BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Two Danvers High graduates and a Salem resident are among the “29 Who Shine,” 29 students with outstanding academic careers who represent one of the state’s 29 community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts campuses.
“We’re proud to salute a group of students who individually and collectively represent the very best that Massachusetts public campuses produce each year,” said Charles Desmond, state Board of Higher Education chairman and Danvers resident in his introductory remarks, supplied by the board.
This is the third year for the “29 Who Shine” awards.
Anthony Pira, Salem State University
Pira is a professional photographer who has photographed political campaigns, architecture, high-end homes, ad campaigns and brides on their wedding day. His work celebrated life, he said, but he felt something was missing when he looked back at his body of work.
“I needed to really focus on what I was giving back to my community,” said Pira, who hails from Seattle and who has lived in Salem for five years.
Pira became interested in social work and applied to the program at Salem State University, one of the most competitive programs in the state, according to Salem State University spokesperson Karen Cady — 45 percent of applicants were accepted for the upcoming fall semester, she said. Pira graduates May 16, and will perform his second internship this summer.
Pira is in the process of starting a nonprofit called the Social Works Foundation, an organization that would allow artists, or others who work independently to find a way to use their talents to give back to the community.
He learned a lot, he said, during an internship with the National Association of Social Workers, which exposed him to the workings at the Statehouse as he lobbied for different bills. He also learned a lot when he mounted a large, outdoor photo exhibit called “Invisible Faces,” which displayed large photographs of homeless young people on a building in Cambridge who attend the Youth on Fire drop-in center on Massachusetts Avenue. The exhibit brought to light the plight of homeless young people, who are invisible hanging out in Harvard Square, but whose images on a building sparked awareness.
Pira said the project was something he did on his own, and was not something to fulfill a job or school requirement. It drew the support of his professors, one of whom took a taxi from Salem to Harvard Square to see the exhibit. Other professors donated to Youth on Fire. The Salem State University community supported his work like a family would, Pira said.
Lauren Underwood, UMass Dartmouth
Lauren Underwood, 22, is a 2009 graduate of Danvers High whose career path in civil engineering was sparked by a guest speaker in her AP calculus class at Danvers High, she said. In high school, she had no idea what she wanted to do in college, but the talk on civil engineering intrigued her enough to pursue the major at UMass Dartmouth.
Underwood, who graduates May 12, is active in the UMass Dartmouth community. She is well-known as the lead ambassador in the admissions office, helping to train new hires who give campus tours, and she works in the office to plan tours for other student ambassadors. She serves on the Civil Engineering Committee and the Undergraduate Engineering Student Council, the secretary of the American Society of Civil Engineers and is the chairperson of the New England Regional Concrete Canoe Competition. This competition, which was held last weekend, involves teams building a canoe made of concrete.
Underwood is not only focused on civil engineering. The 2008 Danvers Community Council Youth Volunteer Award winner continues to be involved, volunteering with the Workers Education Program in New Bedford, teaching older adults English as a Second Language, math, reading and literacy skills.
Nicholas Lovasco, North Shore Community College
Lovasco, 21, graduated from Danvers High in 2010, but he said back then he did not apply himself in school. Commencement was a wake-up call.
“As soon as I graduated, I said I really should do something with my life,” Lovasco said.
He enrolled in North Shore Community College where a friend brought him into student government. He was elected Student Government Association president during the 2011-2012 school year. The community college’s student government rallied against legislation regarding changes to community colleges. It also started a peer mentoring program and a scholarship to go with it, he said.
In addition to working with community outreach groups, his poems and essays have been published in the college’s literary magazine, Spark.
Because of his interest in student government, he applied for and won the Senator Frederick E. Berry scholarship, which led to internships with Berry’s office, and with Gov. Deval Patrick’s office of Community Affairs, where he helped coordinate the Governor’s Youth Council, among other things.
After graduating from North Shore Community College (Lovasco is the student commencement speaker on May 23), he plans to attend Salem State University and pursue a degree in biology, and teach high school after college. He wants to pursue a career in community development or law, and someday run for office.
“I think there is always a second chance for everyone,” Lovasco said, “no matter where you come from or who you are.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.