Campus Life

laptops for vetsThrough the generosity of corporations and individuals, student veterans at Mount Wachusett Community College have 16 new laptop computers readily available for their use while pursuing their college degrees.

Donations to the Laptops for Veterans program have topped $20,350, which has allowed the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success to replace five outdated computers and acquire 16 new ones that veterans and active military personnel can borrow as needed. The fundraising initiative was launched by MWCC Student Trustee and Army veteran Thomas Berger.

Earlier this year, Rollstone Bank & Trust donated $3,000, followed by Wayne Canty and the Canty Family Charitable Foundation, with a $5,000 donation. MWCC alumnus and 2015 commencement speaker Kevin Berg sent six laptops valued at $9,000. Additional donors include Heywood Healthcare President and CEO Winfield Brown, George and Mary-Beth Jones, Pat Dakota and Janice Kulig.

“We now have 16 laptops that are either in use or readily available for use, with the potential to replace them as needed,” said MWCC Veterans Services Director Bob Mayer. “We are grateful to all who have contributed to this initiative.”

The Veteran Success Center at MWCC was created five years ago to meet the unique needs of veterans transitioning to college.

Tax-deductible donations may be made payable to MWCC Foundation with “Laptops for Vets” in the memo line, and mailed to MWCC Foundation, 444 Green Street, Gardner, MA 01440, or contact Jo-Ann Meagher at To learn more about Laptops for Vets, visit

Magic of Motown band photo

The Magic of Motown will perform at MWCC in January to benefit the MWCC Foundation’s student scholarships and the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.

A musical journey through the Motown years will take place at Mount Wachusett Community College’s newly renovated Theatre at the Mount on Friday, Jan. 22 to benefit the MWCC Foundation scholarship program and the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg & Leominster.

The Magic of Motown at the Mount begins and 7:30 p.m. and features a cast of singers and dancers that recreates the harmonies, dance moves, stylish looks and legendary musicianship of the era. The performance includes the hits of Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gayle, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Isley Brothers and others.

“We are delighted to present this community event to benefit the Boys & Girls Club and the MWCC Foundation’s scholarship program,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We’re partnering to help students of all ages build a great future.”

Since 2001, the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has worked in youth development with young people ages 8 to 18 from many economic, social and family circumstances.

“From its beginning, the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has benefited from the generosity of individuals, corporations and organizations,” said Leominster attorney Justin Gelinas, chairman of the Boys & Girls Club Board of Directors. “We are grateful to the community for its ongoing support, particularly Mount Wachusett Community College, for serving as our primary sponsor and host of this event.”

Sponsors to date include Mr. & Mrs. Daniel M. Asquino, The Ronald M. Ansin Foundation, Heat Trace Products, Heywood Hospital, I/C Federal Credit Union, Enterprise Bank, Advanced Cable Ties, Fidelity Bank, HealthAlliance, Bemis & Associates, GFA Federal Credit Union, Workers’ Credit Union, Rollstone Bank & Trust, North Middlesex Savings Bank, Simonds International, Leominster Credit Union, Geosearch Inc., SimplexGrinnell, Zottoli Family Trust, Molds International, Mr. and Mrs. Scot Barrett, W.E. Aubuchon Foundation, Fitchburg State University, Dunkin Donuts, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Martino, and Hometown Bank.

General admission is $50 for the concert. Special VIP tickets are $100 and includes reserved seating and a cocktail reception.

For tickets and sponsorship opportunities, contact MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli at or 978-630-9276.

MWCC hunger banquet 2016

Students representing the world’s poorest shared meager bowls of rice and water, while a much smaller group, representing the world’s wealthiest, dined on a full meal during a hunger banquet hosted Nov. 19 by Mount Wachusett Community College’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement and Green Street Café.

Students representing the world’s poorest shared meager bowls of rice and water, while a much smaller group, representing the world’s wealthiest, dined on a full meal during a hunger banquet hosted Nov. 19 by Mount Wachusett Community College’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement and Green Street Café.

The event aims to raise awareness of world poverty and economic inequality by providing students with varying meals and levels of service, based on the distribution of income and on chance – very often the sole determinant of one’s economic standing. Participants representing the 20 percent of high-income individuals were served a pasta entre with vegetables, rolls and soda. Middle-income participants, who comprise 30 percent of the population, served themselves rice and beans. Finally, students portraying the 50 percent of low-income individuals sat on the floor and received one ladle of rice, no silverware and a cup of water.

While students ate, faculty and staff speakers highlighted a range of statistics on world poverty and hunger. An estimated 2.5 billion people live in poverty, while 870 million suffer from chronic hunger.

“The issue is not a shortage of food,” explained Assistant Professor of Philosophy Daniel Soucy. “There is plenty of food to feed the world now.” War, economic inequality, and place of birth are among the factors that determine one’s station in life, he said.

Following the banquet, students from each income group reflected on the experience.

“The least we can do is feed people,” a young woman from the middle bracket called out. “I feel it’s the least we can do to make this world just a little bit better.”

Tickets to the banquet were sold for $1 and the money raised was donated to MWCC’s Students Supporting our Students (SOS) office food assistance program to help students in need.

The event is incorporated into a national initiative on economic inequality spearheaded by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. MWCC and Keene State College are co-leading more than 30 participating colleges and universities in the three-year initiative.

“It’s active learning,” said Shelley Errington Nicholson, MWCC Director of Community Learning. “I don’t think you can make this point in any better way than to do something like this.”



2016_BFV_COLLEGES-lowresMount Wachusett Community College has been designated one of the country’s best two-year colleges for veterans, service members and their families in the newly released Best for Vets 2016: Colleges list released Nov. 9 by Military Times Media Group.

MWCC ranked sixth among two-year schools, moving up a notch from last year. This is the sixth consecutive year MWCC has been recognized by Military Times as a top military and veteran friendly college. The announcement follows recognition last week by Victory Media, which named MWCC to its 2016 list of Military Friendly schools in the country.

“I am proud that Mount Wachusett Community College continues to be recognized as one of the top schools in the country for veterans, active members of the military and their dependents,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “MWCC has a long history of serving veterans, and we’re delighted to be recognized for our commitment to those who courageously serve our country. These students bring great leadership skills to our campus and ultimately to our workforce. They are a tremendous asset to our communities.”

MWCC veterans appreciation breakfast 2015

MWCC Veterans Services Director Bob Mayer, second from left, with student veterans Stanley Choruzek, Ben Blake and Barry Neal during the college’s annual Veterans Appreciation Breakfast on Nov. 4.

Long considered a haven for veterans over the past five decades, MWCC launched its Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success in 2010 to address the unique academic, financial, social and physical needs of veterans, military personnel and military families transitioning to college life. Student veterans are also active members of the campus community, participating in such clubs and organizations as the Veterans Group and Student Government Association.In August 2013, MWCC became one of the first 250 higher-education institutions to implement President Obama’s “8 Keys to Success” initiative to help boost academic opportunities and improvement employment outcomes for veterans.MWCC maintains community partnerships with the Montachusett Veteran Outreach Center, the Northeast Veteran Training & Rehabilitation Center operated by Veteran Homestead, Inc., the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services’ SAVE program, and local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.The Best for Vets 2016 list is an independent news project that evaluates organizations based on their support systems and campus cultures to provide a reference point for service members, military veterans and their families. In order be considered for the rankings, MWCC and other colleges documented these services in an extensive 150-question survey. More than 600 colleges participated this year.

“It’s been amazing to witness how colleges all across higher education have embraced service members and their families,” said Amanda Miller, editor of Military Times’ Best for Vets rankings and special editions. “Over the past six years of our surveys, we’ve seen so many schools first begin to foster – through new policies, services and dedicated facilities – and then nurture these wonderful communities. We award the Best for Vets designation to the very best – the colleges that really are setting the example,” Miller said.

The rankings are published in current issues of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times and online at, as well as,, and

For the full Best for Vets: Colleges 2016 rankings, go to:



Tina Sbrega

Board of Trustees Chair Tina Sbrega

Tina Sbrega has been reappointed chair of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Board of Trustees, and Leominster attorney and former state Senator Robert A. Antonioni has been appointed to serve, Governor Charlie Baker has announced.

“Tina Sbrega is a highly regarded leader on our board and in the greater community, and we are pleased that Governor Baker has reappointed her to continue serving Mount Wachusett Community College in this capacity,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are also delighted to welcome former state Senator Bob Antonioni to the board. He has been a strong advocate for our college, our students, and the residents, businesses and organizations that comprise North Central Massachusetts.”

Ms. Sbrega, president and chief executive officer of GFA Federal Credit Union in Gardner, has served on MWCC’s Board of Trustees since 2005, including the past three years as chair. She began her work with GFA in 1980 and served in numerous capacities at the financial institution before being appointed its chief official in 2009.

In addition to her volunteer service with MWCC, Ms. Sbrega serves on the board and is a past chair of the Heywood Hospital Board of Trustees, and is a past director and chair of both the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce and the House of Peace & Education in Gardner. In 2013 she cofounded the  Women’s Circle of Giving, a volunteer philanthropic group serving the greater Gardner region.

She earned an associate degree from Quinsigamond Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Roger Williams University.

Bob Antonioni

Attorney and former state Senator Robert A. Antonioni

Mr. Antonioni has practiced law since 1983, specializing in family law, residential and commercial real estate, estate planning and other areas. He served as a state representative from 1989 to 1992, representing Leominster and parts of Fitchburg and Lunenburg, before being elected to the state senate. From 1992 to 2008, he represented north Worcester County, including the cities of Leominster, Fitchburg, Gardner, and the towns of Ashburnham, Westminster, Princeton, Sterling, Lunenburg, Clinton, Bolton, Lancaster, and Ashby and Townsend in Middlesex County. He served as senate chair of Education, Arts and Humanities for about 12 years and also served on the Mental Health and Ways and Means committees.On Oct. 6, Governor Baker announced new members of the boards of trustees for public colleges and universities and designated chairs at several of the Commonwealth’s community colleges.

“I am pleased to welcome this group of impressive new trustees to our institutions of higher education and am grateful to the trustees who are willing to continue to serve with distinction in leadership positions,” he said. “They are all proven leaders in their communities and our community colleges and universities will be well-served by their deep commitment to our Commonwealth and their depth of experience in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.”

“These leaders will be able to hit the ground running and add value on day one,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “They understand the importance of ensuring that nearly 300,000 students on 29 campuses each year have the best possible opportunities for success.”

“I look forward to working with all trustees as we tackle the challenges that face our education system,” said Education Secretary Jim Peyser. “Together we will be able to ensure that our students continue to receive a top-notch education and meet the workforce needs of the future. I also thank all of the outgoing trustees who have served on our public higher education boards. Their contributions have been invaluable.”

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.