Campus Life

MWCC Dean of Students Jason Zelesky leads a tour of the new Student Center at Mount Wachusett Community College.

Walls are up and windows are going in at the new student center at Mount Wachusett Community College this week.

The $3.5 million project will create a 4,500-square-foot student space, which officials say will open by the start of the school year in September.

“An overwhelming majority of our students come here and spend the better part of their day here,” Dean of Students Jason Zelesky said. “There’s no comfortable, cozy recreation space for them to hang out in.”

The addition, called the Bemis Student Center, will include a study area, a “living room” with a hearth, an outdoor patio and vending machines.

Students will be able bring or rent from the college video game consoles to play on the two televisions.

“This is something our students specifically asked for,” Zelesky said.

The tables in the room will have built-in plugs, so students can easily charge laptops and other devices, he said.

Student service offices will be moved into new spaces off the student center as will campus police.

“We’re bringing student services and life together,” Zelesky said.

The space is being built on the footprint of a rarely used former plaza outside the the Haley Academic Center.

“We also called it the prison yard,” he said. “No students would hang out here.”

The paved area allowed water to leak into offices below and caused problems with heating and cooling systems in adjoining parts of the building, according to Zelesky and Associate Vice President of Facilities Jon Wyman.

Zelesky said the project will fix these issues.

The expansion is the first construction collaboration between a community college and the Massachusetts State College Building Authority in the state, according to Zelesky.

Of the total cost, the college will pay for $2.3 million through a 20-year loan. Bemis Associates Inc., a Shirley company, donated $500,000 to the project and the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance funded the remaining $700,000.

Erland Construction, a Burlington company, started the project in mid-May and plans to complete it within a hundred days.

The quick summer turn around means students won’t be disrupted by the construction, Communications Specialist Sam Bonacci said.

“It was done to ensure there is minimal impact on the students,” he said.

The plan for the project was developed under the administration of former college President Daniel Asquino, who also oversaw the construction of the new science center that opened last September.

The student center will open up to a new outdoor space that will feature wifi and seating.

The construction of a $3.5 million student center at MWCC has kicked off with the 4,500 square foot facility set to be completed in only 100 days. The student center is being partially funded by a generous donation of $500,000 from Bemis Associates, Inc through the Bemis Community Investment Fund.

“This project will create an epicenter of student life and activity at the heart of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Gardner campus,” said MWCC’s Dean of Students Jason Zelesky. “Our accelerated timeline creates the least disruption for our students and will have the student center operational for students as they begin their fall classes.”

The new student center will be located at the heart of the campus and fill a vital role for the college’s students. As commuters, said Zelesky, it is vital that students have a space to pass the time between classes, socialize and build a sense of community. This fall, they will have just that in a space that will be directly across from the cafeteria and face out to Green Street.

“The new student center will provide our students with a multipurpose space that they deserve and need,” said Zelesky who explained that the college has had student-dedicated spaces in the past but this will surpass them all and truly be student-centered from the outset. “We are so excited to be able to provide a comfortable social space that will be the center of campus life and student activities.”

The student center will feature versatile space where students can relax, hang out and socialize.

The goal was to create a versatile space where students can relax, hang out and socialize. The student center will feature a lounge and meeting space, group study area, game room and televisions. In addition to indoor space, the center will open out to a green space with outdoor wifi and seating.

Site work for the student center began the day after MWCC’s Commencement with demolition beginning before the Memorial Day weekend.

The center is being built through a partnership with the Massachusetts State College Building Authority. This is the first time that a community college has worked with the MSCBA on a building project and the college is excited about the partnership, said Zelesky.

Diane Gilliam Fisher will read excerpts from her book “Kettle Bottom” on April, 6.

Mount Wachusett Community College will host nationally acclaimed poet and author Diane Gilliam Fisher for a reading of selections from her book “Kettle Bottom” on April, 6.

“When Diane Gilliam Fisher reads from “Kettle Bottom,” she performs the poetry and resurrects the poignant voices of the past with an undeniable authenticity,” said MWCC English Professor Lorie Donahue who helped organize the reading. “She often intersperses the readings with details regarding the development of the work, allowing the audience a deeper understanding of her process. With quiet power and intensity, she really holds onto the room.”

“Kettle Bottom” is Fisher’s award-winning book of poetry that explores the West Virginia Mine Wars from the perspectives of those who lived and worked in the coal camps from 1920 to 1921. “Kettle Bottom” has won several prizes, including a Pushcart Prize and the Ohioana Library Association Book of the Year in Poetry. Gilliam also won the 2008 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing.

In her review of “Kettle Bottom,” Catherine MacDonald said, “Set in 1920–21, a period of violent unrest known as the West Virginia Mine Wars, the poems in Kettle Bottom combine compelling narratives with the charged, heightened language of lyric poetry. It is an unforgettable combination, one that characterizes the very best contemporary verse.”

The reading at Mount Wachusett Community College will take place on April 6 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the North Café. An additional reading will take place later that night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Athol Public Library at 568 Main Street.

Gilliam grew up in Columbus, Ohio, daughter of parents who were part of the post-war Appalachian outmigration, from Mingo County West Virginia and Johnson County Kentucky. She earned a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Ohio State and an MFA from Warren Wilson. Gilliam is the recipient of the 2013 Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation.

She lives in Akron, Ohio, where she works as a poet and quilter. She is currently working on two projects, supported by her two-year, $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award: a collection of poems titled “The Blackbirds Too,” and a Young Adult novel in poems that continues the voices of female characters from Kettle Bottom.

The poetry reading is part of the college’s Imagining Work humanities project from the MWCC Humanities Initiative that is funded through a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant as well as $1 million in funds from the MWCC Foundation.

The purpose of the endowment is to support collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching and research in the humanities and to engage MWCC students and residents in the North Central Massachusetts region in studies and discussions of enduring themes and ideas from the world’s rich cultural and intellectual traditions. The endowment will fund common annual themes to be integrated across campus curricula and woven into campus and community humanities programming.

Mount Wachusett Community College James Vander Hooven signs onto the CEO’s Against Stigma Campaign on Monday with Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director of NAMI Massachusetts.

James Vander Hooven, Ed. D, signed onto the CEO’s Against Stigma Campaign on Monday as he began his second week as Mount Wachusett Community College’s president.

“I cannot control the family or community support mechanisms our valued employees may or may not have at home. What I can control is our ability here, in the workplace, to be supportive of each other through the difficult times. This is an expectation I have for our College community,” President Vander Hooven said of his signing on to the The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) CEOs Against Stigma campaign.

NAMI Mass launched the CEOs Against Stigma campaign in 2015 with a grant from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. CEOs Against Stigma partners with the leaders of businesses, organizations and municipalities across the Commonwealth to educate and combat stigma. President Vander Hooven’s signing of the pledge Monday continued a commitment to fighting this stigma that previous President Dr. Daniel M. Asquino made last year.

“Mental health conditions affect one in five adults and are the leading cause of workplace disability. Even in the best workplaces, mental illness remains a secret on account of stigma,” says Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director of NAMI Massachusetts. “We are thrilled to have President Vander Hooven of Mount Wachusett Community College sign onto our CEOs Against Stigma campaign. His leadership role will help transform the way people think and act at MWCC.”

As part of this campaign, participating employers host In Our Own Voice, a NAMI signature program featuring two people living with mental illness who share their personal stories and how they are achieving recovery. The In Our Own Voice program has been recognized by a leading national mental health researcher as the most effective anti-stigma program in America.

Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is a nonprofit, grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. It is the state’s voice on mental illness, with 21 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental health challenges and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. To that end, the organization offers free, peer-led programs that provide resources, insights, coping skills and genuine support. To learn more about NAMI Mass, please visit namimass.org.

Senator Brewer cuts through the red tape ribbon at the naming ceremony for the Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement. Also pictured from left to right are MWCC Graduate John Day, MWCC Student Trustee Jasson Alvarado-Gomez, his wife Valerie, MWCC President Dr. Daniel M. Asquino, Brewer’s sister-in-law and brother, the Center’s Director Shelley Errington Nicholson and MWCC Student Jana Murphy.

The Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement at Mount Wachusett Community College was named in honor of Senator Stephen M. Brewer on Tuesday, March 7.

The dedication celebration highlighted the impact the Senator had during his decades of civil service in his numerous roles that culminated with his position as the influential Chair of the Commonwealth’s Senate Committee on Ways and Means. The ceremony also detailed the ongoing work of the Center that supports the civic engagement of over 2,800 students at the college with more than 400 community organizations. As a result of the Center, every year MWCC students provide an average of 135,000 hours of service to the community for an economic impact of $3.63 million.

The commitment to civic service and engagement from both Senator Brewer and The Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement make the naming of the center in the senator’s honor an ideal match, said MWCC President Dr. Daniel M. Asquino.

“One can’t become a truly conscious member of society in a democracy unless one has an appreciation for the essence of democracy. That is engagement, compassion, caring, involvement and sacrifice for the common good. These are the qualities epitomized by Senator Stephan Brewer and that is why we are here today,” said Asquino.

In attendance were a number of governmental representatives, some of whom took the stage to speak about Senator Brewer’s wide-ranging influence, commitment to the entire Commonwealth and personal interactions that defined his time in the legislature. The various officials highlighted the Senator’s commitment to truly serve – whether that meant putting large budgetary changes into real terms describing how people would be impacted by cuts or being there when tragedy struck.

State Senator Jennifer Flanagan said Senator Brewer epitomizes public service, while Fitchburg Mayor Steven DiNatale spoke to the Senator fundamentally being a good person and State Representative Jonathan Zlotnik said that the Brewer name is perfect for the Center.

“We have all learned so, so much from Senator Brewer throughout the years,” said Senator Anne Gobi who filled his seat after his retirement. “He took to heart those words of Hubert Humphrey that we take care of those in the dawn of life, in the twilight of life and in the shadows of life. And for the students who are going to benefit from being at this center, if you can keep those things in mind you will pay the right homage to this gentleman right here.”

In addition to those that knew the Senator during his career, three speakers from the college talked about the ongoing influence of the Center and the Senator. Jasson Alvarado-Gomez, Student Trustee at Mount Wachusett Community College, told the story of how a comment the Senator made to him one day, saying that he would be a senator himself someday, in the halls of the school opened his eyes to the vast possibilities the future held.

“I want to tell you something. Someday, when I become a senator, I am going to go back to college and I am going to tell some kid sitting by himself you are going to be a future senator,” said Alvarado-Gomez.

The other two speakers addressed the influence the Center, which helps students not only reach out into the community but connect with other students and the community at the school.

“During my first semester, the Center became my anchor, it became a second home. It is the reason I feel connected to Moun Wachusett Community College and why I am so proud to be a student here,” said Jana Murphy a current student and AmeriCorps VISTA member. “But it wasn’t until I hit my first rough patch that I realized how important it is to feel that kind of connection to your school. It was this connection that kept me from dropping everything when I had a hard time in my classes, or when life in general became overwhelming.”

“The Center is a vital part of this school. It helps those in need. It gives people hope. It shows the student population that we do care about their success. They are not alone,” said John Day who graduated in 2015 and now works part-time at the school while pursuing his Bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.

When Senator Brewer took the stage he talked about the commitment to learning that he sees in the students at Mount Wachusett Community College and how you cannot help but be inspired by the “miracle of learning” while at the school. The Senator said that he hoped the lessons of his life could have an impact on the lives of others.

“We know that none of us can do everything, but each of us can do something,” he said. “Thank you for this honor and responsibility.”

The dedication included a ribbon cutting with red tape standing in for ribbon to represent all the red tape that the Senator cut through during his years in the legislature. The Senator will have an office in the Center and continue his work inspiring and assisting students looking to make an impact on the world.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will deliver the keynote address during Mount Wachusett Community College’s Commencement on Wednesday, May 17.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will deliver the keynote address during Mount Wachusett Community College’s Commencement on Wednesday, May 17.

“We are delighted to welcome Attorney General Maura Healey to our campus as this year’s Commencement speaker,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “Her passion and ongoing work for justice for residents across the state aligns with our ongoing commitment to civic learning and fostering community engagement among our students. AG Healey is an outstanding example of how this year’s graduates can continue to be active members of their communities and greater society as they transition out of their time here at Mount Wachusett Community College.”

“I’m honored that President Asquino has invited me to speak at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Commencement this spring,” said AG Healey. “MWCC has a rich legacy spanning over 50 years as a school that prepares young adults to lead a life focused on serving a community that’s bigger than themselves. As your Attorney General, I’m proud to be speaking at a school that places such high value on ensuring that its graduates give back to their communities.”

Healey was sworn in as Attorney General on January 21, 2015. Since taking office, she has tackled issues touching the lives of residents across Massachusetts including the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic, escalating health care costs, workers’ rights and student loan costs. She has focused on strengthening consumer protections and on improving our criminal justice system.

Prior to her election, Healey helped lead the Attorney General’s Office as head of the Civil Rights Division and as Chief of the Public Protection and Business & Labor Bureaus. Healey graduated from Harvard College in 1992 and was captain of the women’s basketball team. She played professional basketball in Europe before returning to Massachusetts to attend Northeastern University School of Law. Early in her career, Healey clerked for Judge David Mazzone in the United States District Court in Massachusetts. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office in 2007, Healey was a junior partner at the international law firm Wilmer Hale (formerly Hale and Dorr), where she represented clients in the financial services, pharmaceutical, medical device, software, energy, biotechnology and professional sports sectors. She is a former Special Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, where she tried drug, assault, domestic violence and motor vehicle cases.

Steve Alves is the director and producer of the film “Food for Change.”

The director of the movie “Food for Change” will screen portions of his film and facilitate a discussion about the positive impacts of community involvement as well as his educational beginnings at a community college on March 2 at Mount Wachusett Community College.

“I want to encourage students and the general public to attend this screening. This film is a story of what can be done when people come together and are engaged with their community, which aligns with Mount Wachusett Community College’s ongoing commitment to service learning and volunteerism,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino.

“Food for Change” is a documentary film focusing on food co-ops as a force for dynamic social and economic change in American culture. The project began when filmmaker and co-op member Steve Alves was asked to make a film for the Franklin Community Co-op, located in Greenfield, Massachusetts. What resulted is a film detailing the history of co-ops and their influence.

At the free screening, Alves will show clips from the film as a means to spur discussion, stressing the impact that students can have if they work hard for their communities.

“As a group, we can come together to create pantries, create co-ops and community gardens and do a lot to not just deal with the food issues but deal with the structural issues that keep us away from each other and don’t let us become aware, active citizens,” Alves said.

But Alves’ appearance will not just be about the impact that students can have on their communities, but on their own lives. As a former community college student himself, Alves plans to discuss how this prepared him to be a film maker and how students can be bold and successful even if they do not have a lot of resources.

“I want to hold myself up as an example to the students of how I went into film making and by extension if you have a drive and a plan… you can go for it,” Alves said.

The screening and discussion will take place on Thursday, March 2 at 12:30 p.m. in the MWCC multi-purpose room. The public is encouraged to attend. The presentation is funded in part by Mass Humanities.

Kimberly Jones will speak at MWCC on Monday, Feb. 27 from 12 to 1:30 p.m.

Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time Speaker Series will be celebrating Black History Month with the presentation “Woman in Power: A multicultural perspective” on Monday, Feb. 27 from 12 to 1:30 p.m.

Kimberly Jones, Esq will discuss barriers of woman of color in the workplace, education, and politics. Jones serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and Communications at the Council for Opportunity in Education. Jones maintains various professional memberships, including the Committee for Education Funding, of which she served as President in 2014; the National Bar Association, for which she chaired the Legislation Standing Committee in 2014-2015; Women in Government Relations; and the Washington Government Relations Group.

Jones is a graduate of Yale University and the Georgetown University Law Center. In 2016, she was named one of the “40 Under 40 Nation’s Best Advocates” by the National Bar Association and received the organization’s Excellence in Activism Award.

Created this past spring by MWCC Gateway to College Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, the Tea Time Speaker Series fosters conversation among the college community and greater community on social and cultural issues and awareness. The Tea Time Speaker Series is a recipient of the 2016 MWCC Foundation Innovation Grant and will be sponsored by: Gateway to College, Mount Wachusett Community College’s Diversity Consortium, Massachusetts Education Opportunity Association (MEOA), New England Opportunity Association (NEOA), and TRIO alumni.

The event will take place at MWCC’s Gardner campus in the North Café. The event is open to the public and registration is available at mwcc.edu/teatime.

Mount Wachusett Community College will be holding special FAFSA Friday workshops on Fridays throughout February, March and April at the school’s Gardner and Leominster campuses.

These workshops will allow participants to get help with the completion of the 2017-2018 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ahead of the state’s May 1 deadline.

The workshops run every Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the Gardner campus at the Advising Center from Feb. 24 through April 28. Workshops will be held on Feb. 24, March 10 and 24, April 7 and 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. in Room 111 on the Leominster campus.

Registration for each event and a list of pertinent documents that participants must bring are available online at calendar.mwcc.edu.

Work from “Sculptures” by Mark Burnett includes this torso crafted out of bronze.

Mount Wachusett Community College’s East Wing Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of sculptures by Leominster resident Mark Burnett who will discuss his work at a free gallery talk on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Burnett’s exhibition entitled “Sculptures” features bronze works of art from the sculptor who works in mediums as varied as stone and fruit.

In his artist statement, Burnett recounted his first encounter with carving was with apples, in the third grade, a project in which his mother proudly saved for years. Burnett lives in Leominster, Massachusetts, works as a firefighter and hopes to further his art education and continue to demonstrate his artistic ability and exhibit his pieces to a public audience.

All are welcome to visit the gallery, attend the reception on Friday, Feb. 24 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and participate in the free gallery talk that will take place on Thursday, Feb. 16 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The exhibition is currently underway and will run until March 9.

The East Wing Gallery, housed in the Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center on the Gardner Campus, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to the exhibit from Burnett, a number of student works are shown in the space.