Community Stories

President Asquino at podium

President Asquino shared the lessons he learned in 50 years of public service.

The transformative power of service and volunteerism was the resounding theme of Mount Wachusett Community College’s 51st Commencement on Wednesday, May 18, from the 157,000 service hours completed by students this past academic year to the decades-long legacy of President Daniel M. Asquino.

This year, 810 associate degrees and certificates were awarded to 734 graduates. The ceremony will be remembered as the final commencement President Asquino will preside over before retiring early next year.

Tina Sbrega, chair of the Board of Trustees, led a tribute to the president, who received a standing ovation in recognition of three decades at the helm of the college and nearly 50 years in public higher education in Massachusetts.

Since his arrival in 1987, he has established the college as a state and national leader in a number of key areas, from workforce and economic development to K-12 partnerships. Above all, Ms. Sbrega said, is the lasting legacy he will leave in the area of incorporating civic engagement as a hallmark of MWCC.

“He will be remembered most for having brought our community together for the good of all,” she said. “Throughout his 47 year career in public higher education in Massachusetts, Dr. Asquino has been driven by the belief that education is society’s great equalizer and has spent every moment of his career devoted to all of you and the tens of thousands of graduates who came before you.”

In delivering the commencement address, President Asquino reflected the accolades back to the students, faculty, staff and alumni for their hard work and commitment, personally and collectively.

“This is an amazing, transformative, magical college. Lives change here like nowhere else.”

He encouraged the students to enjoy life’s celebrations, and manage challenges and setbacks as an opportunity to “pick yourself up, and move on.”

Among the life lessons he shared, he advised the graduates be flexible to adjust to the ups and downs of life’s circumstances and to be mindful that “life is a merciless reflection of your own attitude.”

“There is no balanced allocation of good fortune or failure. The question then is when you are confronted with disappointment, tragedy, discrimination, how do you handle it? It’s OK to momentarily feel distraught and sad…but then you need to, as difficult as this may be, pick yourself up and move on. Let us be the person who sees opportunity in every calamity, rather than calamity in ever opportunity. That is the Mount way.”

Student speaker Chelsea Garrity, described her journey from being “a small fish in a big pond” to becoming an engaged student leader.

Chelsea Garrity student speaker MWCC 2016 commencement

Student speaker Chelsea Garrity shared her graduation rap song.

“I don’t think that I became a big fish in a small pond because the Mount isn’t a small place and it isn’t a competition for survival. I grew as a person, I challenged myself, and I tried new things. And that is my challenge to you. Class of 2016, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. Try something you never though you would like or do….I promise you that it will all be worth it.”

Known for her spontaneous rap songs, she concluded her speech in similar fashion to the delight of the crowd.

“So here’s to the community that raised you up, and here’s to you for never giving up. And when it comes time to throw your cap up, Remember – for the graduates, by the graduates, we the graduates, Word. This is our future, and we will change the world.”

A number of awards were also presented during the ceremony.

The 2016 Service Above Self Award was president to Raymond M. Martino, President and CEO of Simonds International, who spoke of the power of collective volunteerism. The award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to MWCC and the 29 cities and towns that make up MWCC’s service area.

Tom Berger, student trustee for the past academic year, was presented with the Trustees Award for his service, and three graduates were awarded the President’s Key for their academic excellence, Mellissa Richards, Jonathan Inman and Kelly Veautour.

Retiring professors Janice Gearan and Kathleen Panagiotis were awarded emeriti status.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, who received the 2016 Alumnus of the Year Award, lamented that unlike the student speaker, he had no rap song to share, but drew laughter when he spontaneously sang out an operatic “President Asquiiiiinooo.” Mayor Hawke shared his personal story of his academic “ordeals and debacles” as he made his way from a “straight-C” student to college graduate thanks to the direction he received at MWCC. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and MBA.

“To my soon-to-be fellow alums, when you come to the two roads diverging in the woods, whether you take the one less traveled or not, always remember and be proud that your road began here at MWCC.”

 

SL celebration 2016 Dan Chelse and Stevie

Student leaders Chelsea Garrity and Stevie LaBelle presented President Asquino with a globe representing the far-reaching civic impact of MWCC’s students under his leadership.

It was a quintessential Mount moment. After leading MWCC’s decades-long commitment to civic engagement, President Asquino had an opportunity to pair his pride in student volunteerism with a song by one of his favorite musicians – Elvis – crooning one of his favorite anthems, “America the Beautiful.”

More than 130 students, faculty and staff stood, many singing along, as the music filled the South Café during the college’s annual Service Learning and Volunteerism Celebration. While the event marked the altruism of MWCC students, the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement paused to reflect on the president’s dedication to the college and to the community as he prepares to retire early next year.

“Fifteen years ago President Asquino declared to this region a Decade of Civic Engagement. It was so successful, after that decade ended in 2011, he declared a subsequent decade,” said retired Senator Stephen M. Brewer. “This incredible advocacy and successful effort resulted in the only endowment given to a community college for civic engagement in the entire nation.”

MWCC Parent Support Group

Members of the Parent Support Group, with club advisor Ann Reynolds, were recognized with the Above and Beyond Award for their many initiatives on campus this academic year.

“There is a value and a virtue for what you do,” Senator Brewer told the students. “We know government cannot do it all – no entity can – but we can do our part. That is the value. The virtue of what you do is as old as the Chinse proverb, ‘Those who sheld light onto others can only have it reflect back onto themselves.’ As leaders of our future, you are lighting the way as you go forward.”

The May 17 event, organized this year by student leaders, recognized a wide range of campus and community service learning and volunteer initiatives throughout the academic year. As of last year, MWCC students annually completed over 157,000 hours of experiential learning, volunteerism, community service, internships, co-ops, practicums and field experience, which carries a value of over $3.6 million to the region, said Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement.

Dozens of graduating students received pins or medallions to wear during commencement in recognition of their extensive hours of service.

The United Way of North Central Massachusetts was presented with the Community Partner of the Year Award in appreciation for its efforts to establish MWCC as a “Day of Caring” site, which has enabled students, faculty and staff to volunteer for the annual service day during their free time on campus. During the event this past September, the college community packaged more than 21,000 meals for area residents in need.

Service Learning celebration nurses group photo

Graduating nursing students proudly display their service learning medallions for their hours of patient care.

Service learning scholarships were presented to Tatijana James and Bonnie Veilleaux and Rafaela Lopes was honored in recognition of receiving the national Newman Civic Fellows Award from Campus Compact.

Professor Janice Gearan, who is retiring this spring, was presented with the Civic Engagement Career Achievement award and Assistant Professor Daniel Soucy was presented with a civic engagement medallion. The event also featured a slideshow of murals created throughout Gardner by MWCC art students.

The Above and Beyond Award was presented to the Parent Support Group, an active club that has sponsored numerous events and initiatives to benefit students and families, and students who serve through the Students SOS office and SLiCE program (Student Leaders in Civic Engagement) were also recognized.

 

VFW donation to MWCC scholarship fund

The Ovila Case Post VFW continued its support for student veterans at Mount Wachusett Community College by presenting a $1,000 donation to the MWCC Foundation for scholarships. Pictured from left, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, President Daniel Asquino, Commander Joseph LeBlanc, past Commander Donald Progen and MWCC Director of Veteran Services Bob Mayer.

The Ovila Case Post 905 Veterans of Foreign Wars recently donated $1,000 to Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation’s Veterans Memorial Scholarship.

President Daniel Asquino, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, and Director of Veteran Services Bob Mayer accepted the generous donation from VFW Commander Joseph LeBlanc and past Commander and MWCC alumnus Donald Progen, and thanked the post members for their ongoing support of MWCC and student veterans.

The scholarship was established to recognize the important role played by MWCC in ensuring that the sacrifices and service of veterans who served the country 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.

Jasson Alvarado Gomez film premiere TGN

Mount student director Jasson Alvarado Gomez, second from right, and others created a student film which premiered Thursday at the school. From left, are filmmakers Anastasia Anderholm, Kendall Mallet, Gomez and Anders Bigelbach. (News staff photo by Andrew Mansfield )

As far as anyone can remember, prior to Jasson Alvarado Gomez, no Mount Wachusett Community College student has ever held a film premiere at the school.

But a lack of precedent means little to the ambitious, aspiring filmmaker or his friends at the Mount who played starring roles in his first feature-length movie, “Black Diamond.”

“I always like to do new things no one has ever done.

Doing this is good for students because they can see anything can happen … to follow their dreams,” said Gomez.

Gomez wrote, produced and directed the movie, with the cast being mostly made up of Mount students or former Mount students he’s met over the past few years.

Filming began in April 2015 and was completed recently, all the work culminating in the premiere of the movie held May 5 at the school.

The event mimicked the bright lights and glamour of the Hollywood scene; the red carpet was rolled out for the students, who wore dapper suits and elegant dresses.

The movie “Black Diamond” itself is far more rugged, being in the action-crime genre, involving a California teenager in foster care named Karla who is kidnapped by a gang that surgically implants a rare diamond in her body, hoping to use her as a trafficker into Mexico.

But with the help of people in the foster care system, Karla is moved out of state away from the gang, which instigates the drama of the movie as the gang does everything it can to find her and recuperate the valuable diamond.

All the action involved played out a childhood dream for Gomez, who said he always wanted to know how to make television since he was a little kid growing up in Honduras.

At the age of 14 he came to America to live with his uncle, and his parents still remain in Honduras.

Currently, Gomez lives in Orange.

At the Mount, he is enrolled in the Media Arts & Technology major, allowing him to hone his skills in the craft of film directing, which he hopes to make into a career.

“When I came here, there are so many opportunities in this country.

This is what I want to do with my life,” he said.

Considering “Black Diamond” is an amateur production without any real budget behind it, Gomez relied on plenty of help from his peers to play the actors in the movie.

He said “I was just talking to anyone that came my way” in order to make the project come to fruition.

Front and center in the effort was former Mount student Kendall Mallet, who played the lead role of Karla, the teenage girl who is implanted with the diamond.

Mallet has a background in singing and will be attending seamstress school for fashion in the fall.

She met Gomez while she attended the Mount and thought the project was a different, interesting endeavor to pursue.

“I think it will be cool to show my kids, show my grandkids, ‘Hey, I was in this movie,’” she said.

Playing Karla’s foster care mother in the film was Mount student Tammy Goodgion, who studies Business and Human Services.

She had no experience with acting, but when Gomez asked her if she wanted to try, she said she figured why not.

“I loved the experience.

The cast and crew they were wonderful, wonderful to work with,” she said, calling everyone a “big family.”

Gomez also benefited from the generosity of some local establishments in Gardner such as the restaurant Taco Rey Coliman and the South Gardner Hotel that let him shoot some scenes there.

Many of the scenes were also shot at the Mount or in outside areas.

For now, there is no release plans for the film, but Gomez said he might put it on DVD later on.

In total, about 10 actors were used for the film, and since many are current or former Mount students, the film marks an accomplishment not just for them, but the school as well.

Individually, Gomez is quite accomplished himself too.

Next school year he will serve as the student trustee on the Mount’s board of trustees, making him a voting member.

He was also elected to serve as a student member for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education next year, and will be sworn into the position this summer.

Perhaps more notable than any one achievement is in general how independently driven Gomez is, working toward success in America while being away from his parents who live in their native Honduras.

“Going to school has helped me so much. I want to make my mom and dad proud,” he said.

By Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, May 11, 2016

Rafaela Lopes 2016 Newman Civic Fellow

Newman Civic Fellows Award recipient Rafaela Lopes

For her dedication and commitment to serving others, Mount Wachusett Community College student Rafaela Lopes has been presented with Campus Compact’s national 2016 Newman Civic Fellows Award.

The Leominster resident was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others by creating a youth-run social venture that helps young people experiencing or close to homelessness, as she had experienced as a child in Brazil before moving to Massachusetts seven years ago.

“Rafaela has made such significant contributions to our community both locally and globally, that even at her young age, she truly stands out as an inspirational leader deserving of recognition,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are very proud of her for her spirit of generosity, and proud that she becomes MWCC’s fourth student to consecutively receive this prestigious award.”

Campus Compact is a national coalition of nearly 1,100 college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility. The award honors the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and a tireless advocate for the civic engagement of higher education.

A dual enrollment student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, Lopes will earn her high school diploma this spring and an associate degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in the fall. After that, she plans to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and then enroll in dental school.

“I believe that helping others is my life’s mission. I try to lead by example, in the hope that one kindness will yield another, in turn generating a chain of kindness,” she said.

For the past three years, Lopes has been actively involved in the United Way Youth Venture program, which is co-sponsored by MWCC, the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Ashoka’s Youth Venture. She created the social venture Go Make a Difference when she was just 15. Since then, she has led her team in fulfilling its mission to help the community locally by providing regular birthday celebrations for homeless children and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts.

The culmination of her dream – to make the impact of her venture global – was realized in February when she organized a student trip to a rural village in Haiti for a week of service at a nutrition and health center. She was instrumental in raising thousands of dollars and collecting 14 suitcases packed with essential supplies in preparation for the trip. She is in the process of organizing another group trip to Haiti next winter so more young people can experience the joy of giving back.

Lopes is also actively involved with the UWYV team Friends of Rachel’s Challenge at Leominster High School and with the ALANA club at MWCC.

“With both organizations, I’ve been able to serve and support the community while sharing positivity and friendship. I plan to continue to lead service and inspire my fellow students to help me make a difference with volunteering, whether with homeless families or in regions of severe poverty.”

Recipients of the Newman Civic Fellows Award are nominated by their college’s president or chancellor. Honorees are chosen for their leadership and ability to take action in pursuit of long-term, positive social change. This year, 218 students were selected to receive the award.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate such an extraordinary group of students,” said Campus Compact president Andrew Seligsohn. “We are seeing a resurgence in student interest in acting to create lasting social change, and this year’s Newman Civic Fellows exemplify that commitment.”

academic adventuresEach summer, nearly 800 children and teenagers from throughout the region participate in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Adventure Academy. This year, the college is offering more than 30 classes and sports programs between June 27 and Aug. 5.

Classes include Legos, beginning veterinary medicine, American Girl, theater, pottery, painting, sculpture, forensic science, dinosaurs, rockets, basketball, soccer and martial arts. A majority of the classes are taught by area elementary school teachers on summer break and incorporate lessons in STEAM (science technology, engineering, art and math) education. MWCC’s Adventure Academy is offered to children ages 5 to 18 and includes all supplies and materials. Lunch is provided for students attending full-day classes.

Among the new offerings this year is an Introduction to the Potter’s Wheel course for teens age 16 and above, adults and art teachers.

For more information and to register, visit mwcc.edu/noncredit, call 978-630-9525 or email noncredit@mwcc.mass.edu.

 

Ray_MartinoCommunity leader and long-serving volunteer Raymond J. Martino is the recipient of Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2016 Service Above Self Award. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions within the 29 cities and towns that make up the college’s service area.

Mr. Martino, president and CEO of Simonds International, Inc. and chair of the MWCC Foundation, will be recognized during the college’s 51st commencement ceremony on May 18.

“We are proud to present this year’s Service Above Self award to Ray Martino,” said President Daniel Asquino. “Through his work professionally and in a volunteer capacity, he is making a tremendous difference in the lives of North Central Massachusetts residents and in the lives of our students. His willingness to share his time and talents exemplify the importance of engaged citizenship and the difference one person can make in the world.”

“It’s an honor to be recognized with this award and to be involved in a community so willing to serve others,” Mr. Martino said. “When a community has leaders driving partnerships and fundraising, it spreads, it’s contagious. The more leaders who participate, the more others step up and the bar is raised.”

Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Martino moved to Lunenburg with his wife, Susan, and their family in 1999 to head Simonds, a leading worldwide supplier of cutting tools for the wood and metal industries. He immediately became involved in community service and over the past 17 years, has supported the region in a wide range of capacities and has encouraged a culture of volunteerism at Simonds.

He served on the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce for nine years, including as past chair, and continues to serve on the chamber’s leadership committee. In addition to serving as chair of the MWCC Foundation, he serves as vice chair of the Workers’ Credit Union board of directors, and is a member of the Fitchburg Plan, a group of local volunteers working on a grassroots level to help facilitate economic development in the city.

In addition, he is chair of the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, which has provided $1.5 million in loans to regional organizations, and is also active with the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.

He previously served on the Fitchburg State University Foundation and is a past member of the university’s Regional Economic Development Institute. He also served on the board of overseers for the University of Connecticut’s School of Business and is a past director of the Connecticut Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Mr. Martino earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Fairfield University, and a master’s in business administration and a master’s in economics from the University of Connecticut. He is the past president of several divisions of the Connecticut manufacturing corporation The Stanley Works, now Stanley Black & Decker.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke photoGardner Mayor Mark Hawke has been named Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2016 Alumnus of the Year. He will be recognized during the college’s 51st Commencement on Wednesday, May 18.

“We are extremely proud to honor Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke as our 2016 Alumnus of the Year,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “Like many of our students, Mayor Hawke discovered his potential while attending Mount Wachusett Community College, and then followed that path to achieve success both academically and professionally. Moreover, he has consistently demonstrated his commitment to public service, to Mount Wachusett Community College, and to our students.”

Created in 1989, the award recognizes a Mount Wachusett Community College graduate who has exhibited exceptional career leadership, service to community and commitment to the college.

“I am deeply indebted to MWCC,” Mayor Hawke said. “While I didn’t know it then, the Mount and its faculty put me on the track to success. As a graduate, I have firsthand knowledge of the college’s positive impact on students. As mayor, I have seen the transformative influence the college has had on our community. Gardner is truly fortunate to be home to MWCC.”

The son of Nancy Hawke and the late State Rep. Robert Hawke, Mayor Hawke is the youngest of five siblings. He attended Gardner public schools and graduated from Gardner High School as a three sport letterman. After earning his associate degree in general studies from MWCC, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a master’s degree in business administration from Anna Maria College.

Since being sworn into office in January 2008, he has continually worked to bring Gardner into a new age through investments in the city’s infrastructure, economic development, playgrounds and other facilities. Under his leadership, Gardner became one of the first communities to sign on to the Baker Administration’s Commonwealth Community Pact.

Prior to his election, Mayor Hawke served as Gardner’s grants administrator for over six years. He previously worked in the private sector as a business analyst for a wireless communications company, as an operations manager for a transportation company, and as a logistics analyst for a waste management company.

Mayor Hawke currently serves as President of the Massachusetts Mayor’s Association and on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Among his community activities, he serves on the Board of Incorporators of Heywood Hospital; the Board of Directors of Gardner’s downtown association, Square Two; and the GFA Federal Credit Union Board of Directors. Previously, he has served as president of Gardner Square Two; on the Board of Directors of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce, and on MWCC’s Board of Trustees.

He is also an active member of the Acadien Social Club of Gardner, the Napoleon Club of Gardner, the Polish American Citizens Club of Gardner, the Gardner Museum, the Acadien Club Hockey League and City League Softball and an honorary member of the Gardner Rotary Club.

He and his wife, Shelly, live in Gardner with their son, Justin.

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President Asquino, guest speaker Jim Bellina of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce joined students, staff and faculty for the 26th annual Alpha Beta Gamma induction ceremony.

President Daniel Asquino and Jim Bellina, president and CEO of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce joined MWCC business faculty and college officials to welcome 18 students into the Chi Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma international business honor society.

“Alpha Beta Gamma, the international business honor society. They key word is honor, and it’s an honor for me to be here this afternoon to honor your achievement,” President Asquino said.

The 26th annual induction ceremony was led by Professor Linda Bolduc, ABG advisor and business department chair, with outgoing ABG President Kathy Matson. The celebration included recognition of the chapter’s newly elected and newly inducted officers: Michel Cocuzza, president, Alana Jones, vice president, Bethany Jones, treasurer, and Kimberly Mertell, secretary.

Bellina congratulated the students on selecting MWCC for their academic studies, noting that many of the students are busy balancing work and family responsibilities and volunteering in the community and at the college while earning their degree.

“You will be the type of people that others lean on,” he said. “You are leaders and you have the background of being at Mount Wachusett Community College.”

In addition to the four officers, other inductees are: Donavan Aboal-Caceres, Alexander Batutis, Paula Brown, Angelique Chaput, Joel DeVelis, Katie Dupont, Michelle Francisco, Tammy Goodgion, Jessica Guyer, Sheila Hebert, Lindsay Jamieson, Kevin LeBlanc, Marissa Pitisci and Nicholas Traverna.

Alpha Beta Gamma was established in 1970 to recognize and encourage scholarship among students at two-year colleges, provide leadership training opportunities and career assistance to members. To be eligible for membership into the honor society, students must be enrolled in a business curriculum, have completed 15 academic credit hours in a specific degree program and demonstrate academic excellence by attaining a grade point average of 3.0 or above. At MWCC, the programs include business administration, paralegal studies, computer information systems, graphic & interactive design and medical assisting.

Jackie Belrose and Peter Russo of MassMEP

Vice President Jacqueline Belrose, pictured with Peter Russo of MassMEP, was among the speakers during the Worcester Business Journal’s Manufacturing Summit.

Mount Wachusett Community College served as the presenting sponsor of the Worcester Business Journal’s Manufacturing Summit and inaugural Manufacturing Excellence Awards ceremony on April 26 at Cyprian Keyes in Boylston.

President Daniel Asquino, Vice Presidents Jacqueline Belrose and Lea Ann Scales, and members of the college’s workforce development team were among the attendees. The event featured a keynote address by Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash and a panel presentation moderated by MassMEP Growth and Inovation Program Manager Peter Russo.

Secretary Ash praised the state’s community colleges for their leadership in creating innovative partnerships as well as their role in the Commonwealth economic development strategic plan, Making Massachusetts Great Everywhere, which was released by the Baker-Polito Administration in December.

“We’re very excited, espcially at the community college level, with the reaction that we have received,” he said.

The industry support and feedback has been a crucial component of MWCC’s design and creation of  advanced manufacturing training programs developed under President Asquino’s leadership, Belrose said during her welcoming remarks.

College initiatives include the creation of an academic certificate and associates degree program in Plastics Technology Manufacturing, offered over the past two decades at Nypro University in Clinton in partnership with Fitchburg State University; helping regional companies secure more than $6.5 million in state Workforce Training Fund grant; and working with MassMEP, the Workforce Investment Boards, state colleges and universities and other partners on state and federally-funded programs to provide unemployed and underemployed individuals with training to secure good jobs with benefits, she said.

“The key here is regional economic growth,” Belrose said. “All stakeholders in this region need to join forces to ensure we work together to supply a skilled advanced manufacturing workforce. We need to sustain, grow, and integrate efforts that Mount Wachusett and Quinsigamond Community Colleges, along with Mass MEP have been developing with the help of employer, state, and federal funding.  The approach must be integrated and scalable and will benefit from dialogues such as the one we are having today.”