Campus Life

TGN Tea Time April 2016 Group 1

Educators and students from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community spoke on understanding differences over sexual identity at Mount Wachusett Community College. From left, instructor Jennifer Stephens and student Eden Shaveet watch as student Anders Bigelbach speaks. News staff photos by Andrew Mansfield.

GARDNER – Equal respect and consideration for one another was the takeaway message at Mount Wachusett Community College on Monday, as the school held a panel discussion featuring members of the LGBTQ community.

The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans¬gender and Queer.

A group of six students and educators, a majority from the Mount, talked to a public audience about their experiences being someone who is not heterosexual, or does not identify with the gender they were born as.

Each panel member touched upon encountering people during their lives who were unaccepting or at least not familiarized with what it means to be LGBTQ – being outside the traditional social norms surrounding sexuality and gender identification.

“A lot of times I get (from other people), ‘I just don’t believe in it.’

I’m not Santa Claus, so whether you believe it or not, it exists. …

If you don’t want me to get married in your church, I respect that.

But I deserve the same civil rights and liberties,” said Catherine Zabierek, a Mount student studying biological sciences who is lesbian.

The other panel members included: Adam Edgerton, an English teacher who has worked in China and is gay; Eden Shaveet, a Mount student who is bisexual; Charlie MacCall, a University of New Hampshire grad working in online marketing who is a transgender gay man; Anders Bigelbach, a Mount student who is bisexual; and Jennifer Stephens, a Mount instructor in the Advanced Manufacturing program who is a transgender woman.

Tea Time April 2016 Group 2

Mount student Catherine Zabierek listens as University of New Hampshire grad Charlie MacCall speaks.

While the politics of LGBTQ rights was touched upon – including the recent North Carolina “bathroom law” requiring people to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate – the conversation was mostly personal, being affecting in its sincerity. Shaveet is studying psychology in the Mount’s Gateway to College program, which offers dual-enrollment to high-school students, allowing her to achieve college credit prior to graduating high school.

Growing up as bisexual, she spoke about the insulated feeling that comes with not being accepted by peers.

She told the audience about how she switched schools in the seventh grade after being bullied in the hopes she would be treated better at a new school.

“But by the third week I was put into a locker. …The bullying and aggression really took a toll on me,” she said, adding that the environment at the Mount, though, has been accepting.

Bigelbach, also bisexual, is pursuing creative writing in the Mount’s Gateway to College program.

He fielded a question about the notion that being different is a conscious choice as opposed to simply being how one naturally feels.

He said he asks people who believe sexuality is a choice if they chose to be straight.

“You don’t make that choice. It’s not like (choosing) I’m going to have juice instead of water today,” he said.

The panel also took the time to go over some of the positive moments in their lives that have come through their experiences being in the LGBTQ community, particularly the power they’ve found in coming out as who they are and the relationships they’ve formed.

Stephens said she used to be known as a “guy’s guy” before coming out publicly as a transgender woman at the school she used to teach at, leading a transgender student to subsequently come up to her and say “for the first time in my life I have a role model.”

Being open about her gender identity was a huge step forward for Stephens personally.

She didn’t do so until she was in her fifties after watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show called “Born in the Wrong Body.”

“I actually didn’t like myself. I thought I was an awful person who wanted to dress in women’s clothes,” she said.

The role of parents in the process of coming out and living as one’s true self was also touched upon by the panel, with some good and some bad family reactions being mentioned.

Edgerton shared a fairly new anecdote regarding his mother and North Carolina’s “bathroom law,” which has come under heavy criticism from the LGBTQ community and its supporters.

He is originally from North Carolina and his mother still lives in the state.

He said she hasn’t normally been a political protester over the course of her life, but she joined a protest demonstration of North Carolina residents recently in the state’s capital of Raleigh.

He said when they spoke over the phone about it, she explained herself by saying, “Well, you’re my son and they (the state) hurt my son, and that’s why I’m out here.”

He compared Massachusetts – which he described as being more open-minded – and his home state that he said is “not a very good place to be a gay man.”

He also spoke about how he notices attitudes toward LGBTQ people have improved overall during his lifetime, but there is still progress that can be made.

That theme of continuing progress through open dialogue and further understanding was the overarching theme of the panel, the idea that a common humanity should trump divisiveness over personal differences.

Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, April 26, 2016

Week of the Young Child Art Show 2016

Students and family members involved with the 10th anniversary art exhibit include Graphic and Interactive Design major Tom Hill, and education majors Terri Evan, with son Alden, Kelly Williams, with daughter Ashley, Kendyll Knight and Samantha Goodale.

Mix paintings, sculptures and other assorted artwork created by dozens of children, add cupcakes, some glitter, and heaping scoops of commitment and enthusiasm from MWCC’s Early Childhood Education faculty, students and community partners, and what do you get?

The 10th anniversary celebration of the Week of the Young Child Art Exhibit at MWCC’s Garrison Center for Early Childhood Education. This year, the event was also paired with an information session about MWCC’s early childhood education and elementary education academic programs for prospective teachers, sponsored by the Admissions Office.



Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago met with Mount Wachusett Community College students during his tour of the college.

Continuing his mission to spend a full day at each of the state’s public colleges and universities, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago took a whirlwind tour of Mount Wachusett Community College on Thursday, April 14.

The day began at MWCC’s satellite campus in Devens – which rekindled fond memories for the commissioner, who spent several years there as a child when his father was stationed at Fort Devens – and ended at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner with a meeting with the Board of Trustees.

In between, he met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, K-12 partners and business and community leaders, exchanging thoughts and ideas on a wide range of topics including an enhanced K-16 approach toward education, college accessibility, transfer pathways to four-year schools, industry partnerships, MWCC’s new science and technology building under construction and student support services. By late afternoon, he had this to say to college leaders:

“You’re innovative. You are getting it right here,” he told the trustees. “Now we’ve got to learn from your success and scale it up. I need this campus to spread the word about the work you are doing here.”

Under the leadership of President Daniel Asquino, MWCC’s ground-breaking work in dual enrollment, civic engagement, unique K-12 and industry partnerships and wrap-around services have grown into model programs, Dr. Santiago said.

“The campus is well positioned on a number of fronts, he said. “The support services that are provided to students on this campus are superb. The students feel well-served by everyone.”

Earlier in the day, the commissioner met with Mahar Regional School Superintendent Tari Thomas and Mahar administrators for a discussion on the continued success of the Gateway to College program for at-risk students, now in its 10th year, and the Pathways Early College Innovation School, now in its sixth year.

He also met with Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche, members of MWCC’s Access & Transition team and math faculty for a detailed discussion on college-readiness programs, including MWCC’s Math Modeling program, now offered in several area high schools to help reduce students’ need for math remediation in college.

At lunchtime, the commissioner dined on sandwiches, fruit and potato chips with a group of students that included teenagers in dual enrollment programs, career changers, student leaders and parents juggling family responsibilities, work and academic studies. He listened intently as they shared stories about unique challenges, as well as their career aspirations, and how the college is helping them reach their goals.

“No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, you really find your place here,” said student leader Stevie LaBelle.

During his session with business leaders, the commissioner discussed the significant role community colleges, like Mount Wachusett, play in the state’s economic and civic landscape. Two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s public institutions, and 90 percent remain in the state after graduating.

“The future of the Commonwealth really is going to rest on campuses like this.”




Participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series event on immigration include from left, MWCC student Mili Silva, Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, and MWCC Diversity Coalition co-chair Maria Gariepy.

Whether their relatives relocated to the U.S. generations ago or arrived just recently, participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s dialogue on immigration realized their family histories share a common theme: Their parents, grandparents, ancestors or even they themselves emigrated for the hope of a better life and greater opportunity.

More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out to discuss “Immigration and the Undocumented Student.” The March 28 Tea Time Speaker Series event was sponsored by the college’s Diversity Consortium and Gateway to College program, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

The forum was moderated by MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, who developed the Tea Time series as a way to create a dialogue around diverse issues that engages the college community and members of the greater community.

MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg/Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, opened the discussion on a personal note, describing her experience moving from Uruguay to Fitchburg at age 14 when the U.S. had a waiver agreement with Uruguay. While in high school, she realized how expensive college would be as an undocumented student.

Through scholarships, community service programs and support through MWCC, she earned her associate degree. Her immigration status was resolved while she was in college when her green card was granted, and she continued on for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.

Realizing the process for others can take decades and entail even greater struggles and obstacles, she has become a strong advocate for immigration reform. Her 40-minute presentation included an overview of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following her presentation, participants broke out into small group discussions, sharing a bit of their family history and their thoughts on the national debate on immigration reform. MWCC student Mili Silva, who was involved with planning the event, stood to thank the crowd for attending and asked for their support on this issue.

“I just hope the outcome of this event helps people become well informed on the issue.”

MWCC alumna Joan Mellanson of Gardner was among the community members attending. She shared in her group discussion that although she speaks with an accent, she was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a U.S. citizen. More than four decades after moving to Massachusetts as a young teenager, she said she still encounters judgment.

“I still feel like an alien at times.”



Robert Putnam Dan Asquino book signing

Political scientist Robert D. Putnam pens a note to MWCC President Daniel Asquino during a book signing that followed the author’s presentation.

The growing divide between the haves and have nots in America is “the most important domestic problem facing our country today,” renowned political scientist and bestselling author Robert D. Putnam told an attentive audience of students, educators and community leaders gathered at Mount Wachusett Community College on March 25.

Over the past four decades, “America has become a more segregated society in terms of education. Our country has become more divided and split among social lines than it used to be. This is a crucial matter for the future of our country and our economy,” Putnam, a Harvard University professor, said during an hour-long presentation filled with staggering statistics, tragic anecdotes and sporadic humor.

The event, sponsored by MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, was made possible through a grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Bowling Alone,” one of Putnam’s 14 books, was the inspiration behind President Daniel Asquino’s drive to make civic engagement a cornerstone of an MWCC education. President Asquino was joined by Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement, in welcoming the guest speaker. A booksigning and public dialogue followed the presentation.

Using examples from his latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Putnam explained that when he graduated high school, 80 percent of his classmates had achieved a higher level of education than their parents. As he and his peers went on to raise families of their own, they did so with the expectation that their children would do even better.

Those, like Putnam, who pursued a college education, did indeed forge a path that enabled their children and grandchildren to have greater opportunities, including access to higher education, extracurricular activities and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, classmates who did not attend college at first fared well in the local workforce, but then the economy tanked, factories closed and stores boarded their windows. Subsequently, their children and grandchildren are now worse off, and the condition is similar throughout the country.

“We’ve been here before,” Putnam said, reflecting on the class divide during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement over a century ago to make public high school education free and accessible led to the national ethos of the American Dream – the belief that through hard work, everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

“That turned out to be the best decision that Americans have ever made because it raised the productivity level of all Americans,” Putnam said. “Everyone was better off, and it leveled the playing field.”

Similar to the investment the nation made a century ago in public high school education, a renewed commitment to invest in education is needed to solve the class gap of the 21st century, Putnam said.

Solutions, he said, include greater support for early childhood education from birth to age four, and an investment in public education that provides equal access to sports, arts and other enrichment activities, rather than only to those who can afford to “pay to play.”

He also advocates for criminal justice system reforms, higher pay for teachers who work in low-income schools, more intensive mentoring for children, and encouraging stable, caring families by boosting wages.

Expanding access to higher education is also part of the solution he said, explaining that community colleges are like highway “on ramps” that lead to a better life.

“A shared investment in everyone’s kids was key to American growth in the past, and it is key to restoring the American Dream today.”



Mentors recognized by MWCC students during this year’s Women’s HerStory Project include, from left: Michelle Contey, Amy LaBarge, Sue Blain, Joyce Kulig, Maryann Kane, Sara Williams, Eveliz Rivera-White, Susan Guartafierro, Emily Carr, Denise Whitney and Lea Ann Scales. Missing from photo: Melissa Manzi and Donna Tully.

Faculty and staff members who play an instrumental role in the lives of MWCC students were recognized on March 24 during the college’s annual Women’s Appreciation Day. The celebration capped a month-long of activities and events in celebration of Women’s History Month.

For the eighth year, students in Professor Susan Goldstein’s Journalism I class have interviewed and written feature articles on women who are making a difference in the lives of others. The mentors recognized through the Women’s HerStory Project are nominated by MWCC students.

This year’s honorees are: Sue Blain, Advisor; Emily Carr, Adjunct Professor, Graphic & Interactive Design; Michelle Contey, Academic Counselor; Susan Guartafierro, Admissions Office Clerk; Maryann Kane, Early Childhood Education Professor; Joyce Kulig, Retention Specialist with the Visions Program; Amy LaBarge, Academic/Disabilities Counselor; Melissa Manzi, Mental Health Counselor; Eveliz Rivera-White, Financial Aid Advisor; Lea Ann Scales, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications & K-12 Partnerships; Donna Tully, Associate Professor of Nursing; Denise Whitney, Administrative Assistant in the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development; Sara Williams, Management Assistant with the Visions and Rx programs.

Their photographs and inspiring stories are on display in the South Café throughout the month.





Alternative Spring Break 2016 MWCCA group of MWCC students and staff members spent part of spring break as home builders with Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts to benefit a family in Ayer.

The day-long volunteer effort on March 16 marked MWCC’s 9th annual Alternative Spring Break, organized by the office of Student Life and the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

The service project provides an amazing opportunity for students to learn new skills while giving back to others, said Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, who initiated the college’s Alternative Spring Break in 2008.

In addition to Clement, Shelley Errington Nicholson, Director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, and Sarah Savoie, Student Services clerk and certifying official participated, along with students  Jana Murphy, Priscilla DePaula, Kate Zebierek and Kevin Figueroa.


The Blarney Brainiacs, winners of the second annual Mount Wachusett Community College Alumni Network quiz night, accepts the trophy from Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Bellina, who served as one of the event’s three judges. Team members, from left, are Jessica Connors, Jennifer Welch and Ramon Gonzalez of MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, and Brian Scales of RCAP Solutions.

The Blarney Brainiacs, winners of the second annual Mount Wachusett Community College Alumni Network quiz night, accepts the trophy from Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Bellina, who served as one of the event’s three judges. Team members, from left, are Jessica Connors, Jennifer Welch and Ramon Gonzalez of MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, and Brian Scales of RCAP Solutions.

Trivia buffs from Mount Wachusett Community College and the greater community made a spectacular showing at the MWCC Alumni Network’s second annual “Quiz Night” scholarship fundraiser, held March 16 at the Gardner campus.

In a dynamic game of question and answer, 17 teams tested their knowledge related to a variety of topics. Teams were encouraged to give themselves humorous names and to come dressed in costume. Many did, adding to the amusing atmosphere. Complementing the levity of the evening was Master of Ceremonies, Mayor Mark Hawke, whose quick wit kept the crowd entertained. 

“It’s very exciting to see the enthusiasm around this event growing,” said Carol Jacobson, Associate Director Alumni Relations at MWCC. “The number of teams participating nearly doubled this year from last, and we are thrilled with the level of support and enthusiasm we received from members of the community and within the college.”

The event raised $4,300 and proceeds will fund student scholarships through the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation.

The Blarney Brainiacs, comprised of team members Jessica Connors, Jennifer Welch and Ramon Gonzalez of MWCC’s Access & Transition division, and Brian Scales of RCAP Solutions, took first place for answering the most questions correctly, and also won the award for best costume.

“To participate in an event so fun and engaging while raising money for the alumni scholarship fund was a win-win,” said Connors, the team’s captain. “We were looking for redemption after a close two-point loss last year and could not have been more excited by our victory this year.  It was a true team effort.”



Visions Ms Manners 3 Ifra Chelsea Jillian

Ifra Hassan, Chelsea Garrity and Jillian Manty were among the MWCC students participating in a business dining etiquette luncheon, hosted by the Visions and Rx programs.

In today’s job market, it is becoming more common for employers to seek ideal candidates through a series of interviews. One of these interviews could be over lunch or dinner with one or more members of the search committee. This type of environment can be extremely stressful for a candidate who is trying to put his or her best foot forward.

To provide MWCC students with tips on which fork to use, where to place their bread plate, and reminders to keep their elbows – and their smart phones – off the table, the college’s Visions and Rx programs recently hosted an Etiquette Luncheon for Rising Professionals.

Carol McGuiggan (aka Ms. Manners), a professional in business protocol and dining etiquette, provided instruction on proper interview dining to a group of students and staff. Business faculty Linda Bolduc and Elmer Eubanks- Archbold also attended.

Students learned how to properly shake hands, seat themselves at a table, engage in appropriate table conversation and comport themselves in other table manners.

The federally-funded TRIO programs provide academic and personal support to first generation and low-income students as well as students with documented disabilities. Students who meet at least one of these criteria are eligible to apply to the programs.

The Etiquette Luncheon is just one of the many activities and events which introduce students to new experiences and life lessons.



MWCC student Rafaela Lopes, who created the social venture Go Make a Difference, is the recipient of the inaugural United Way Youth Venture Bob Chauvin Leadership Award.

Homelessness. Poverty. Hunger. Illness. Mental health. The environment. Finding solutions to these and other social issues are confounding to even the most experienced adults.

Fortunately, area teens and adolescents are stepping up to become part of the solution, as demonstrated in the first United Way Youth Venture community expo. The event, held March 9 at the Great Wolf Lodge, showcased the wide-ranging, inspiring social ventures of North Central Massachusetts youth.

Business and community leaders turned out to see how teams of young social entrepreneurs are leveraging their passion and skills to generate unique solutions to school and community challenges, including homelessness, autism awareness, support for foster children, environmental conservation, animal welfare and many others.

Over the past decade, the program has grown from 150 students to 6,500 student participants this year and is the largest UWYV program in the world.

UWYV was established in 2002 when the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Mount Wachusett Community College and Ashoka’s Youth Venture partnered to help area schools integrate youth-based social ventures into their curriculum, afterschool activities and special events. More than a dozen schools in the region participate, with many others expressing interest in starting a program.

“You are really making a difference. You are inspiring people,” UWYV Assistant Director Lauren Mountain announced to the gathering of enthusiastic participants, who were joined by family and friends.

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC vice president of external affairs, communications and K-12 partnerships commended the young social entrepreneurs for their dedication, passion for addressing some of society’s most pressing problems, and rising leadership roles in the community.

“The work of these venture teams shows me that we have nothing to be worried about when we talk about our future.”

The winner of the first UWYV Bob Chauvin Leadership Award, Rafaela Lopes, 18, of Leominster, was presented with a $1,500 scholarship. The award is named in honor of Chauvin, the recently retired president and CEO of SimplexGrinnell, for his support of UWYV locally and nationally.

A dual enrollment student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, Lopes created the social venture Go Make a Difference when she was 15. Over the past three years, she has led her team in fulfilling its mission to help the community locally by providing regular birthday celebrations for homeless children, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts, and most recently, a service trip in February to an impoverished village in Haiti.

Three $1,000 UWYV scholarships were presented to Leominster High School students Maggie Mbengue (The Children’s Education Fund); Morgan Tait (Go Make a Difference);  and Hannah Dike (Friends of Rachel’s Challenge).

“The things I do to help are not difficult – anyone can brighten a day or lighten a stressful load,” said Lopes. She was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others by creating a youth-run social venture that would help young people experiencing or close to homelessness, as she had experienced as a child in Brazil before moving to Massachusetts seven years ago.

“I look for ways wherever possible to help others, but often feel frustrated because so much help is needed in the world, and I want to do more.”