Community Stories

Mount Wachusett Community College, long recognized nationally for its comprehensive veteran services, has again been named to Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year colleges in the Military Times' Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year colleges in the Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

Released alongside Veterans Day, the independent news project 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 meticulously documented these services through a survey with over 100 questions.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year schools in a list that includes a total of 140 four-year, two-year, online and nontraditional schools. The list will be published in issues of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, Marine Corps Times and Military Times EDGE magazine, as well as online at,,, and

“Given this award’s proximity to Veterans Day, we express our collective gratitude to veterans throughout this country, including those we are fortunate to call MWCC students,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “These students strengthen our campus community, and we are proud to provide the services that help them flourish.”

“This is a school whose faculty and staff are genuinely good people who sincerely care about our veteran population,” said Veterans Services Director Robert Mayer. “I can’t express how good it makes me feel to know that, wherever they go on campus, our veterans will be taken care of.”

MWCC launched the 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 also 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 residential and educational partnership between MWCC and the NVTRC, run on a portion of campus property, served as the focus of a recent segment on WGBY in Springfield.

American Legion donation Nov 2014

Members of the Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of American donated $2,000 to the MWCC Foundation to support scholarships for veterans. Pictured from left: James Benton III, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, President Daniel M. Asquino, Bryan Wickman, Dan Ninno and Jay Ringquist.

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

President Daniel M. Asquino and Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli accepted the generous contribution from chapter President Bryan Wickman, Vice President and Secretary James Benton III, Treasurer C. Dan Ninno and Jay Ringquist.

The 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.


Daniel M. AsquinoAs we prepare to recognize the service of all the men and women who have served our country, I urge all of you to take the opportunity to reflect on the importance of Veterans Day and the contributions and sacrifices made by millions of Americans. About 350 veterans are currently attending Mount Wachusett Community College, and I am proud of their accomplishments both in service to their country and in our classrooms. I want to thank each of these students for their service.

The majority of these students served their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The history of our college has always been closely tied to our veterans. When members of our local Veterans of Foreign Wars post visit us each year to make a contribution to support student scholarships, past commander and MWCC alumnus Don Progen and others remark that when they returned home from Vietnam, they found Mount Wachusett Community College to be, “a haven.”

We strive to continue to be that haven for our veteran students. These students bring great leadership skills to our campus and ultimately to our workforce. They are a tremendous asset to our communities. I am proud that Mount Wachusett Community College has been named for the fifth consecutive year, as a “Top Military School” and is also a designated Yellow Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, USA Today has named MWCC as one of its “Best Colleges for Vets” in 2014. Most recently, WGBY in Springfield filmed a segment spotlighting our residential and educational partnership with the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center, run on a portion of campus property by the Fitchburg-based nonprofit Veterans Homestead, Inc. To view this inspiring video, go to

If you would like to learn more about our Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, visit I extend my deepest gratitude to our staff in this center and across the campus who work with our student veterans as they pursue their academic goals.

The campus will be closed on Veterans Day as we honor our veterans.  Please take the time for reflection and recognition of our heroes.

MWCC's new STEM building will advance its standing as a leader in STEM education.

MWCC’s new STEM building will advance its position as a leader in STEM education.

Following more than a year of extensive planning and design, Mount Wachusett Community College is preparing for the start of construction on a new $41 million science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building. The 44,000-square-foot addition and renovation of the 40-year-old Arthur F. Haley Academic Center will bring MWCC to the forefront of STEM education.

“Construction is expected to begin in March,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “If all goes as planned, pre-construction work on the Haley Building will begin in December. Our students deserve the very best. This project supports trends in teaching and learning and reflects the national and statewide STEM initiatives while providing the best possible education for our students.”

The Commonwealth is investing $38 million in the project to support the academic needs in North Central Massachusetts. The project will be one of the largest in North Worcester County.

Amenities will include eight new classrooms and laboratories, four lab prep rooms, 24 new faculty offices, student study space and interior glass walls to highlight STEM student innovation. New laboratory equipment, including projection microscopes with 60-inch flat screen monitors, will be acquired through a $500,000 grant the college received from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Designed by Boston-based Architerra, Inc. to meet LEED certification for efficiency and sustainability, the new building will contain energy-efficient features related to heating, exhaust, lighting and plumbing that will further reduce MWCC’s carbon footprint.

Upgrades to audio/visual equipment and enhanced wireless capabilities in labs and open areas, are also among the features, as well as a new 2,300-square-foot greenhouse for science programs. Improvements to the Haley Academic Center also will include a new visitor entrance, a multi-purpose room, an academic advising suite, a refurbished student-centered campus hub and increased accessibility to the Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center.

Fitchburg’s School Committee recognized the MWCC/Fitchburg High School GEAR UP partnership during its Nov. 3 meeting. Front row, left to right, GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin, GEAR UP 2016/2017 students Keanu Bouthsarath, Sabrina Hyvarinen, Crystal Ocasio, Stephanie Ocasio; back row, Timothy Harkin, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, and GEAR UP Assistant Director Victor Rojas.

Fitchburg’s School Committee recognized the MWCC/Fitchburg High School GEAR UP partnership during its Nov. 3 meeting. Front row, left to right, GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin, GEAR UP 2016/2017 students Keanu Bouthsarath, Sabrina Hyvarinen, Crystal Ocasio, Stephanie Ocasio; back row, Timothy Harkin, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, and GEAR UP Assistant Director Victor Rojas.

Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg High School are being recognized with a 2014 Gateway Cities Innovation Award from the MassINC Gateway Innovation Institute for the GEAR UP program, a 15-year-old partnership between the two institutions.

Each year, the MassINC recognizes organizations and individuals that utilize innovative models to grow the economies of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities. The 2014 awards will be presented at the Institute’s annual event on Nov. 13.

Through GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition provides academic support and early college-awareness activities to Fitchburg High School students.

“This year’s awards celebrate leaders who have advanced educational excellence in their communities,” said Ben Forman, executive director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “They each achieved this by working collaboratively to build new learning models that take advantage of unique Gateway City educational opportunities.”

In 2010, MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition received a $3.6-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the college’s partnership with Fitchburg Public Schools. The grant allowed MWCC to offer college-preparation services to every student entering sixth and seventh grades, lasting until their respective graduations in 2016 and 2017.

“We wish to thank the MassINC Gateways Innovation Institute for identifying GEAR UP as one of five model partnerships,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “Fitchburg is a critically important city in our service area, and we are proud of the bond we have developed with Fitchburg High School. GEAR UP has allowed us to foster increased access to higher education for students, which has long been one of our fundamental goals at MWCC.”

“The GEAR Up program with Mount Wachusett Community College is one of the longest-sustained educational partnerships we have had as a school district,” said Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle. “This collaboration has brought not only an institutional commitment to the Fitchburg Public Schools, but more importantly a one-on-one commitment of MWCC staff to hundreds of FHS students, helping them navigate the challenges in life to eventual academic success.”

“Fitchburg High School is honored to be recognized with our partner, MWCC, for this MassINC Innovation Award,” said Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche. “GEAR UP is a driving force in our school setting because it truly reflects our mission to help prepare students for college through high expectations and strong supports. Our children and faculty are fortunate to be working with the GEAR UP team, which is comprised of individuals committed to helping students achieve post-secondary success.”

Specifically, GEAR UP students receive academic counseling, tutoring, homework support, MCAS and PSAT/SAT preparation and college admissions assistance. GEAR UP also offers after-school academic and social activities, workshops on college awareness and financial aid, and access to internships, as well as professional-development seminars for faculty and staff.

Similarly, the program also exists to provide public school districts sustainable curricula in science, math, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with the goal of improving instruction and knowledge acquisition in these areas.

Additional 2014 Gateway Cities Innovation Award winners are Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative, Greater Lawrence Advanced Manufacturing Academy, Revere High Advisory Program and the Worcester Arts Magnet School.

“These award winners exemplify the creativity and dedication Gateway Cities have shown in attempting to build new learning modules that respond to the needs of students and families in our changing economy,” said Forman. “The time has come to take a hard look at how we change funding models developed two decades ago to better position leaders to bring effective new learning models to scale.”

The Fitchburg School Committee announced the recognition at its Nov. 3 meeting.

The LEAD team (Let's Empower, Advocate and Do) took home the award for Changemaker of the Year.

The LEAD team (Let’s Empower, Advocate and Do) received the award for Changemaker of the Year.

MWCC coordinates the Youth Venture program along with the United Way and Ashoka’s Youth Venture.

The program exists to empower youth through support for innovative, community-outreach proposals, and its annual event celebrates and further educates these future leaders. Successful proposals from this most recent year offered support for animal shelters, Alzheimer’s patients and homeless children.

Through various training sessions, attendees in the 2014 kickoff received guidance on creative fundraising, mentorship and leadership, outreach to communities and schools, and collaboration with fellow venture participants. Speakers from the United Way and its community partners, including MWCC, also offered words of encouragement to an audience that represented 10 percent of the student population.

“Change your world,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino during his opening remarks. MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement also houses a segment of the UWYV.

Keynote speaker Marquis Cabrera discussed Foster Skills, initially a venture and now an award-winning social enterprise dedicated to empowering foster children to become successful, productive citizens.

Additional speakers included Phil Grzewinski, president of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts; Bob Chauvin, president of Tyco SimplexGrinnell; and Autumn Williams, partnerships manager at Ashoka’s Youth Venture.

Through three separate awards, the United Way recognized Ally of the Year, Champion of the Year, and Changemarker of the Year. Last year’s Changemaker honoree, Kylee McCumber, presented the award to the 2014 wining team, Let’s Empower, Advocate & Do (LEAD).

Throughout last year, over 8,965 students were exposed to the UWYV program, with 2,623 actively engaged in workshops and developing ideas for ventures. A total of 748 students took leadership roles in current ventures or launched one of 29 new ventures, receiving over $22,000 in direct seed funding for their efforts.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project continues with a book discussion on Thoreau's modern connection to student debt.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project continues Nov. 6 with a book discussion on Thoreau’s modern connection to student debt.

One author’s unconventional approach to repaying his student loans will be the focus of a Nov. 6 event for the Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant.

Leominster Public Library will host a book discussion of Ken Ilgunas’ “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom” from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

In his book, Ilgunas describes adopting Henry David Thoreau’s frugal lifestyle to repay undergraduate student loans and enroll in a master’s program, while using his van as a makeshift dorm and avoiding further debt. The book discussion continues the Humanities Project’s first-year theme, “East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond,” an ongoing discussion of Thoreau’s lasting relevance.

Thoreau famously lived an economical two years in a self-built cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, MA, immersing himself in nature and writing journal entries that would become “Walden.”

The MWCC Humanities Project is a multi-year initiative to integrate annual themes in the humanities into campus curricula and community events. The first year features a slate of free events spotlighting various works written or inspired by Thoreau, as well as related student projects developed by several MWCC professors.

In 2013, MWCC received one of 173 NEH grants, which are awarded to recipients representing the highest level of humanities research and public engagement.

For more information about the MWCC Humanities Project and a full schedule of events, visit

Chris Jason Sinatra Live Big Band

An Oct. 24 performance by Frank Sinatra stylist Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band raised more than $38,000 to support scholarship funds for MWCC students.

Frank Sinatra stylist Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band transported a capacity crowd to Las Vegas, 1966, during an Oct. 24 concert sponsored by the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation that raised more than $38,000 for student scholarships.

Making his first appearance at MWCC’s theatre, Jason performed over 20 Sinatra favorites and exchanged quips with audience members in the two-act benefit concert that served as the foundation’s annual fundraiser.

“Students need our financial support now more than ever,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “It was heartening to see so many friends of the college enjoying an evening out with great music, while raising much needed money for student scholarships.”

“On behalf of the entire board, I want to thank those who came out in support of our hard-working students. I applaud all the MWCC staff who worked to bring Chris Jason to the stage for Sinatra at the Mount,” said MWCC Board of Trustees Chair Tina Sbrega.

Established in 1971, the MWCC Foundation currently offers 38 scholarships, 21 for continuing students and 17 for transfer students, to support degree seekers from a range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Sinatra at the Mount was part of an annual slate of fundraising events that help provide increased access to a college education at MWCC.

“Thanks to a dedicated team at the college, we raised more than $30,000 for our students,” said MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, “Support from donors and friends helps us award more than $260,000 in scholarships each year.”

“What a great evening,” said Foundation Board Chair Richard Mohnk. “I want to thank Executive Director Carla Zottoli and her team for hosting a flawless event. The music was wonderful, and the evening was for a very good cause – our students.”

After opening with “Come Fly with Me,” Jason crooned through renditions of “Luck Be a Lady,” “Where or When,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” My Way,” “I’ve Got You under My Skin” and “Strangers in the Night.” Shortly into the second act, one couple danced to Jason’s version of “A Summer Wind.”

To cap off the night, the Sinatra tribute artist returned to a standing ovation for one final performance of “New York, New York.”

In paying tribute to Sinatra, Jason adapted songs from the 1966 live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” and “The Great American Songbook” and infused the artist’s trademark humor into his performance.

- Cameron Woodcock

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

- Cameron Woodcock

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.

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.