Community Stories

MWCC Alumni Network Dine photo

Rick Walton of the Gardner Ale House presents a check for Dine for a Cause proceeds to Briana Nobrega (center), Secretary of the MWCC Alumni Network Board and Carol Jacobson, Associate Director Alumni Relations.

The MWCC Alumni Network held its first Dine for a Cause event, hosted by the Gardner Ale House on March 29, raising $800 for the alumni scholarship fund.

Alumni, members of the college community, supporters and friends enjoyed a delicious meal, and each others company, all in support of student success. The Ale House generously donated 10% of the evening’s dining proceeds to the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

The Alumni Network also hosted a chance table, including a 50/50 cash raffle, and a Wachusett-themed basket valued at approximately $500. MWCC alumnus and member of the alumni board, John Day (’15), won the cash raffle and the basket was won by Paul Geoffroy (’77).

MWCC Alumni Network board member Briana Nobrega (’07) worked with Ale House staff to coordinate the event.

“I was really pleased with the turnout. It was obvious that everyone enjoyed themselves and I think at one point every table was full. There was also a constant flow of guests engaging with our alumni board at the raffle table and quite a few people reconnecting” she said.

“Being a past scholarship recipient myself, I know first-hand how important this fundraising is for the future of our students, so it was great to see so many people come out to support our cause.”

Many MWCC students have a significant financial need, and scholarships help pay for books, laptops or other needed resources that financial aid does not. Without this assistance, many of our students would be unable to attend, or complete their studies. If you are interested in becoming involved in the MWCC Alumni Network, or would like to support student success through a donation to the scholarship fund, visit: or contact the Alumni Relations Office at 978-630-9306.

To view photos from the Dine for a Cause event, visit:

Carol Jacobson


Job Fair 2016Thirty five companies and organizations participated in Job Fair 2016, held at MWCC’s Gardner campus on March 30 and sponsored by the Career Services/Experiential and Service Learning Department. The event provided students with an opportunity to explore career options and learn about job openings in a diverse range of fields.

Coordinator of Career Planning and Placement Patricia Brewerton said she was delighted with the employer support as well as the number of students who benefited from the fair. More than 250 students and visitors attended.

“The job fair provides an optimistic job outlook for students and it attracts a wide range of companies offering job openings for our students. Some students report having interviews already scheduled for next week. I’ve also heard encouraging and optimistic feedback from employers that our students are enthusiastic, dressed for success, well prepared, and have the courage to approach the tables and introduce themselves,” she said.

There were full-time, part-time, temporary and summer positions available from a variety of employers including ARC of Opportunity, Athol Savings Bank, Barton Associates, Bemis Worldwide, Cumulus Media, the Fitchburg Police Department, GAAMHA, GFA Federal Credit Union, Great Wolf, Home Depot, LUK, Mass Life Sciences, Masy Bioservices, Mutual of Omaha, Nouria Energy, Perkins School, Remedy Staffing, Seven Hills, the Bridge and the Worcester County District Attorney’s office.



Gather a panel of successful, healthcare professionals to share how they got where they are today, put them in front of high school students aspiring to similar careers, and something wonderful happens. Synergy.

Six women – three nurses, a doctor, a medical interpreter and a radiographer – captured the attention of nearly 30 freshmen and sophomores during a “Diverse Women in Healthcare” presentation sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College’s new Project Healthcare program. The speakers were equally enthused to share words of encouragement and advice to a group of young women, and a handful of young men, as they begin to discern their own career interests.

The March 29 event for Leominster High School and Leominster Center for Technical Innovation Education students capped off Women’s History Month by showcasing the varied academic, professional and personal paths each woman followed, whether locally or globally.

Panelists included Dr. Maria Del Carmen Al-Homsi, an internal medicine doctor at UMass Medical Group; Cecilia Phelan Stiles, senior manager of HR Communication Systems for Cape Cod Healthcare and president of the Forum on the Coordination of Interpreter Services, a statewide organization; Leominster High and MWCC alumna Elizabeth Warpula, a radiographer at Massachusetts General Hospital; Leominster High alumna and pediatric nurse ZaShanah Copeland, a school nurse at Seven Hills Charter Public School in Worcester; Geri Tusalem, senior director of perioperative services at HealthAlliance Hospital; and Mary Fortunato-Habib, Chief Nursing Officer at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital.

Over the course of an hour, each woman shared what inspired them to enter the healthcare field and the challenges and triumphs they encountered along the way.

Copeland, for instance, was drawn to nursing while in middle school after watching nurses care for her mother following a traumatic accident. As a child, Fortunato-Habib dreamed of becoming an astronaut, until she realized the skills she developed while taking care of younger cousins were pointing toward a career as an RN.

Warpula confessed she had “no intention of going to college after graduating high school. “And now I work at one of the best hospitals in the country.” Dr Del Carmen Al-Homsi and Phelan-Stiles spoke of the challenge of overcoming language barriers, only to find their fluency in multiple languages a major advantage in their careers.

“Be open to your circumstances because you never know where you will land,” Copeland advised. “Finish what you start and keep your eyes on your goal.”

The new Project Healthcare program aims to help students do just that. Last fall, MWCC was awarded a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to create the program in partnership with the Fitchburg and Leominster school districts.

The program aligns with federal initiatives to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities while providing a high school-to-college pipeline for students who plan to enter the healthcare field.

Over the next five years, 120 students will receive academic counseling, coaching, field trips, guest lectures and dual enrollment college courses.

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships, and program Director Melissa Bourque Silva, welcomed the students and role models to the presentation, held at Leominster High School.

Students, like aspiring pediatric oncologist Hellen Muma, said they found the event “inspiring” and “amazing.” Elizabeth O’Neil, a sophomore in the health occupations program, felt encouraged by the forum’s theme of encouraging students to forge their own paths one step at a time.

“I thought it was really great because I’m questioning what I want to do in healthcare. It’s comforting to know that I’m going to find what I want to do and help people in the future.”

Bourque-Silva encouraged the students to take advantage of opportunities as they appear. “Time and time again, we all think it’s a straight line from A to B. Everyone has their own path. I hope you all realize what power and promise you have to make a difference in the world, and I also hope you leave here feeling empowered and confident in yourselves, who you are, and who you can become.”



Participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series event on immigration include from left, MWCC student Mili Silva, Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, and MWCC Diversity Coalition co-chair Maria Gariepy.

Whether their relatives relocated to the U.S. generations ago or arrived just recently, participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s dialogue on immigration realized their family histories share a common theme: Their parents, grandparents, ancestors or even they themselves emigrated for the hope of a better life and greater opportunity.

More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out to discuss “Immigration and the Undocumented Student.” The March 28 Tea Time Speaker Series event was sponsored by the college’s Diversity Consortium and Gateway to College program, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

The forum was moderated by MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, who developed the Tea Time series as a way to create a dialogue around diverse issues that engages the college community and members of the greater community.

MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg/Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, opened the discussion on a personal note, describing her experience moving from Uruguay to Fitchburg at age 14 when the U.S. had a waiver agreement with Uruguay. While in high school, she realized how expensive college would be as an undocumented student.

Through scholarships, community service programs and support through MWCC, she earned her associate degree. Her immigration status was resolved while she was in college when her green card was granted, and she continued on for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.

Realizing the process for others can take decades and entail even greater struggles and obstacles, she has become a strong advocate for immigration reform. Her 40-minute presentation included an overview of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following her presentation, participants broke out into small group discussions, sharing a bit of their family history and their thoughts on the national debate on immigration reform. MWCC student Mili Silva, who was involved with planning the event, stood to thank the crowd for attending and asked for their support on this issue.

“I just hope the outcome of this event helps people become well informed on the issue.”

MWCC alumna Joan Mellanson of Gardner was among the community members attending. She shared in her group discussion that although she speaks with an accent, she was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a U.S. citizen. More than four decades after moving to Massachusetts as a young teenager, she said she still encounters judgment.

“I still feel like an alien at times.”



Robert Putnam Dan Asquino book signing

Political scientist Robert D. Putnam pens a note to MWCC President Daniel Asquino during a book signing that followed the author’s presentation.

The growing divide between the haves and have nots in America is “the most important domestic problem facing our country today,” renowned political scientist and bestselling author Robert D. Putnam told an attentive audience of students, educators and community leaders gathered at Mount Wachusett Community College on March 25.

Over the past four decades, “America has become a more segregated society in terms of education. Our country has become more divided and split among social lines than it used to be. This is a crucial matter for the future of our country and our economy,” Putnam, a Harvard University professor, said during an hour-long presentation filled with staggering statistics, tragic anecdotes and sporadic humor.

The event, sponsored by MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, was made possible through a grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Bowling Alone,” one of Putnam’s 14 books, was the inspiration behind President Daniel Asquino’s drive to make civic engagement a cornerstone of an MWCC education. President Asquino was joined by Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement, in welcoming the guest speaker. A booksigning and public dialogue followed the presentation.

Using examples from his latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Putnam explained that when he graduated high school, 80 percent of his classmates had achieved a higher level of education than their parents. As he and his peers went on to raise families of their own, they did so with the expectation that their children would do even better.

Those, like Putnam, who pursued a college education, did indeed forge a path that enabled their children and grandchildren to have greater opportunities, including access to higher education, extracurricular activities and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, classmates who did not attend college at first fared well in the local workforce, but then the economy tanked, factories closed and stores boarded their windows. Subsequently, their children and grandchildren are now worse off, and the condition is similar throughout the country.

“We’ve been here before,” Putnam said, reflecting on the class divide during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement over a century ago to make public high school education free and accessible led to the national ethos of the American Dream – the belief that through hard work, everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

“That turned out to be the best decision that Americans have ever made because it raised the productivity level of all Americans,” Putnam said. “Everyone was better off, and it leveled the playing field.”

Similar to the investment the nation made a century ago in public high school education, a renewed commitment to invest in education is needed to solve the class gap of the 21st century, Putnam said.

Solutions, he said, include greater support for early childhood education from birth to age four, and an investment in public education that provides equal access to sports, arts and other enrichment activities, rather than only to those who can afford to “pay to play.”

He also advocates for criminal justice system reforms, higher pay for teachers who work in low-income schools, more intensive mentoring for children, and encouraging stable, caring families by boosting wages.

Expanding access to higher education is also part of the solution he said, explaining that community colleges are like highway “on ramps” that lead to a better life.

“A shared investment in everyone’s kids was key to American growth in the past, and it is key to restoring the American Dream today.”



Mentors recognized by MWCC students during this year’s Women’s HerStory Project include, from left: Michelle Contey, Amy LaBarge, Sue Blain, Joyce Kulig, Maryann Kane, Sara Williams, Eveliz Rivera-White, Susan Guartafierro, Emily Carr, Denise Whitney and Lea Ann Scales. Missing from photo: Melissa Manzi and Donna Tully.

Faculty and staff members who play an instrumental role in the lives of MWCC students were recognized on March 24 during the college’s annual Women’s Appreciation Day. The celebration capped a month-long of activities and events in celebration of Women’s History Month.

For the eighth year, students in Professor Susan Goldstein’s Journalism I class have interviewed and written feature articles on women who are making a difference in the lives of others. The mentors recognized through the Women’s HerStory Project are nominated by MWCC students.

This year’s honorees are: Sue Blain, Advisor; Emily Carr, Adjunct Professor, Graphic & Interactive Design; Michelle Contey, Academic Counselor; Susan Guartafierro, Admissions Office Clerk; Maryann Kane, Early Childhood Education Professor; Joyce Kulig, Retention Specialist with the Visions Program; Amy LaBarge, Academic/Disabilities Counselor; Melissa Manzi, Mental Health Counselor; Eveliz Rivera-White, Financial Aid Advisor; Lea Ann Scales, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications & K-12 Partnerships; Donna Tully, Associate Professor of Nursing; Denise Whitney, Administrative Assistant in the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development; Sara Williams, Management Assistant with the Visions and Rx programs.

Their photographs and inspiring stories are on display in the South Café throughout the month.





SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEight recent graduates of Athol High School visited their alma mater to share advice with juniors and seniors about making the transition to college.

The annual Alumni Breakfast forum, held March 18 and sponsored by the high school guidance department and Mount Wachusett Community College’s Division of Access & Transition, covered a wide range of topics including selecting a school and a major, financing an education, study habits, course load, time management, dorm life and adjusting to roommates.

Pictured, front row, from left: Amber Young, a health sciences major at New England College, Devin Willard, a chemical engineering major at UMass Dartmouth and MaRyea Jennings, a business administration major at Mount Wachusett Community College. Back row, from left, MWCC Academic Counselor Steve Ringer; Jimmy Hughes, a business administration major at UMass Amherst and MWCC alumnus; Jamie Posk, an aviation major at Bridgewater State University; Ari Baker, a video game design major at Monteserrat College of Art; Brianna DeStefano a liberal arts major at MWCC; and Mark Batchelor, a history major at Salem State University.

Alternative Spring Break 2016 MWCCA group of MWCC students and staff members spent part of spring break as home builders with Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts to benefit a family in Ayer.

The day-long volunteer effort on March 16 marked MWCC’s 9th annual Alternative Spring Break, organized by the office of Student Life and the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

The service project provides an amazing opportunity for students to learn new skills while giving back to others, said Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, who initiated the college’s Alternative Spring Break in 2008.

In addition to Clement, Shelley Errington Nicholson, Director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, and Sarah Savoie, Student Services clerk and certifying official participated, along with students  Jana Murphy, Priscilla DePaula, Kate Zebierek and Kevin Figueroa.


Leominster High School students joined peers from throughout the region at MWCC's annual Juniors Symposium.

Leominster High School students joined peers from throughout the region at MWCC’s annual Juniors Symposium.

Nearly 200 area high school juniors were welcomed to Mount Wachusett Community College’s annual Juniors Symposium this week to gain insight into applying to colleges and universities, seeking financial aid and scholarships, and related topics to help them succeed.

Over 90 juniors from Fitchburg, Athol, Murdock and Gardner high schools attended the half-day symposium on March 15, while another 90 students from Fitchburg, Leominster and Sizer high schools participated on March 17.

Pep rallies, led by MWCC Dean of Students Jason Zelesky and Stephanie Marchetti, student support specialist/academic counselor, served to inspire students with positive, relevant messages about the importance of education and pursuing one’s dreams. The students also attended a series of workshops.

The annual event is offered through MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, which serves approximately 4,000 middle and high school students in the region.

“This was the most useful seminar I’ve ever been too,” said Leominster High School student Yasmin Yusif.