Community Stories

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program have topped $20,350, which has allowed the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success to replace five outdated computers and acquire 16 new ones that veterans and active military personnel can borrow as needed.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.

Jesse Derleth with Carolina Silvera and Whitney Bailey

Jesse Derleth, center, Mount Wachusett Community College student activity officer for GEAR UP, assists Fitchburg High School seniors Carolina Silvera, left, and Whitney Bailey with their college applications during the Massachusetts College Application Celebration coordinated by the college and the high school’s guidance department.

A majority of Fitchburg High School seniors will celebrate Thanksgiving with more than a meal under their belts. By the holiday, more than 92 percent of the class will have submitted their college applications for fall 2016.Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg High partnered to bring the Massachusetts College Application Celebration to the school this week. This is the fourth year Massachusetts has participated in the national initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Education’s GEAR UP program and the second year the event has been held at FHS.

By the morning of Day 2, the class had exceeded the event’s 90-percent goal and was well on its way to reaching the high school’s 100-percent goal.

“The Massachusetts College Application Celebration has been a great opportunity to motivate and excite our students about a crucial part of the college success process,” said High School Principal Jeremy Roche.  “The ultimate goal of having 100% of our seniors apply to college before graduation reinforces the high expectations we have as a school community. This event highlights that college and career readiness is the goal for every FHS student,” he said. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is administered by MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition in partnership with the high school through a grant  from the U.S. Department of Education. The majority of students in the graduating class of 2016 have received intensive college access and success services since middle school. With so much preparation behind them, students were eager to participate in the application challenge this year, said MWCC GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin.

Specific services include academic counseling, tutoring, homework support, after school academic and social activities, college awareness and financial aid workshops MCAS, PSAT/SAT preparation, and college admissions assistance.

By encouraging high school students to apply to college early in their senior year, they are more likely to apply to several schools and find the best match for their academic goals, said Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good work to help them succeed in middle school and high school, and we’re coming to the point where it all pays off. They have a lot of milestones this year – applying to schools, being accepted and receiving financial aid packages, and ultimately enrolling. We’re extremely proud of these students,” she said.

Damon Thammalangsy, who plans to study business at the University of Texas, said GEAR UP has helped him navigate through the steps of applying for college, financial aid and scholarship while developing leadership skills. “It opened a lot of opportunities for me.”

Inspired by her mother, Jaelyn Sanchez, plans to study psychology and ultimately earn her master’s degree and pursue a career working with children with autism. While earning her degrees, she is also following in her grandfather’s footsteps, serving in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Carolina Silvera is preparing to enroll in MWCC’s Pre-Healthcare Academy, which leads students directly into the college’s nursing program following a year of co-requisites. The GEAR UP program not only helped her transition to college, but transition to the U.S. after moving from Uruguay a year ago.

The GEAR UP team “was there for me every step of the way,” said Whitney Bailey, an aspiring attorney. “They are more than staff, they become mentors.”

Lunenburg fire dept  MWCC students 1

Lunenburg Fire Chief Patrick Sullivan, firefighters Skyler Kozloski, Benjamin Boudreau and Tyler Pelkey, and Fred LeBlanc, MWCC Fire Science Technology program coordinator and former Leominster Fire Chief.

Three Mount Wachusett Community College students are receiving hands-on training as on-call firefighters with the Lunenburg Fire Department while pursuing their college degree in Fire Science Technology.Tyler Pelkey, 20, of Lunenburg, Skyler Kozloski, 20, of Fitchburg, and Benjamin Boudreau, 19, of Leominster, all certified Emergency Medical Technicians, have spent the past year serving overnight shifts at the fire station as part of the unique “live-in” component of MWCC’s associate degree program.

Concurrent with their academic training and experience with the department, the trio completed 240 hours of training over the past four months with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy’s Call/Volunteer Training Program. They graduated on Nov. 5, and are now fully appointed members of the Lunenburg department as on call firefighters.

“Lunenburg has been an outstanding host of this program and has supported us throughout the Fire Science Technology program,” said MWCC program coordinator Fred LeBlanc, a former chief of the Leominster Fire Department.

MWCC’s Fire Science program is based on a model curriculum established by the National Fire Academy. This model establishes a Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) network of emergency services related to education and training providers. The national model provides an integrated, competency-based system of fire and emergency services professional development. The FESHE curriculum is transferable toward a bachelor’s degree, and the National Fire Academy also issues certificates to students completing the core courses of the associate degree.

The Massachusetts Firefighting Academy training applies toward the college degree as a three-credit college course, Principles of Emergency Services, and also provides 25 of the 40 continuing education hours that EMTs need to complete every two years as part of their certification, LeBlanc said.

All three students have aspired to work as firefighters since childhood, and expressed gratitude for the Lunenburg Fire Department and MWCC for the opportunities presented through the partnership.

Pelkey will earn his associate degree in December and plans to transfer his credits toward a bachelor’s degree. He is following in the footsteps of his father, who was a firefighter in the Air Force and in Concord, Mass.

Kozloski was inspired to become a firefighter after watching the film “Ladder 49,” and Boudreau made his career choice after shadowing members of the Leominster Fire Department. “I like to help out. I can’t really seeing myself doing anything other than that,” he said of his chosen profession.

Fire Chief Patrick Sullivan praised the academic program and its live-in component. “I wish they had this when I was going to school. This program has worked out very well for us and it has worked out well for them because it gives them experience, training and a foot in the door. The training and experience they have gained will serve them well as they move on in their fire service careers.”

The program covers a wide range of topics necessary for today’s professionals, from medical emergencies to hazardous materials and recognizing potential public safety threats. Students can opt in to the live-in component of MWCC’s academic program. It is not a requirement of the degree, but helps make the graduates much more marketable when searching for a job, Sullivan said.

“In the last 20 to 30 years the job has become much more technical.  Years ago, most people thought all you needed to be a firefighter was a strong back and a lot of bravery.” Sullivan said.

“Those traits are still needed today, but there is so much more to the job.  We still use the term fire department out of tradition, but it is more of an all-hazard response agency. We deal with fires, medical emergencies , hazardous materials as well as specialized rescue situations, code enforcement and safety education. The old saying “When all else fails, call the Fire Department” still applies today.”

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:



Lew Evangelidis Jacqueline Belrose Dan Asquino

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Mount Wachusett Community College have received a state grant to begin a Bridges to College Program at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections in West Boylston. Pictured from left, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, Jacqueline Belrose, MWCC Vice President of the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development, and MWCC President Daniel Asquino

Mount Wachusett Community College and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office are launching a prison education program to prepare inmates for college entry and the workforce.

The grant-funded Bridges to College program will provide education and workforce training opportunities to 100 inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections in West Boylston. The program’s goal is to lower recidivism rates by providing ex-offenders with skills needed to enter college, as well as the field of advanced manufacturing.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education recently awarded a $79,000 grant to MWCC to create the program, which expands upon existing Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language, Life Skills, and HISET programs currently offered by the WCSO, and builds upon the college’s successful advanced manufacturing industrial readiness training and adult Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) programs.

Inmates who are between six months to 2.5 years from release, who have a high school credential for college entry upon release, are eligible to participate. Participants are currently being identified for courses that will be held at the correctional facility beginning in January.

“Beyond first addressing the issue of substance abuse with our inmates, nothing is more important than providing educational and vocational training to prepare them for employment and a productive life upon their release,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis. “Our Bridges to College partnership with Mount Wachusett Community College will help us double down on those efforts. Providing postsecondary correctional education as well as workforce training is the most effective path to reducing recidivism and keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison.”

“The power of education to transform lives cannot be underestimated,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This program offers an opportunity for new beginnings.”

According to national studies, the recidivism rate for ex-offenders who participate in postsecondary correctional education is an average 46 percent lower than for those who have not taken college classes.

The Bridges to College program will be offer activities that prepare students for college placement testing and applying for college admissions and financial aid, as well as tutoring, mentoring, financial literacy, and career and academic guidance. They’ll also receive advanced manufacturing industrial readiness training, which embeds contextualized academic remediation instruction in reading, writing and math, and is complemented by college preparation, financial aid/literacy and career workshops and counseling.

VVA donation to MWCC student vet scholarships Oct 2015

Members of the Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of American recently donated $2,000 to the MWCC Foundation to support scholarships for veterans. Pictured from left, chapter executive board members Charles Hodgkinson and Jay Ringquist, MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, chapter vice president Jim Benton and chapter treasurer Dan Ninno.

Members of Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of America recently donated $2,000 to the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation’s Veterans Memorial Scholarship.

“On behalf of Mount Wachusett Community College and the MWCC Foundation, we are most grateful for this generous contribution from our local Vietnam Veterans of America members, and for their continued support of our student veterans,” said Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli.

The Veterans Memorial Scholarship was established to assist student veterans and ensure that their service and sacrifices will not be forgotten. Scholarship funds are awarded to new or returning full-time students who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, or are currently serving in the Reserves or National Guard.



Linda CoyneMount Wachusett Community College is offering free workshops this fall for adult learners interested in earning a college degree.

MWCC’s Adult College Experience (ACE) program features a variety of workshops designed to guide adult learners through the steps of applying for college and financial aid, selecting courses, managing coursework and balancing school with work and family life. All participants attending the first session will receive a free gift, and participants attending all four workshops will be eligible to win a free, three-credit course.

“Each year, millions of adult students return to college to expand their career options, change careers, or fulfill a long-held dream of earning a degree. We developed the ACE program at Mount Wachusett to provide students with a roadmap to follow to make their transition to higher education as seamless as possible,” said Marcia Rosbury-Henne, Dean of Admissions and Enrollment.

The four-session ACE program, geared toward adult learners age 24 and above, starts Thursday, Nov. 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with the workshop “Beginning Your College Journey.” During this workshop, students will review the application and enrollment process and complete their application to begin classes in January during the spring 2016 semester. A panel of MWCC alumni who returned to college as adults balancing work, family and studies, will share their stories and answer questions.

The second session, “College Survival 101” will take place Thursday, Nov. 12 from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. Participants will learn about the requirements of college courses and receive instruction on technology and other tools for achieving college success.

The session, “Getting Financial Aid & Enrollment Express,” will take place Thursday, Nov. 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Students will receive assistance reviewing and understanding the components of their financial aid package, including knowing the difference between loans, grants, scholarships and work study aid.

The series concludes on Thursday Dec. 3 with the session “Ready, Set, Go!” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. During this final session, students will develop the basis of their academic plan and develop a solid understanding of their program of study and the academic requirements for graduation. The session will end with a pizza party celebration and a drawing for a free, three-credit course.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment of students age 25 and above increased by 42 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is predicted to increase by another 20 percent by 2020. In comparison, enrollment of college students age 24 and under increased by 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, and is expected to increase 11 percent by 2020.

To register for MWCC’s free ACE program, contact the admissions office at 978-630-9110 or email Registration can also be completed online at

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.”

Islam photo Noman Khanani

Noman Khanani, a teacher of Islamic studies, speaks during a forum on Islam on Monday at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. T&G Staff/Christine Peterson

GARDNER – To resolve conflicts in the Middle East and eradicate the Islamic State in Iraq, U.S. leaders must promote democracy there, according to a panelist speaking at a forum on Islam Monday night at Mount Wachusett Community College.

MWCC and Heywood Healthcare presented the public forum, “Radical vs. Real: Islam in the Modern World,” held in a packed South Café on MWCC’s Gardner campus. The event, which stemmed from discussions between Heywood Healthcare President Winfield Brown, MWCC President Daniel Asquino, Heywood physician Dr. Tariq Malik and others, was held to help people understand the difference between the Muslim faith and the violent, radical organizations making global headlines.

Three panelists who are members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester gave an overview of Islam – the world’s second largest religion – and discussed political unrest in the Islamic Middle East. The speakers, all U.S. citizens, included 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.

Islam forum audience photo

About 200 people attended a forum on Islam Monday at Mount Wachusett Community College. T&G Staff/Christine Peterson

During the question and answer portion of the forum, several comments from panelists raised eyebrows from some audience members.In response to a question about how to “wipe out” ISIS and resolve conflict in the Middle East, Dr. Bahnassi, who was born in Syria where he graduated from medical school, said he does not agree with President Barack Obama’s doctrine not to interfere with what is going on in Syria. Democracy must be promoted in the region, he said.

“When Muslims and Arabs argue it is not very civil,” he said. “It tends to be violent. Ignorance, mistrust and the history of colonialism has left them with no base to live with each other. If you go to Worcester where I am from, there is a street for Italians, Irish, Albanians – they all live together beautifully. In Syria, 80 percent is one sect and they cannot find a way to live with each other … I wanted democracy, but all the dreams got killed, including my dream. I wanted to be part of that movement – part of democracy in my country. I want to vote.”

He suggested that the Syrian government created ISIS as a diversion to democracy by freeing thousands of imprisoned extremists who created the “nucleus of ISIS.” Thousands of Syrian Muslims were killed by ISIS because they wanted to force everyone to adopt their ideology, he said.

“They are not bombing terrorism. They are bombing the Syrian people,” he said. “They had to create an enemy.

“Ask yourself, how many ISIS members were in Syria before 2011? There was no existence,” Dr. Bahnassi said. “Where did they come from? Obama’s doctrine is not to interfere – that the U.S. is not to be the police of the world. That is what happened with Hitler. First they started with socialists, then Jews … When you create a vacuum, everyone is going to jump into it. I am blaming Obama’s doctrine. He should have done something. When I want to protect myself from terrorism, I need to take some protective action. If I don’t act, Russians act, the Iranians act, the Chinese act. To eradicate ISIS, you need to promote democracy in the Middle East.”

He said that Islam is not a “complete political system.” An established democratic state must be ran by experts, not religious leaders, he said, who have the educational background and expertise.

“Yes – we want Islamic principles adopted, but we want (educated) people to do that, not religious people,” he said.

Dr. Saleem Khanani and his son, Noman Khanani, said two of the basic principles of Islam are a belief in one God and justice for all.

Dr. Khanani said Muslims can live in a non-Islamic country where justice dispenses to everyone and the rights of all citizens are equally guaranteed as they are in the U.S., United Kingdom or France.

Noman Khanani said the U.S. is an example of an Islamic country because of the social justice here, and freedoms such as freedom of religion and speech. “The U.S. is more Islamic than Pakistan or Egypt,” he said.

Countries that offer personal freedoms are technically Islamic states because they practice principles that are closer to Islamic principles than those who do it under the cloak of Islam, he said.

Marylou Curran, an adjunct faculty member at MWCC who teaches cultural anthropology, said she was “nervous” that Noman said the U.S. can be an Islamic country and would be concerned if students were taught that. Such comments were causing the panel to lose their audience, she said.

“America is a Christian country,” Ms. Curran said from the audience.

Dr. Khanani reiterated that saying the U.S. could be an Islamic state means the U.S. political system is based on fair principles. Any religion that promotes fair principles and monotheism is “Islamic,” he said.

“Judaism in its purist form is as Islamic as Islam,” he said. “Islam is a social system where we practice human values. Muslim is about being a good person and how to respect others.”

“We share the same values,” Dr. Bahnassi added.

When an audience member asked why the U.S. should step in and why the countries weren’t promoting democracy on their own, Noman Khanani said some countries are still very early in the process of changing their political systems.

“Some countries only gained independence 40 or 50 years ago,” he said. “They are still dealing with the effects of colonialism and imperialism … But dropping bombs is not the best thing, either.”

The panelists said when military strikes kill civilians, those who survive and have lost family members sometimes seek revenge.

“It becomes a bloodbath,” Noman Khanani said. “It needs to be thought of politically, rather than just warfare.”

- Paula J. Owen, Telegram & Gazette, Oct. 19, 2015