Community Stories

MWCC faculty, staff and alumni gathered at the summit of Wachusett Mountain after completing the five-mile hike. Participants raised funds to supper the college's Humanities Project.

MWCC faculty, staff and alumni gathered at the summit of Wachusett Mountain after completing the five-mile hike. Participants raised over $5,000 to support the college’s Humanities Project.

With President Daniel M. Asquino leading the way to the summit of Wachusett Mountain, Mount Wachusett Community College began an annual tradition on the mild morning of Saturday, Oct. 18.

In the first “Hike for the Humanities” fundraiser, a group of MWCC faculty, staff and alumni simulated Henry David Thoreau’s 1842 hike of Wachusett Mountain, collectively raising over $5,000 for the college’s Humanities Project.

Under the leadership of English Professor Michelle Valois and Director of Grant Development Heather Layton, MWCC received a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) challenge grant to strengthen its humanities curriculum through the interdisciplinary project. The first-year theme, “East Meets West in a Cabin in the Woods: Walden and Beyond,” based on Thoreau’s 1854 classic, is being integrated into MWCC courses and community events.

“This is a great day for our college. The turnout speaks volumes about the commitment of our faculty and staff, who were more than willing to support a good cause and a singular purpose,” said President Asquino, the first to complete the five-mile Pine Hill Trail. “We plan to hold this fundraising hike annually for the duration of the Humanities Project to support continued enrichment opportunities for our students and members of the community.”

As the NEH will match all funds raised by 50 percent, MWCC will receive an additional $2,500, adding to its previous total of $225,000.

“The fundraising aspect is important, but this hike goes beyond supporting the Humanities Project,” said Valois, who coordinated the event and initially proposed hiking Wachusett Mountain. “Just as important is the opportunity to build morale among faculty from multiple academic disciplines in a natural and extended-office setting. We very much wanted to capture the spirit of Thoreau, and of course everyone loves to hike.”

“We pursued an NEH grant to engage faculty, staff and students, and this hike, coupled with the four other events to this point, has been exactly what we envisioned,” said Layton. “Through this event to jump-start the Humanities Project, we also hope to communicate to donors that our own staff is thoroughly invested in this initiative.”

Thoreau was selected as the initial focus of the Humanities Project due in part to his affinity for Wachusett Mountain, which he developed through a noteworthy 1842 expedition. Thoreau and his companion, Richard Fuller, walked 34 miles from Concord to the mountain’s summit, moving him to pen the essay “A Walk to Wachusett.”

As MWCC continues its slate of free community events, professors from the disciplines of English, biology, business administration, nursing, sociology, graphic design, early childhood education, photography and math are engaging students in Thoreau-themed activities.

Echoing some of Valois’ sentiments, Associate Professor of Math Festus Kiprono said faculty participants in the hike are simultaneously supporting a “very worthy cause” and promoting “camaraderie and togetherness” across several academic disciplines.

“As a math professor, I felt it was important to participate because this is an interdisciplinary project that helps us provide students with a well-rounded education.” Having scaled Mount Monadnock several times, Kiprono also recognized the hike for its fitness benefits.

Beginning next week, the MWCC Humanities project continues with five additional events during the fall semester. These events include two book discussions of Thoreau-inspired books, a performance by a Thoreau re-enactor, lecture by the executive director of the Thoreau Society, and final student presentations and exhibits.

For a full schedule of events, visit http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

Olivia Hoblitzelle, author of "Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple's Journey Through Alzheimer's," will speak at MWCC in honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month.

Olivia Hoblitzelle, author of “Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s,” will speak at MWCC in honor of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

In recognition of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in November, Mount Wachusett Community College and its Nursing Advisory Board will welcome author and Alzheimer’s caregiver Olivia Hoblitzelle. The presentation is free and open to the public and will take place on Thursday, Oct. 30 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the college’s theater. The presentation is free and open to the public and will take place on Thursday, Oct. 30 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the college’s theater.

Hoblitzelle, whose husband Harrison was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 72, offers a unique perspective on coping with the disease. Guided by their backgrounds in psychology, Buddhist meditations and the wisdom traditions, the Hoblitzelles chose to embrace the diagnosis and their remaining years together. Olivia Hoblitzelle details these experiences in her 2010 book, “Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple’s Journey through Alzheimer’s.”

As a teacher in the field of behavioral medicine, Olivia Hoblitzelle pioneered the application of meditation, yoga and cognitive therapy into treatment for stress-related and chronic illnesses. In addition, she helped to develop one of the country’s first training programs in mind-body medicine. Prior to his death in 2001, Harrison Hoblitzelle taught comparative literature at Barnard, Columbia and Brandeis Universities and received the Dharmacharya, or senior mediation leader, transmission from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thict Nhat Han.

Alzheimer’s Disease affects one in nine Americans aged 65 and older and one in three people over the age of 85, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The association also reports that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers paid an additional $9.3 billion in healthcare costs in 2013.

Upcoming Humanities Project events include a book discussion of“Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild” and a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith

Upcoming Humanities Project events include a book discussion of“Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild” and a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project, focusing this year on the lasting relevance of Henry David Thoreau, moves to the North Quabbin region on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Athol Public Library will host a book discussion of “Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Athol Public Library.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, the program returns to MWCC’s Gardner campus with a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith of the Thoreau Society from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the college’s theater.

In his book Cabin Fever, author Tom Montgomery Fate documents his own life, drawing inspiration from the philosophies of writer and abolitionist Thoreau and applying them to the present day. In perhaps his most literal application of Thoreau’s lifestyle, Fate divides his time between his family’s Chicago home and a cabin in the Michigan woods, which he built with the help of friends. Thoreau famously lived for two years in a self-built cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, MA, immersing himself in nature and writing the book “Walden.”

Originally from Ohio, Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith is also a regular at Walden Pond and the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering and has performed at schools, colleges and historical venues throughout the country.

A Massachusetts-bred writer, philosopher and naturalist, Thoreau was a progressive thinker during the 1800s, opposing both slavery and the Mexican-American War. His refusal to pay the poll tax, which was imposed on all adults within a community and helped fund slavery, landed him in jail for one night in 1842. Known for his blunt honesty and sense of humor, Thoreau was also a disciple of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a lover of the natural world, even labeling Mount Wachusett “the observatory of the state.”

Established through a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the MWCC Humanities Project will feature a full slate of free events spotlighting various works written or inspired by Thoreau. The project also includes a campus-wide initiative at MWCC, as the college works to integrate enduring themes raised by Thoreau into multiple academic disciplines and curricula.

For more information about the MWCC Humanities Project and a full schedule of events, visit http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

The Second Worcester District's two state representative candidates debated at MWCC in advance of the Nov. 4 general election. Pictured, from left, Steve Wendell of WGAW AM 1340, incumbent Jonathan Zlotnik and challenger Garret Shetrawski.

The Second Worcester District’s two state representative candidates debated at MWCC in advance of the Nov. 4 general election. Pictured, from left, Steve Wendell of WGAW AM 1340, incumbent Jonathan Zlotnik and challenger Garret Shetrawski.

The two state representative candidates in the Second Worcester District debated several issues at MWCC’s Gardner campus on Oct. 15, less than three weeks before Massachusetts’ Nov. 4 general election.

Incumbent State Representative Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner, and challenger Garret Shetrawski, R-Winchendon, articulated their views on gun control, medical marijuana, a potential natural gas pipeline and expansion of the Massachusetts Bottle Bill, government-mandated paid sick leave and casinos.

Steve Wendell of WGAW AM 1340 moderated the 90-minute debate, which was sponsored by the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce, MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement and The Gardner News.

The Second Worcester District is comprised of Gardner, Ashburnham, Winchendon and Precinct 1 in Westminster.

(Photo courtesy of Mapping Thoreau Country)

(Photo courtesy of Mapping Thoreau Country).

In a show of college-wide support for the MWCC Humanities Project, faculty, staff and students will walk in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau to the summit of Wachusett Mountain, a spot the noted author and philosopher once labeled “the observatory of the state.”

Participants in the first “Hike for the Humanities” fundraiser on Saturday Oct. 18 collectively aim to raise $6,000 for the Humanities Project and corresponding $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant. Hikers will each raise a minimum of $200 toward the $6,000-goal, with the NEH matching all funds by 50 percent.

Participants will walk either the rigorous, five-mile route taken by Thoreau or a more moderate two-mile path.

Through this grant, MWCC has implemented an ongoing humanities initiative, both on campus and in the community, beginning with this year’s theme, “East Meets West in a Cabin in the Woods: Walden and Beyond.” Thoreau was selected as the initial focus of the Humanities Project due in part to his affinity for Wachusett Mountain, which he developed through a noteworthy 1842 expedition. Thoreau and his companion, Richard Fuller, walked 34 miles from Concord to the mountain’s summit, moving him to pen the essay “A Walk to Wachusett.”

Participating hikers include President Daniel Asquino, Susan Blake, Greg Clement, Lorie Donahue, Susan Goldstein, Festus Kiprono, Heather Layton, Caela Kathy Panagiotes, Provost, Kara Roche, LeaAnn Scales, Madhu Sharma, Brenda Shelling-Biggs, Michelle Valois, David Wyman and Carla Zottoli.

To make a donation, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/mwcchike, click “donate to a fundraiser” and select a team participant.

Mount Wachusett Community College art student Amber Martinez created this Thoreau-inspired environmental sculpture as part of the college’s ongoing humanities project.

Mount Wachusett Community College art student Amber Martinez created this Thoreau-inspired environmental sculpture as part of the college’s ongoing humanities project.

While Mount Wachusett Community College professors find innovative ways for their students to examine Thoreau, the author’s lasting influence has also extended into the community.

On Wednesday night, the college held the second event in its ongoing series, “East Meets West in a Cabin in the Woods: Walden and Beyond,” the first year-theme of the MWCC Humanities Project. Approximately 45 people gathered at Levi Heywood Memorial Library for UMass Lowell Associate Professor Susan Gallagher’s presentation on the historic connection between Thoreau and climate-change research.

Thoreau observed the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord between 1851 and 1858, and his observations on nature allow scientists to monitor climate change over the last 150 years, she said.

Inspired by Thoreau and his deep appreciation for nature, students in Art Professor Tom Matsuda’s Sculpture 1 course are manipulating sticks, leaves and other natural materials to create temporary environmental sculptures throughout campus. Student sculptures are also reminiscent of those created by Andy Goldsworthy, the renowned British artist who works almost exclusively with natural materials.

“I like sculptures made from nature, and the college’s emphasis on Thoreau inspired me to develop this project,” said Matsuda. “For students, it opens up a different way of thinking about art and an appreciation for what’s around us and encourages creative problem solving. The response from faculty, staff, students and the community has been great.”

Amber Martinez, an art major from Winchendon, arranged leaves into a spiral shape on a rock. The way Thoreau and Goldsworthy connected with nature motivated her to forage for natural materials to create a sculpture, she said. “It was a wonderful experience to get out of the convention of traditional art.”

Fitchburg resident and art major Garrett Watson created the only indoor sculpture, a composition of twigs that is displayed in a skylight of the college’s art wing. “Working with raw materials, such as saplings, is different than many of the other things we’ve done,” he said. Just as Thoreau famously adopted a modest lifestyle while living at Walden Pond, Watson followed “a simple idea and design” to create his sculpture.

The MWCC Humanities Project will continue with five additional October events, beginning next week at the Gardner campus. A film screening of “Into the Wild” will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m. in room 127. A lecture titled “Thoreau’s Relevance for Our Time” will run from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the North Cafeteria.

Further events include a fundraising hike at Wachusett Mountain on Saturday, Oct. 18; a book discussion of “Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild” on Tuesday, Oct. 28; and a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith on Thursday, Oct. 30.

The MWCC Humanities Project was established through a 2013 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. “East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond” will feature a full slate of free events spotlighting various works written or inspired by Thoreau, as well as a campus-wide, interdisciplinary initiative.

For more information and a full list of events, visit http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

Chris JasonFor one night, Theatre at the Mount will become “Sinatra at the Mount,” as Mount Wachusett Community College welcomes Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band on Friday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Jason is considered one of the premier Sinatra interpreters in New England and has been performing as the “Chairman of the Board” for the last 15 years. Along with his eight-member band, Jason plays tribute to Sinatra over 200 times per year, capturing the legendary singer’s cadence, swagger and elegance.

This benefit concert presented by the MWCC Foundation will provide continued scholarship support to deserving students.

General admission tickets are $40. VIP tickets are also available for $80, which includes reserved seating and a complimentary cocktail reception.

Tickets are available by email, phone or at the Theatre at the Mount Box Office Monday through Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Email cdefosse1@mwcc.mass.edu, or call 978-630-9387 or 978-630-9276.

Event sponsors include North Middlesex Savings Bank, Heat Trace Products LLC, Heywood Hospital, W.E. Aubuchon Co., Inc., Simonds International Corporation, GFA Credit Union and Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce.

For more information about Theatre at the Mount, visit mwcc.edu/tam. To learn more about Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band, visit chrisjasonentertainment.com.

 

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas speaks with Mount Wachusett Community College biotechnology students Dana Procell and Savannah Cooke during a tour of the college’s Devens campus Monday. The Congresswoman joined state and college officials to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas speaks with Mount Wachusett Community College biotechnology students Dana Procell and Savannah Cooke during a tour of the college’s Devens campus Monday. The Congresswoman joined state and college officials to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki, Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian, and dozens of regional business and community leaders gathered at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Devens campus on Monday, Sept. 29 to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

The event marked the success to date of a $15.9 million multi-year Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant MWCC and three partnering schools in Ohio, Louisiana and Tennessee received last fall to develop and expand advanced manufacturing programs in partnership with industry.

Governor Deval Patrick proclaimed Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 as Advanced Manufacturing Week in Massachusetts, underscoring the administration’s support of the robust advanced manufacturing industry and its workforce throughout the Commonwealth. The week-long celebration coincides with national efforts to promote the role advanced manufacturing plays in the economy, with the third annual National Advanced Manufacturing Day being celebrated on October 3.

“It is both gratifying and timely to see North County manufacturing experiencing a renaissance,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are grateful for the Congressional assistance we received to be the lead institution with three other colleges to develop curriculum in conjunction with employers’ needs. We have seen 70-percent placement among our 82 graduates and are amazed at the opportunities in North Central Massachusetts for mid-level employees.”

As she visits companies throughout her district, Congresswoman Tsongas said she is “constantly struck by the level of innovation” she sees among industry and public partnerships. Mount Wachusett “is committed to educating the workforce, the young people and the not so young, is committed to being a partner with local businesses, and is mindful of the true manufacturing skillset needed,” she said.

“Manufacturing is thriving and growing in all parts of the state, not just in Boston,” Secretary Bialecki said. “Schools like Mount Wachusett are listening to businesses and understanding what it means to train people for 21st century advanced manufacturing careers.”

Secretary Kaprielian quipped that “every day should be manufacturing day” because of the industry’s enduring significance to the state’s economic development. “This is not your grandfather’s manufacturing, and it is not dirty, polluting or imported. It is knowledge-based with a career ladder,” she said. “Nowhere are you training people better than at the community college level. Mount Wachusett is an example for the rest of the state.”

President Asquino welcomes students and job seekers to the college’s Manufacturing Day expo, held Oct. 3 at the Devens campus.

President Asquino welcomes students and job seekers to the college’s Manufacturing Day expo, held Oct. 3 at the Devens campus.

The manufacturing week kick-off event included a tour of the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and biotechnology labs. Speakers also included State Senator Jamie Eldridge, State Rep. Stephen DiNatale and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

The event also coincided with Monday’s White House announcement that the Massachusetts Community Colleges Consortia will receive an additional $20 million grant under the final round of TAACCCT funding. The 15-member group, led by Massasoit Community College, received the grant to continue advancing state-wide initiatives addressing the training and educational needs in the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – as well as advanced manufacturing and healthcare. The Consortium was awarded the highest-funded of 66 U.S. DOL grants.

At MWCC, the new round of funding will be used to create and enhance certificate programs in career readiness, hospitality, cyber security, information technology and other areas.

In recognition of National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 3, MWCC’s Devens campus hosted an Advanced Manufacturing Career Expo. Attendees toured the manufacturing and skills-training labs and participated in hands-on exercises and individual information sessions.

Purity Apiri was one of 200 volunteers who packaged meals for those in need during MWCC’s United Way Day of Caring project on Sept. 18.

Purity Apiri was one of 200 volunteers who packaged meals for those in need during MWCC’s United Way Day of Caring project on Sept. 18.

Capitalizing on its students’ eagerness to participate in community-engagement activities and a successful first year, Mount Wachusett Community College hosted its second annual United Way Day of Caring at its Gardner campus on Thursday, Sept. 18.

Through the leadership of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, more than 200 volunteers packaged 20,736 meals for food pantries and veterans centers in North Central Massachusetts. An additional 200 meals are being made available to MWCC students struggling with food security through the college’s Students Serving Our Students (SOS) program.

“Civic engagement has been the cornerstone of our college for the last two decades, and it is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, whose educational philosophy and college curriculum have long stressed civic engagement. “As Americans, we have an obligation to give back, and we are thrilled that our students and faculty can confront the major issue of hunger by helping  individuals in North Central Massachusetts.”

MWCC became a Day of Caring host site for the first time in 2013, following years of participation in the program and appeals from students wishing to donate their time. This year, the center organized 75-minute volunteer shifts from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. to accommodate students’ class schedules and maximize the number of meals distributed throughout the community.

“This is a very important undertaking because we are supporting food pantries throughout North Central Massachusetts, most of which have low stocks,” said Fagan Forhan, Director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement. “Volunteer turnout this year has surpassed our expectations, so we made the decision to up the ante from 16,000 meals to 20,000 meals.”

Outreach, Inc., an Iowa-based nonprofit that also operates in the Northeast, provided supplies to create packages of meals consisting of macaroni and cheese and rice and beans.

Forhan credited the increased turnout to MWCC student and AmeriCorps VISTA John Day, who spearheaded the recruitment process. Among the many volunteers, MWCC student Jasson Alvarado Gomez arrived at 7 a.m. and unloaded an entire truck by himself.

“I get to school at 7 a.m. every day, so I was happy that I could help set up before the event started,” said Gomez, who, in his first year of volunteering, worked three shifts. “Helping people gives me so much energy, and I love doing it.”

MWCC participated along with numerous other organizations in North Central Massachusetts, recognizing the 19th Annual United Way Day of Caring.

Thoreau quote sign

Along the trails at Walden Pond in Concord.

This month, Mount Wachusett Community College launches “East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond,” the first year of a multi-year, college and community project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The MWCC Humanities Project will begin with a book discussion on Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau, famed Massachusetts author and the focus of this year’s initiative. Led by MWCC English Professors Michelle Valois and Susan Blake, the discussion will take place Wednesday, Sept. 17 from 6:30 to 8p.m. in the Commons Area of the college’s Gardner campus and is the first in a full slate of free events taking place this fall at venues throughout North Central Massachusetts.

Other upcoming events include a fundraising hike at Wachusett Mountain, a performance by a Thoreau re-enactor, and additional lectures and book discussions on the lasting relevance of Thoreau. Established through a $500,000 challenge grant the college received from the NEH,  the project will continue through 2019 with a new theme each academic year.

In late May, 30 MWCC educators spent a day walking the trails at Walden Pond in Concord, where Thoreau lived in a cabin for two years writing Walden, one of his most famous works. The visit was part of a week-long academy to prepare for the multi-disciplinary learning project devoted to the author’s influence and relevance to today’s students.

“Thoreau considered himself as much a scientist as a poet,” said Professor Valois, chair of the college’s Liberal Arts and Sciences and General Studies department and coordinator of the NEH project. “Thoreau’s scientific observations and inquiries are still relevant today and have given rise to the ‘citizen science’ movement. And as the creator of the modern concept of civil disobedience, Thoreau provides a perfect vehicle for examining the power and responsibility of the individual citizen in a healthy democracy.”

The program will continue with: “What Thoreau Can Teach Us about Climate Change,” a lecture led by Susan Gallagher of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell on Wednesday, Oct. 1 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Levi Heywood Memorial Library in Gardner; a screening of the film Into the Wild on Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m. in Room 127 of MWCC Gardner campus; “Thoreau’s Relevance for Our Time,” a lecture led by writer and independent Thoreau scholar Corinne Smith, on Thursday, Oct. 9 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the North Cafeteria at the Gardner campus; A Hike for the Humanities matching grant fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 9 a.m., reenacting Thoreau’s 1842 hike at Wachusett Mountain; a book discussion of Tom Montgomery Fate’s Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild on Tuesday, Oct. 28 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Athol Public Library; and a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith of the Thoreau Society on Thursday, Oct. 30 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the theater at MWCC’s Gardner campus.

Fall events will continue with a book discussion of Ken Ilgunas’Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom on Nov. 6 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Leominster Public Library; a lecture on “Thoreau: Eastern Philosophy and Non-Violence,” by Michael Frederick, Executive Director of the Thoreau Society, on Tuesday, Nov. 18 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the North Cafeteria at the Gardner campus; and an exhibit with student presentations on Thursday, Dec. 4 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., also at the Gardner campus.

Spring activities will include additional book discussions and a poetry reading. For more information about the program and upcoming events, visit http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.