel to Washington D.C. when he has the time.


Neema HakimIMG_2449
President of the
Worcester Student Government Association

Last spring, Neema Hakim, 21, of Worcester, was elected student co-president at College of the Holy Cross.

“Soon after that, I reached out to my counterparts at the other Worcester colleges, and before long, we were having regular meetings over the summer.”

Hakim and his counterparts were all in agreement that change could be enacted in the city, not only on the campuses. After being an official co-founder of the WSGA, Hakim was appointed president of the body. Now having partnered with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, WSGA is working with the city to identify retailers that will attract students to downtown and looking to start a conversation about making transportation more accessible for students.

“As a senior in college, 2014 seems filled with uncertainty right now. What I do know is that I want to be doing something worthwhile that has me working with people and improving the lives of others,” Hakim said.

In his spare time, Hakim enjoys playing piano. Several years ago he started teaching himself, and since then, it has always been a great way for him to reduce stress. “Music is my therapy.”


R.J. LintonDSC_0020
Project director for WPI’s Atlas Team

Ph.D. candidate and WPI graduate student, R.J. Linton, 35, of Worcester stays busy year round developing technology in the field of robotics.

Linton and his team are developing wheelchairs intended to give people with extreme mobility limitations ~ those who can’t operate a joystick or head-controller ~ independence.

“We do this by adding robotic components to their wheelchairs, which give them ‘auto-pilot’ and obstacle-avoidance features similar to a self-driving car,” Linton said.

In 2013, Linton and his team participated in the Virtual Robotics Challenge sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. The competition was part of the agency’s Robotics Challenge, which aims to recreate robots that can act as first responders to disasters.

Linton’s team ~ one of two with WPI members ~ programmed an Atlas humanoid robot, created by Boston Dynamics, which stands 6 feet, 2 inches and weighs 330 pounds.

When Linton steps aside from his busy work life, he likes to spend time with his son. Also, he likes to read, go sailing and work on his boat in his spare time.


Shelley Ashton-BriggsIMG_2401
Owner of Pathways to Wellness

Shelley Ashton-Briggs, 34, of Worcester, started her business in 2011 as a small private practice in mental health counseling. By 2012, the practice had grown into a group practice and what is known today as Pathways To Wellness Associates, LLC, which includes mental health counseling and wellness services.

Ashton-Briggs holds master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption College with concentrations in cognitive behavioral therapy and child and family therapy. She’s also a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts and a licensed professional counselor in Connecticut.

At Pathways, the focus is on mental health counseling services grounded in evidence-based practice and theory. The services Pathways provides include individual, family, group and couples counseling for all ages and wellness services, including massage therapy, reflexology and Reiki.

In 2014, “I would like to continue to bring on licensed mental health professionals that offer different specialties and experiences to group practice,” Ashton-Briggs said.

When Ashton-Briggs is not working, she enjoys running, spending time with her family and friends and enjoying the beauty of life, whether it be traveling or being near the ocean.


Catching up from 2012: Dan Donahue_DSC3261
Massachusetts State Representative

Dan Donahue was one of Pulse’s 12 to Watch in 2012. At that time, he was looking forward to joining Worcester mayor Joe Petty’s staff as Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Director.

Last year turned out to be an impressive year for Dan Donahue, 26, of Worcester. He was elected Massachusetts State Representative for the 16th Worcester District.

“As state representative, I have the wonderful opportunity to represent my district at the State House, as well as being a vocal leader in the district and working collaboratively with the city, local elected officials, businesses and neighborhood groups to continue to improve our area.”

In 2014, Donahue said he will to continue to work tirelessly for his district. He will be up for re-election in fall of 2014.

When he has the opportunity for time away, Donahue still plays hurling and likes to go hiking and fishing.