Community Stories

To promote conscientious discussion on the topic of suicide, Mount Wachusett Community College’s Honors Program is inviting the public to a student-led panel discussion that will also feature area leaders in mental health. One-Day-At-A-Time-Logo

Titled “One Day at a Time,” the free event will take place Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m. in the North Café at the Gardner campus. MWCC students Phil Stan and Stevie LaBelle organized the event as an extension of their abnormal psychology course and a service-learning project to meet Honors Program requirements.

“We want to de-stigmatize suicide and demonstrate that it’s okay to talk about it,” said Stan, who will co-moderate the forum with LaBelle. “Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death, but unless we open up lines of communication, we can’t offer the help that these people need.”

Acknowledging the sensitivity of the topic, Stan said organizers will create a secure environment in which participants can freely express their concerns, speak to MWCC guidance counselors and obtain information on area support services.

The panel will include former State Senator Bob Antonioni, whose advocacy for mental health stems from experiences in his personal life; Michael Ellis, project coordinator of the Men’s Suicide Prevention Program at Heywood Hospital; and MWCC student Carrie DeCosta, who will recount her personal triumphs.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, according to The Trevor Project. The Center for Disease Control reports that the year 2012 saw 40,600 reported suicides in the US, including one every 12.9 minutes.

“Often, simply asking if someone is okay can make a huge difference,” said Stan.

Three Murdock High School seniors are earning MWCC academic certificates through the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program. Pictured, from left, Andrew Phelps, Amber Dignan, Melanie Cranfill, andCVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips.

Three Murdock High School seniors are earning MWCC academic certificates through the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program. Pictured, from left, Andrew Phelps, Amber Dignan, Melanie Cranfill, andCVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips.

For the third consecutive year, Murdock High School seniors in the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program are earning academic certificates at Mount Wachusett Community College while simultaneously finishing their diplomas.

Through a generous grant from the Winchendon-based Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation, Amber Dignan and Melanie Cranfill are pursing MWCC certificates in allied health, and Andrew Phelps is working toward a certificate in computer information systems. Participants also earn certificates in automotive technology and accounting.

Created as a pathway to higher education, the one-year, dual-enrollment program provides full scholarships for Murdock High School students to earn workplace credentials and first-year credits toward corresponding associate-degree programs at MWCC.

“I chose to participate in this program because I wanted a change in my learning environment and wanted to get a head start in college,” said Cranfill.

“The program is an amazing opportunity to further my education at virtually no cost,” said Phelps. “I have learned that programs like this are wonderful things to try and work hard for because not everyone gets to have a year of college for free.”

Overseeing the program are Assistant Dean of Transitions Programming Deb Bibeau, MWCC Foundation Director Carla Zottoli, CVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips, and Murdock High School guidance counselors Anne Marie Borsky and Rachel Weinhold.

The Murdock guidance counselors credit the Robinson-Broadhurst program with providing an opportunity to enhance offerings at the high school and give students a jumpstart on their college and career plans.

All five members of last year’s cohort earned a certificate in allied health. Three of these students are now enrolled in the Department of Higher Education’s STEM Starter Academy at MWCC.

“Being in the Robinson-Broadhurst dual-enrollment program and the STEM Starter Academy was seriously a life-changing experience,” said Dakota Wood, a 2014 graduate who is now pursuing a degree in health care. “I was exposed to what college was like while I could still participate in senior events. Plus, I graduated high school with a free year of college under my belt.”

CJ Husselbee, a first-generation college student and an initial participant in the Robinson-Broadhurst program, earned an associate degree in Business Administration from MWCC and transferred this fall to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

“Before this, I didn’t know if I could afford college. The Robinson-Broadhurst program was really the difference between me going to college and not going.”

A 2014 study by the American Institutes for Research explored the correlation between access to early college and advancement in secondary and higher education. These students are five-percent more likely to graduate high school, 20-percent more likely to earn their college degrees simultaneously, 21-percent more likely to enroll in a two-year school and four-percent more likely to enroll in a four-year school.

- Cameron Woodcock

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