It's coming home for me

Eric Caron - The Standard Times

MMA Faculty Eric Caron teaching his dual enrollment class at the GNB Voc-Tech.
Photo credit Mike Valeri/The Standard Times

NEW BEDFORD — Eric Caron sat in The Lighthouse Cafe at Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech, part of the culinary shop where some 30 years ago he learned to make a “mean chocolate tart.”

“It’s coming home for me,” said Caron, 53, now a retired United States diplomat and special agent.

These days, he’s back in a Voc-Tech classroom, this time at the front of the class, teaching a new after-school dual enrollment course on transnational crime as an adjunct professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

“A kid from culinary,” said Pauline O’Brien, a medical assistant teacher and wife of Superintendent James O’Brien. With perseverance and grit, “It’s a perfect example of you can do anything you want to do,” with a vocational-technical education, she said.

Sitting behind a plate of wild mushroom tacos recommended by the superintendent who’s been a mentor to him, Caron described himself as someone who came from “humble beginnings.” He grew up as one of seven kids with not a lot of money and he had some learning difficulties and hearing issues as a child, he said. He visited the Schwartz Center several times for speech.

His dad, Edmond, his hero and a “decorated” New Bedford police officer, died of a heart attack at the age of 46 when Caron was 16. Months later, his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. His twin brother, Eddie, died at age 28 as a result of myocarditis.

Caron followed his father’s footsteps into law enforcement. He said his dad taught him the principles of being “switched on” with the focus on the importance of education, the importance of having faith and sleeping, eating and exercising. “Switched On: The Heart and Mind of a Special Agent” is the title of Caron’s book which was published in April.

By training the mind, the body will follow, he said. “Your mind’s a weapon,” Caron said. “Your voice is a weapon.” In the case of a perceived threat, one can say “no” or yell something to distract the person, even for a second, and attract witnesses.

Caron has worked on international drug cases, helped rescue children from child pornography and managed operations that identified and disrupted international weapons of mass destruction proliferation networks, which became his specialty, he said.

In 2007, he managed the raid at the Michael Bianco factory where some 360 undocumented workers were taken into custody. The factory was located a block from his childhood home on Emery Street.

Caron has also played a role in creating the Legal and Protective Services program at Voc-Tech.

“He hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from... we are proud as a school that we (were) fortunate enough to have him grace his presence here as a student and it’s an awesome accomplishment that he’s back educating our students in his college course that he’s teaching,” James O’Brien said.

Last year, Mass. Maritime Academy was looking to expand its dual enrollment program to SouthCoast and because the campus is a 20-minute drive away from the New Bedford area, access can be a problem for students, said Elizabeth Stevenson, vice president of external affairs. The solution was to provide transportation for students to and from the campus. This worked well, Stevenson said, and allowed students to get a taste of a college atmosphere.

However, Caron volunteered to bring the class to Voc-Tech. So students can still experience a college environment, there are two field trips to the MMA campus, where they can spend time in laboratories, classrooms and the library.

After completing the course, students are issued an official transcript from MMA which they can submit to the college of their choice and transfer the credits. Dual enrollment courses are typically three credits, and thanks to a grant from the Mass. Department of Higher Education, the course is free.

“I’ve sat in these chairs and I know what these kids are going through for the most part,” Caron said.

A little after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Caron took to the front of the room to talk about terrorism in front of 10 students.

He noted that people often hear about international terrorism but what about domestic terrorism?

Paul Semedo, a junior in the Legal and Protective Services shop cited last week’s shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people. He also noted the killing of nine African-Americans at the at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The U.S. as a nation doesn’t spend enough time talking about domestic terror, Caron said.

Semedo later said he wants to study political science and pre-law and this class is a good tool to have. Plus, it gives students an idea of what it’s like to have a college professor, he said.

Tricia Fernandes, a junior, said students like her in the Protective and Legal Services program wouldn’t learn about transnational crime, especially to this degree, in other classes.

“When we came in, we didn’t know really anything about transnational crime,” she said.

Zyre Andrade, a junior, said Caron’s “switched on” philosophy has helped him develop life skills. The class has introduced him to more of the outside world and has given him a different perspective, he said.

“There’s more than just New Bedford,” Andrade said. “There’s more than just the United States.”

By Aimee Chiavaroli / achiavaroli@s-t.com
The Standard Times
Posted Nov 1, 2018 at 7:19 PM - The Standard-Times
http://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20181101/its-coming-home-for-me