Campus Life

Dr Amjad Bahnassi

Dr. Amjad Bahnassi

Mount Wachusett Community College and Heywood Healthcare are presenting an open forum, “Radical vs. Real: Islam in the Modern World,” on Monday, Oct. 19 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the South Café at MWCC’s Gardner campus. This forum is free and open to the public.

The event stemmed from discussions between Heywood Healthcare President Winfield Brown, MWCC President Daniel Asquino, Heywood physician Dr. Tariq Malik and others on promoting understanding about the difference between the Muslim faith and the violent, radical organizations making global headlines.

Dr Saleem Khanani

Dr. Saleem Khanani

Topics will include an overview of Islam, the world’s second largest religion; political unrest in the Islamic Middle East; and radical Islam vs. real Islam; followed by a question and answer session. The forum will be led by members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, who have participated in similar dialogues at colleges, libraries and other venues throughout Worcester County.The speakers, who are all U.S. citizens, include Dr. Saleem Khanani, a hematologist and oncologist affiliated with Heywood Healthcare and St. Vincent Cancer and Wellness Center in Worcester; Noman Khanani, teacher of Islamic studies; and Dr. Amjad Bahnassi, medical director of Behavioral Health Services in Worcester. MWCC Legal Studies Professor James Korman is serving as moderator. Light refreshments will be served.

Noman Khanani

Noman Khanani

“There are so many misconceptions about the religion and the people, Muslims,” Dr. Khanani said. “The goal of the forum is to motivate the audience to learn about Islam directly from Islamic resources, rather than be influenced by the media hype. The activities of the minority do not reflect the beliefs of the majority.”Dr. Khanani was born and raised in Pakistan, where he graduated from medical school. In 1992, he emigrated to the U.S., where he completed his residency at St. Vincent’s and later worked at UMass Medical Center.

His son, Noman Khanani, is a graduate of Hartford Seminary’s master’s in Islamic Studies Program with a concentration in Muslim-Christian Relations and also holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He teaches and presents sermons in Muslim communities throughout central Massachusetts.

Dr. Bahnassi was born in Syria, where he graduated from medical school. He was trained in psychiatry at UMass Medical Center, and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at UMass Medical School.

“Through our discussions with local leaders, we are presenting this forum to bring a better understanding of the Muslim faith to our students, professors and staff, as well as our greater community,” said President Asquino.

“It is my hope that this open forum will help clarify many misconceptions about Islam, the second largest religion throughout the world, while helping us to embrace the diverse cultural fabric which is the hallmark of our country and our region,” said Mr. Brown.

MWCC Kaila-SecPeyser-CommSantiago

MWCC Student Kaila Lundgren shared the stage with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, left, and Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago at the Department of Higher Education’s first Go Higher! event of the academic year.

Kaila Lundgren, a Pre-Healthcare Academy student at Mount Wachusett Community College, shared the stage with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser and Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago during the state’s first Go Higher! event, held Sept. 24 at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.

Lundgren, a 2015 graduate of Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School, told an assembly of 350 seniors that she was inspired to become a registered nurse to help her 7-year-old brother, who lives courageously with a rare, chronic kidney stone disease called cystinuria, and by her mother, who became an RN after studying at one of Massachusetts’ community college while raising a family of five children.

One of six student speakers, Lundgren said she chose MWCC because of its fast-track option into the college’s nursing program through its Pre-Healthcare Academy. Following a year of earning good grades in co-requisite courses, including anatomy & physiology, psychology and statistics, she and other academy students are immediately accepted into the healthcare program of their choice at MWCC. In less than three years, she will be graduating with her nursing degree and practicing in a field she loves, she said.

Lundgren, who also coaches field hockey at Mahar, advised the students to pursue their dreams.

“Follow your heart.”

Go Higher!, previously known as Go Public! gives Massachusetts high school students a chance to discover the programs and opportunities available at the state’s 29 public college and university campuses. The event at Monty Tech launched a series of statewide events that will take place at various high schools throughout the academic year to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

Secretary Peyser encouraged the high school audience to take a close look at the Commonwealth’s 29 public community colleges and universities for the abundance of program options that cost a fraction of private institutions.

“Massachusetts public higher education has a program and a course of study for you. Like all things in life, you get out what you put in,” he said.

Commissioner Santiago noted that two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts are enrolled in the state’s public institutions. “College will transform you,” he said.

Monty Tech Superintendent Sheila Harrity and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education hosted the event, which was also attended by State Rep. Stephen DiNatale.

In addition to Lundgren, students representing UMass Lowell, Fitchburg State University, Worcester State University, Quinsigamond Community College and Massachusetts Maritime Academy also spoke about their college experiences.



More than 100 students at the Mount packaged 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday.

More than 100 students at the Mount packaged 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday.

GARDNER – Packaging macaroni during the 20th annual United Way Day of Caring, Jennifer Gariepy had flashbacks to her youth.

“I actually grew up on some of these,” said Ms. Gariepy, a student at Mount Wachusett Community College. “I remember eating them … recently I was down at a low point and had to go back on them, actually.”

More than 100 students volunteered their time packing 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday. The event is one of the Mount’s largest community service endeavors every year.

“It’s part of the fabric of the college,” said MWCC President Daniel Asquino.

Students, who typically volunteer to work an hour shift, say the event helps them appreciate what they have and boosts their self confidence.

“It feels great knowing this is going to go to people who need it,” said second-year student Jason Alvarado Gomez.

To Ms. Gariepy, it feels better than great.

“It’s so different to be on the other side of the table,” she said. “It’s so nice to help someone who has been where I have been.”

When she had to go back to a food bank as an adult to support her two children, she remembered feeling disbelief.

“I thought, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe I have to go to a food pantry’,” Ms. Gariepy said. “I came to think of it as kind of a gift from God. When you’re down and out, it’s okay to accept it.”

This was Ms. Gariepy’s first time volunteering at an event like the Day of Caring. She had heard about it from a friend and seen posters advertising it around the school.
As soon as she had the information, she knew it was something she wanted to do.

During her shift, she was all smiles as she counted out the bags of macaroni, packaged them in shipping boxes, and taped them up. It was, she said, “fairly easy work,” but she knew how much it would mean to someone.

This is the Mount’s third year participating in the Day of Caring. During their shift, the students packed the one millionth bag of food over the United Way of Northern Worcester County’s 20 years.

“Thank you for packing these thousands of meals,” said United Way President Phil Grzewinski. “By what you are doing here today, you are allowing greater food security.”

Patriot Riders flag ceremonyStudents and employees at Mount Wachusett Community College paused in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks, then joined in a card-writing project to thank men and women in the region who serve as first-responders and in the military.

The Patriot Riders returned again this year to lead flag ceremonies at the Gardner and Devens campuses, which were followed by a reading by Bob Mayer, MWCC Director of Veteran Services. Carrie Progen, a 1995 alumna from Ashburnham who worked at the World Trade Center, was among those remembered.

Student Government Association President Carrie DeCosta, who lost a friend in the attack on the World Trade Center, distributed patriotic ribbons to those who signed thank you cards to who serve others. Cards will be available for signing at the Gardner campus through Sept. 18 before they are distributed to active military personnel, veterans and first responders in the region.

President Asquino signs a thank you card to first reponders and service members, an initiative organized by SGA President Carrie DeCosta.

“We want our service men and women, our veterans and our first responders to know they’re appreciated, and they’re appreciated every day, not only on days of tragedy,” DeCosta said.The events were coordinated by the college’s Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, and the Student Leaders in Civic Engagement (SLICE) program, a new initiative of MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.


President Asquino photoThe start of a new academic year is always an exciting time at MWCC, and this year is no exception.

Over the summer, we broke ground on our new science, technology, engineering and math building and began much-needed renovations to the Gardner campus. The end result – modern facilities that will benefit all students, a renovated theatre, enhanced accessibility, and new office and meeting space – will make the temporary inconveniences during construction wholly worthwhile.

When completed in 2016, the new STEM building will include new laboratories, specialized space, and general classrooms, the replacement of the existing greenhouse and critical upgrades and accessibility improvements to the Haley building.

As the year unfolds, we’ll also witness more than physical changes to our college. Several new academic programs, new student support services, new faculty and staff, new transfer agreements, and new civic engagement initiatives will enhance our existing resources to help students build up their academic and career skills in preparation for the workforce or a bachelor’s degree.

In addition, MWCC continues its outreach into the community, through our students and alumni, as well as our many partnerships with K-12 school districts, business and industry, nonprofit organizations and individuals.

This month, the MWCC Humanities Project begins its second year with “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy,” an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and its relevance in today’s world. Throughout the year, free events will take place at the college’s Gardner campus and in the community at public libraries and other venues. The MWCC Humanities Project is funded through a matching $500,000 grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to deepen and sustain quality humanities programming and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

Among the many other highlights this fall, we are once again collaborating with business and industry to celebrate national Manufacturing Day on Oct. 2 at our Devens campus; and we will again join the SHINE Initiative and Heywood Hospital to present a free, Mental Health Awareness Conference on October 8.

I encourage members of our college community and the greater to take part in these thought-provoking events and discussions. In the words of 21st century philosopher Patricia Churchland, “Being engaged in some way for the good of the community, whatever that community, is a factor in a meaningful life. We long to belong, and belonging and caring anchors our sense of place in the universe.”

Together, we build a better future for all.

Musicians at the Mount New student orientation Sept 1 2015

Incoming MWCC student Ruben Figueiredo visits with  Musicians at the Mount club members Mike MacLean, with guitar, and Trevor Hanson during the college’s orientation for new students. MWCC’s academic year begins on September 2.

More than 1,000 new Mount Wachusett Community College students earned accolades for deciding to invest in their future through higher education, during a series of orientation sessions hosted by the college. Sessions were offered for day and evening students, veterans, dual enrollment students and students enrolled in specific healthcare programs.

A majority of the incoming day students attended orientation on September 1 in advance of classes beginning Wednesday, September 2 at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner, satellite campuses in Leominster, Devens and Fitchburg, and online.

President Daniel M. Asquino and college administrators welcomed the group with advice ranging from ways to achieve academic success to navigating around the main campus while a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building is under construction and other campus renovations are underway.

When completed next year, the renovations and new building will transform the college and enhance the academic experience for all students, he said.

Coordinated by the office of Student Life, the orientation sessions provide students with an opportunity to learn about college life and MWCC programs and activities. Students met with faculty, deans and advisors, toured the campus, received information about campus resources, and attended a student club expo. The event also included a presentation by national motivational speaker Jermaine M. Davis. He encouraged the students to identify their passion in life and then persevere until they achieve their goals.

“As you achieve your goals, your life will inspire other people,” said Davis, who also delivered a presentation to faculty in the afternoon.

“There are not too many opportunities in our lives when we can take the time and energy to invest in ourselves. This is one of those times for you,” said Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, adding that the college community recognizes each students as individuals. “You matter. Your success matters. And we want nothing more than to watch you grown and to see you achieve your educational goals.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs Melissa Fama, Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, Student Government Association President Carrie DeCosta, and Student Trustee Tom Berger also were among the featured speakers.

MWCC Leadership Academy 2015 backpack drive

Community service during the 11th annual Summer Leadership Academy included an outpouring of donations for school children in foster care. Volunteers filled 123 packpacks with school supplies.

Fifty-six incoming Mount Wachusett Community College students learned new skills, met new friends and volunteered in the community during the college’s 11th annual Summer Leadership Academy.

Participants attended educational workshops designed to enhance their academic and leadership skills, took part in team-building activities and completed civic engagement projects. Sponsored by the office of Student Life in collaboration with the college’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, the two-day program took place August 25 and 26 at the college’s Gardner campus.

Service projects included a back-pack drive to benefit children living in foster care in Massachusetts. Through donations from students, faculty, staff and local organizations and businesses, the drive yielded 123 backpacks filled with an array of school supplies. The drive  exceed the goal of 100 backpacks and broke the program’s previous record of 93.

Leadership Academy participants also volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts’ ReStore center in Leominster and Cathy’s House, a residential program for women veterans in Winchendon under renovation by the Montachusett Veteran Outreach Center. Volunteers also helped prepare the college’s Fitness & Wellness Center, nature trail and campus grounds for the start of the new academic year on September 2.

The Leadership Academy is designed to give new students a jump start on their first semester, said Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement. College faculty, staff, alumni and current students take part to ensure a meaningful experience for the incoming students, he said.

“This is one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s so rewarding to see new students come in as strangers and gain friends and confidence during the two-day program.”

“Leadership Academy is a great way to become involved in school and a great way to get to know your peers,” said volunteer Carrie DeCosta of Winchendon, president of the Student Government Association.

Student Trustee Tom Berger, also of Winchendon, said the service component provides new students with an opportunity to meet people at the college and in the community.

“It gives people a sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to give back to the community.”

Zoe Hammond of Templeton, who will begin her college degree as a dual-enrolled high school student in the Pathways Early College Innovation School, said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was great to meet people before starting classes.” Hammond said she particularly enjoyed a martial arts exercise that guided each student to break a solid board with their hand during a lesson on overcoming challenges and barriers. 

“It was inspiring.”


MWCC Beam signing ceremony group photo

State, local and college officials joined in Mount Wachusett Community College’s beam signing ceremony, signifying the completion of the structural frame of the college’s new science, technology, engineering and math building, slated to open in 2016. Attendees included President Daniel M. Asquino, retired state Sen. Stephen Brewer, Senator Anne Gobi, State Representative Stephen DiNatale, State Representative Susannah Whipps Lee, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke and MWCC Foundation board member Jim Garrison.

Poised with pens in Mount Wachusett Community College’s school colors of blue and green, state elected officials joined college and community leaders, trustees, foundation board members, students and contractors on Tuesday, Aug. 11 to mark a milestone in the construction of MWCC’s new 44,000-square-foot science and technology building.

This centuries-old tradition of signing the steel beam that “tops off” a building signifies the completion of the structural phase of a construction project. Dozens packed in to MWCC’s North Café to permanently add their signatures to the 10-foot beam, which will be the final and uppermost beam secured to the building frame next week.

“Thank you all for being here on this historic occasion,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “This is another step forward in the modernization of our campus and a brand new STEM building ready for occupancy a year from now.”

State Senator Anne Gobi, representing MWCC’s Senate delegation, described the new building as an “investment in education and an investment in the future” of the North Central Massachusetts region. “This community college has been a true building block for scores and scores of students,” Gobi said.

Retired Senator Stephen M. Brewer, who was instrumental in securing funding for the $41 million project that also includes renovations to the 40-year-old campus, also shared inspiring remarks during the event. Throughout the commonwealth, public schools, colleges and universities are undergoing expansions and renovations to meet the needs of 21st century students, invigorating the campuses and presenting students with greater opportunities to achieve their academic goals, he said.

“Everything that we do should be about the next generations, and that will happen here.”

State Representative Stephen DiNatale and State Representative Susannah Whipps Lee, an MWCC alumna, congratulated the college on behalf of the House delegation that represents the college’s service region. “These investments, these kinds of endeavors mean jobs. Education means jobs,” DiNatale said.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees and also an alumnus, spoke of the economic significance of the college and the new construction project to the city and region. “We’re ecstatic that this is coming to fruition.”

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships, served as emcee. When the building opens in 2016, it will include state-of-the-art labs and other amenities to enhance the education of all MWCC students, she said.

The building is designed to meet LEED gold certification to tie in with the college’s existing sustainability initiatives. The project is being administered by the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. Shawmut Design & Construction serves as construction manager.

Tom Berger MWCC Student Trustee

Tom Berger, right, a business administration major at Mount Wachusett Community College, is welcomed to the board by MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, center, and Trustee Amanda Landry during a swearing-in ceremony on Aug. 6.

Thomas Berger, a business administration major at Mount Wachusett Community College and a veteran of the U.S. Army, has been appointed student trustee on the college’s Board of Trustees for the upcoming academic year.

The Winchendon resident was elected by his peers to the one-year position during the spring semester and was sworn in on Aug. 6 during a brief ceremony at the college. As student trustee, he serves as a full voting member on the 11-member board.

“We welcome Tom to the Board of Trustees and look forward to his service, insight and dedication,” said board Chair Tina M. Sbrega.

“Tom is highly engaged on campus and in the community, and is a strong advocate for his fellow students,” said President Daniel M. Asquino.

Berger said he is looking forward to serving on the board and being a voice for all MWCC students.

“I thank my family, friends and the faculty and staff at Mount Wachusett for being there for me over the past year and a half of my college experience,” Berger said. “Their support has made a tremendous difference. I enrolled at the Mount to earn a college degree and have gained so much more.”

An active campus leader, Berger has served this past year on the Student Government Association and is a graduate of MWCC’s Leadership for Life program. He currently serves as vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, as a peer mentor with the Students Serving Our Students (SOS) program, and as a member of the Veterans Group, a student club affiliated with the Student Veterans of America. As a first-generation college student, he is also a member of MWCC’s Visions Program, a TRIO student support services program.

This coming year, Berger will serve as vice president of the state-wide Student Advisory Council, an organization that represents all 29 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

He has participated in many charitable endeavors including the United Way Day of Caring, the Student Emergency Fund, Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts, and the SGA Thanksgiving food drive. Earlier this year, he launched a Laptops for Veterans fundraising initiative to purchase new computers for the college’s Veterans Success Center for use by student veterans.

After graduating in May 2016, he plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management. Raised in a family with a history of military service, Berger served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1998 and was stationed for much of that time in South Korea and Germany.