Faculty and Staff Stories

Mount Wachusett Community College pre-engineering student Casey Bortle pilots the college’s new drone during a Math Modeling Initiative presentation to 350 area high school seniors.

Mount Wachusett Community College pre-engineering student Casey Bortle pilots the college’s new drone during a Math Modeling Initiative presentation to 350 area high school seniors.

Mount Wachusett Community College lauded the 350 high school students participating in this year’s Math Modeling Initiative and encouraged them to explore the opportunities available through a college education.

As part of the Oct. 29 event, students and teachers from partnering institutions Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, Fitchburg High School, Leominster High School and Leominster’s Center for Technical Education Innovation witnessed the unveiling of MWCC’s new quadcopter drone.

Through the initiative, MWCC offers the Modeling in Mathematics course to provide essential skills to high school seniors who require developmental math education. The free course emphasizes complex problem solving and the application of math in everyday life and eliminates the need for students to take remedial mathematics upon entering college.

“I want to congratulate you for getting a head start on your mathematics education and thank the faculty and staff who commit to your welfare,” MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino said during his opening remarks. “Our goal is to help you become college-ready so that you can move on to earn your degrees. Math has traditionally been an impediment to students, but by being college-ready, you will be unique.”

Led by MWCC Professor and Math Department Chair Yoav Elinevsky, educators from MWCC’s Access & Transition and Academic Affairs divisions and LHS developed the initiative as a pilot program in 2012. After 116 LHS seniors initially took one of six Modeling in Mathematics sections, MWCC expanded the initiative for the 2014-2015 academic year to include Monty Tech and Fitchburg High.

“Congratulations on being so close to graduating high school and preparing yourself for college and the job market,” Elinevsky said.

To promote the physics department and the importance of mathematics, faculty member Dr. Peter Olszak and students Adam Suzor and Casey Bortle led a demonstration of the quadcopter drone, which hovered for several minutes while displaying a live video feed.

Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, a first-generation college student, emphasized the importance of a college education as an investment in their future. Recruitment Counselor Natasha Robinson, Career/Vocational Education Transition Counselor Shaunti Phillips and Kijah Gordon, academic advisor for STEM programs, discussed the enrollment process, articulation agreements, and the college’s STEM Set Scholarships and STEM Starter Academy.

In addition, chairs from academic departments, including Dan Donovan from computer information systems, John Little from media arts & technology, and Tom Matsuda from art explained their respective programs. Students from the pilot course encouraged their successors to take advantage of the program and continue their educations after graduating high school.

- Cameron Woodcock

case_shawn

Shawn Case, Assistant Professor of Math, participates in Department of Higher Education’s #Memo2MA Twitter campaign highlighting the department’s 2014 Vision Project report.

At a time of rising demand for skilled college graduates in the Commonwealth, the Department of Higher Education’s third annual Vision Project report shows progress being made to raise graduation rates and close achievement gaps among public college and university students in Massachusetts, but also projects a shortage of skilled graduates needed to meet the needs of employers in key industry sectors that fuel economic growth, based on an expected drop in the state’s high school population in the coming years. 

“The Vision Project report provides state leaders with a road map that allows us to think and respond proactively to the issues in higher education we will face in the next decade,” said Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.”At the same time it allows us to celebrate achievements by our campuses and by the Patrick Administration. There are many points of progress contained in this report, and I am proud that our public colleges and universities share a vision for the future.”

Mount Wachusett Community College made continued strides during the year in several key areas, including new initiatives in area high schools and on campus to help close achievement gaps, such as a new Modeling in Mathematics program launched in three area high schools to prepare students for college-level math courses; the creation of a new bridge program to assist nontraditional students returning to college; and enhanced student support services for veterans, working parents, and students of all ages seeking degrees and careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Additionally, advances in workforce development include new accelerated training programs in advanced manufacturing, continued partnerships with industry, and the creation of a Manufacturing Workforce Certification Center at its Devens campus.

“In order to enhance college access and student success, we work closely with our regional K-12 school systems, as well as provide robust, student-centered programs and initiatives on campus,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. MWCC’s new FY2015 to FY2017 strategic plan, “Embracing Transformation,” focuses on the college’s four strategic, college-wide goals – Access, Success, Learning, and Progress, and the plan is shaped by the key outcomes of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Vision Project, he said.

“Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now,” was released this morning before a group of 275 business and civic leaders gathered at the Boston Foundation.  The report, which can be accessed at http://www.mass.edu/visionproject, outlines system and campus-level achievements aligned with the Vision Project goal of leading nationally among state systems of public higher education.

Among the recent gains:

  • One-third of Massachusetts campuses are now meeting or exceeding the Vision Project goal for improvement in six-year graduation/success rates, increases that are well above the national and leading states’ averages.
  • At the University of Massachusetts and state university campuses, the six-year graduation rate gap between White and Latino/a students has narrowed.
  • At community colleges, the rate of enrollment in remedial coursework among Latino/a students has declined, a sign that collaborative work with high schools to align curriculum and close gaps is working.
  • The focus on workforce planning in high-growth industry sectors is yielding results; as an example, the report cites a 34% increase in nurses with bachelor’s degrees (2010-2013), important because research shows that higher education levels result in improved patient outcomes.
  • Mount Wachusett Community College’s was showcased in the report for being among the institutions that have improved student success rates above the national average, as well as its support for student veterans and military families.
  • MWCC alumnus Bryan Sanderson was featured in an article for his efforts to found the college’s Students Serving Our Service office, a peer-to-peer program that is administered through the college’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

Along with citing progress, the report draws attention to a major challenge facing the Commonwealth: declining enrollments at public colleges and universities at a time when the state’s need for more college-educated workers has never been greater.

The report forecasts that by 2020, the system that now educates 70% of high school students who remain in state to attend college will be under-producing needed graduates by a minimum of 55,000 to 65,000, the result of enrollment declines that stem from a drop in the state’s high school population. Within six years, Massachusetts’ high school population will shrink by 9%, a shift from the previous decade which saw a 31% increase in the number of high school graduates. The prior growth helped fuel record enrollments at Massachusetts’ community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses, a boom which has now ended. This fall the public higher education system posted its first decline in enrollment in a decade.

“Today we put forth a major plan to address the state’s need for more college graduates,” said Richard M. Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education. “This is vital work on behalf of the Commonwealth and we understand that we can only deliver the graduates Massachusetts needs if we are improving our overall academic performance, which campuses are striving to do, and if such efforts receive strong state support.”

At outlined by Commissioner Freeland at the Boston Foundation report release event, the “Big Three Completion Plan” to address the state’s need for more graduates focuses on 1) helping more students succeed in and complete college 2) redoubling efforts to close persistent achievement gaps that keep too many African American and Latino/a students from graduating, and 3) attracting and retaining students who are not being served by the system, including those who currently can’t afford to attend college, those who are choosing to attend college out of state, and adult students who need to finish their degrees.

Despite recent investments by the Patrick Administration, decades of insufficient funding to Massachusetts public higher education have resulted in the Commonwealth ranking no better than average (currently, 26th in the nation) in state support for its public colleges and universities. A report released Tuesday by the Commonwealth’s Higher Education Finance Commission recommended that the public campuses receive significant additional funding tied to performance improvement, and that such support also be linked to campus efforts to achieve greater operating efficiencies.

“The particular needs of this state, more than many other states, demand a first class system of public higher education,” said Charles F. Desmond, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “If we hope to reap the economic dividends that come from being an educational leader, Massachusetts must make academic excellence at its public colleges and universities an even higher priority than it is right now.”

“There is clear consensus, Massachusetts must have a national top tier public higher education system to compete in our 21st century economy,” said the Co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland.) “This means greater efficiency and collaboration on the part of our higher education institutions, and strategic investment on par with the states that lead the way in public higher education nationally. This effort will require support from every resident of our Commonwealth. We understand what must be done, and today we affirm the need to act.”

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 http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

MWCC received 10 Medallion Awards at the NCMPR's fall conference, including a gold Medallion Award for its HIREed magazine.

MWCC received 10 Medallion Awards at the NCMPR’s fall conference, including a gold Medallion Award for its HIREed magazine.

The National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, District 1, has awarded 10 Medallion Awards for excellence in communications to Mount Wachusett Community College. The awards were announced during the District 1 fall conference on Oct. 13 in National Harbor, MD.

MWCC’s Marketing and Communications division received three gold Medallion Awards for a series of four animated recruitment videos, cluster brochures detailing all program offerings, and its HIREed Magazine. These submissions corresponded to the award categories of College Promotional Video, Brochure/Flyer Series, and Magazine respectively.

NCMPR recognized MWCC with five silver Medallion Awards: In the Microsite category for the landing page featuring the animated recruitment videos; in the Direct Mail Campaign category for an enrollment mailer; in the Print Advertisement Series category for the fall campaign newspaper ads; in the Nifty and Thrifty category for program sheets showcasing individual departments; and in the Annual Report category for its 50th Anniversary President’s Report.

The college additionally collected two bronze Medallion Awards, one in the Television/PSA/Advertisement category for a spot promoting dual enrollment at MWCC and another in the Brochure/Flyer category for a collateral piece outlining the steps to enroll.

During the conference, Coordinator of College Graphics Briana Nobrega presented on the division’s self-serve marketing tool kit to enhance productivity, and Public Relations Director Janice O’Connor served on the conference program committee.

NCMPR’s District 1 encompasses community colleges in the eastern U.S. from Maine to the District of Columbia, as well as the maritime provinces of Canada and the United Kingdom. An affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges, the NCMPR is the only organization of its kind that exclusively represents marketing and public relations professionals at community and technical colleges.

(Photo courtesy of Mapping Thoreau Country)

(Photo courtesy of Mapping Thoreau Country).

In a show of college-wide support for the MWCC Humanities Project, faculty, staff and students will walk in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau to the summit of Wachusett Mountain, a spot the noted author and philosopher once labeled “the observatory of the state.”

Participants in the first “Hike for the Humanities” fundraiser on Saturday Oct. 18 collectively aim to raise $6,000 for the Humanities Project and corresponding $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant. Hikers will each raise a minimum of $200 toward the $6,000-goal, with the NEH matching all funds by 50 percent.

Participants will walk either the rigorous, five-mile route taken by Thoreau or a more moderate two-mile path.

Through this grant, MWCC has implemented an ongoing humanities initiative, both on campus and in the community, beginning with this year’s theme, “East Meets West in a Cabin in the Woods: Walden and Beyond.” 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.”

Participating hikers include President Daniel Asquino, Susan Blake, Greg Clement, Lorie Donahue, Susan Goldstein, Festus Kiprono, Heather Layton, Caela Kathy Panagiotes, Provost, Kara Roche, LeaAnn Scales, Madhu Sharma, Brenda Shelling-Biggs, Michelle Valois, David Wyman and Carla Zottoli.

To make a donation, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/mwcchike, click “donate to a fundraiser” and select a team participant.

Mount Wachusett Community College art student Amber Martinez created this Thoreau-inspired environmental sculpture as part of the college’s ongoing humanities project.

Mount Wachusett Community College art student Amber Martinez created this Thoreau-inspired environmental sculpture as part of the college’s ongoing humanities project.

While Mount Wachusett Community College professors find innovative ways for their students to examine Thoreau, the author’s lasting influence has also extended into the community.

On Wednesday night, the college held the second event in its ongoing series, “East Meets West in a Cabin in the Woods: Walden and Beyond,” the first year-theme of the MWCC Humanities Project. Approximately 45 people gathered at Levi Heywood Memorial Library for UMass Lowell Associate Professor Susan Gallagher’s presentation on the historic connection between Thoreau and climate-change research.

Thoreau observed the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord between 1851 and 1858, and his observations on nature allow scientists to monitor climate change over the last 150 years, she said.

Inspired by Thoreau and his deep appreciation for nature, students in Art Professor Tom Matsuda’s Sculpture 1 course are manipulating sticks, leaves and other natural materials to create temporary environmental sculptures throughout campus. Student sculptures are also reminiscent of those created by Andy Goldsworthy, the renowned British artist who works almost exclusively with natural materials.

“I like sculptures made from nature, and the college’s emphasis on Thoreau inspired me to develop this project,” said Matsuda. “For students, it opens up a different way of thinking about art and an appreciation for what’s around us and encourages creative problem solving. The response from faculty, staff, students and the community has been great.”

Amber Martinez, an art major from Winchendon, arranged leaves into a spiral shape on a rock. The way Thoreau and Goldsworthy connected with nature motivated her to forage for natural materials to create a sculpture, she said. “It was a wonderful experience to get out of the convention of traditional art.”

Fitchburg resident and art major Garrett Watson created the only indoor sculpture, a composition of twigs that is displayed in a skylight of the college’s art wing. “Working with raw materials, such as saplings, is different than many of the other things we’ve done,” he said. Just as Thoreau famously adopted a modest lifestyle while living at Walden Pond, Watson followed “a simple idea and design” to create his sculpture.

The MWCC Humanities Project will continue with five additional October events, beginning next week at the Gardner campus. A film screening of “Into the Wild” will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m. in room 127. A lecture titled “Thoreau’s Relevance for Our Time” will run from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the North Cafeteria.

Further events include a fundraising hike at Wachusett Mountain on Saturday, Oct. 18; a book discussion of “Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild” on Tuesday, Oct. 28; and a performance by Thoreau re-enactor Richard Smith on Thursday, Oct. 30.

The MWCC Humanities Project was established through a 2013 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. “East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond” will feature a full slate of free events spotlighting various works written or inspired by Thoreau, as well as a campus-wide, interdisciplinary initiative.

For more information and a full list of events, visit http://mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas speaks with Mount Wachusett Community College biotechnology students Dana Procell and Savannah Cooke during a tour of the college’s Devens campus Monday. The Congresswoman joined state and college officials to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas speaks with Mount Wachusett Community College biotechnology students Dana Procell and Savannah Cooke during a tour of the college’s Devens campus Monday. The Congresswoman joined state and college officials to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki, Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian, and dozens of regional business and community leaders gathered at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Devens campus on Monday, Sept. 29 to celebrate the start of Manufacturing Week.

The event marked the success to date of a $15.9 million multi-year Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant MWCC and three partnering schools in Ohio, Louisiana and Tennessee received last fall to develop and expand advanced manufacturing programs in partnership with industry.

Governor Deval Patrick proclaimed Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 as Advanced Manufacturing Week in Massachusetts, underscoring the administration’s support of the robust advanced manufacturing industry and its workforce throughout the Commonwealth. The week-long celebration coincides with national efforts to promote the role advanced manufacturing plays in the economy, with the third annual National Advanced Manufacturing Day being celebrated on October 3.

“It is both gratifying and timely to see North County manufacturing experiencing a renaissance,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are grateful for the Congressional assistance we received to be the lead institution with three other colleges to develop curriculum in conjunction with employers’ needs. We have seen 70-percent placement among our 82 graduates and are amazed at the opportunities in North Central Massachusetts for mid-level employees.”

As she visits companies throughout her district, Congresswoman Tsongas said she is “constantly struck by the level of innovation” she sees among industry and public partnerships. Mount Wachusett “is committed to educating the workforce, the young people and the not so young, is committed to being a partner with local businesses, and is mindful of the true manufacturing skillset needed,” she said.

“Manufacturing is thriving and growing in all parts of the state, not just in Boston,” Secretary Bialecki said. “Schools like Mount Wachusett are listening to businesses and understanding what it means to train people for 21st century advanced manufacturing careers.”

Secretary Kaprielian quipped that “every day should be manufacturing day” because of the industry’s enduring significance to the state’s economic development. “This is not your grandfather’s manufacturing, and it is not dirty, polluting or imported. It is knowledge-based with a career ladder,” she said. “Nowhere are you training people better than at the community college level. Mount Wachusett is an example for the rest of the state.”

President Asquino welcomes students and job seekers to the college’s Manufacturing Day expo, held Oct. 3 at the Devens campus.

President Asquino welcomes students and job seekers to the college’s Manufacturing Day expo, held Oct. 3 at the Devens campus.

The manufacturing week kick-off event included a tour of the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and biotechnology labs. Speakers also included State Senator Jamie Eldridge, State Rep. Stephen DiNatale and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

The event also coincided with Monday’s White House announcement that the Massachusetts Community Colleges Consortia will receive an additional $20 million grant under the final round of TAACCCT funding. The 15-member group, led by Massasoit Community College, received the grant to continue advancing state-wide initiatives addressing the training and educational needs in the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – as well as advanced manufacturing and healthcare. The Consortium was awarded the highest-funded of 66 U.S. DOL grants.

At MWCC, the new round of funding will be used to create and enhance certificate programs in career readiness, hospitality, cyber security, information technology and other areas.

In recognition of National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 3, MWCC’s Devens campus hosted an Advanced Manufacturing Career Expo. Attendees toured the manufacturing and skills-training labs and participated in hands-on exercises and individual information sessions.

Director of Veterans Services Bob Mayer with student veterans during this fall's orientation.

Director of Veterans Services Bob Mayer with student veterans during this fall’s orientation.

For the sixth consecutive year, Mount Wachusett Community College has been recognized as a top military-friendly school for creating a culture of positive energy and academic support for veterans, active military members and their dependents.

The 2015 Military Friendly Schools list, released by Victory Media, names the top 15 percent of American colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace military students and ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation. Now in its sixth year, the list serves as the primary resource for service members and military families seeking education and captures best practices among schools in supporting military students.

The list features 1,600 institutions and was compiled through research and a data-driven survey of more than 8,000 schools approved for Post-9/11 GI Bill funding. Qualifying campuses will be featured in the G.I. Jobs Guide to Military Friendly Schools, among other Victory Media publications.

“It is our responsibility to foster an environment in which student veterans can thrive, both in the classroom and on campus,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This award is a testament to our student veterans who courageously serve our country and then make the decision to transition to college life. We also have a wonderful staff in the Center of Excellence for Veteran Affairs and a supportive group of faculty and students.”

“This title we’ve received is not in name only; we’ve earned that status,” said Veterans Services Director Robert Mayer.

A designated Yellow Ribbon School with a long history of supporting veterans, MWCC was cited for the wrap-around support provided through the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success and the Veterans Group student club, an affiliate of the Student Veterans of America.

Established in 2010 the veterans success center now serves more than 350 students each year, addressing the unique academic, financial, social and physical needs of veterans, military personnel and military families transitioning to college life.

“The college has an excellent support team for veterans, and Bob is very involved in helping us succeed,” said Tom Berger, a business administration major who served in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1998. “I enjoy being part of this peer group of students and getting involved in the college and local community.”

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. The eight keys build on the administration’s work to provide veterans and military families with a high-quality, affordable education and highlight specific ways that colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals.

In MWCC’s sixth year of recognition as a military-friendly school and service through the Veterans’ Success Center, and second year of implementing the “8 Keys,” its staff is still poised to increase the breadth of services to veterans.

- Cameron Woodcock

Purity Apiri was one of 200 volunteers who packaged meals for those in need during MWCC’s United Way Day of Caring project on Sept. 18.

Purity Apiri was one of 200 volunteers who packaged meals for those in need during MWCC’s United Way Day of Caring project on Sept. 18.

Capitalizing on its students’ eagerness to participate in community-engagement activities and a successful first year, Mount Wachusett Community College hosted its second annual United Way Day of Caring at its Gardner campus on Thursday, Sept. 18.

Through the leadership of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, more than 200 volunteers packaged 20,736 meals for food pantries and veterans centers in North Central Massachusetts. An additional 200 meals are being made available to MWCC students struggling with food security through the college’s Students Serving Our Students (SOS) program.

“Civic engagement has been the cornerstone of our college for the last two decades, and it is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, whose educational philosophy and college curriculum have long stressed civic engagement. “As Americans, we have an obligation to give back, and we are thrilled that our students and faculty can confront the major issue of hunger by helping  individuals in North Central Massachusetts.”

MWCC became a Day of Caring host site for the first time in 2013, following years of participation in the program and appeals from students wishing to donate their time. This year, the center organized 75-minute volunteer shifts from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. to accommodate students’ class schedules and maximize the number of meals distributed throughout the community.

“This is a very important undertaking because we are supporting food pantries throughout North Central Massachusetts, most of which have low stocks,” said Fagan Forhan, Director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement. “Volunteer turnout this year has surpassed our expectations, so we made the decision to up the ante from 16,000 meals to 20,000 meals.”

Outreach, Inc., an Iowa-based nonprofit that also operates in the Northeast, provided supplies to create packages of meals consisting of macaroni and cheese and rice and beans.

Forhan credited the increased turnout to MWCC student and AmeriCorps VISTA John Day, who spearheaded the recruitment process. Among the many volunteers, MWCC student Jasson Alvarado Gomez arrived at 7 a.m. and unloaded an entire truck by himself.

“I get to school at 7 a.m. every day, so I was happy that I could help set up before the event started,” said Gomez, who, in his first year of volunteering, worked three shifts. “Helping people gives me so much energy, and I love doing it.”

MWCC participated along with numerous other organizations in North Central Massachusetts, recognizing the 19th Annual United Way Day of Caring.

_MG_6094

MWCC art major Amber Martinez participates in a Raku firing at Snow Farm Craft Center in Williamsburg, Mass. With funding provided by the MWCC Foundation, the art department will create an area on the Gardner campus for Raku and pit-firing ceramics.

With the start of the new academic year, the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation has provided funds totaling $46,044 for eight innovative projects conceived by college faculty and staff.

“Current community college funding is such that we are often left wishing we had more resources to experiment with new and innovative pilot programs that have the potential to dramatically alter or create new opportunities for our students and the community,” said MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla DeFosse. “The Innovation Fund allows us to financially support inventive staff and faculty and give them the opportunity to implement their concepts.”

Dean of Students Jason Zelesky will collaborate with the offices of Disability Services, Student Services and the Visions program to acquire new adaptive technology equipment to support students with documented disabilities. Enhancing the college’s inventory of assistive technologies will enhance academic success and encourage more students with disabilities to attend MWCC. The project will emphasize iOS applications and provide five iPads for student use in the classroom and during tutoring sessions.

Art Professor Joyce Miller received funding to create a program and fundraiser centered on Raku, a pottery tradition dating back to 16thcentury Japan. Available to art majors and non-art majors, as well as credit and noncredit students, the equipment will enhance the college’s art department to further attract prospective students. An exterior area will be designated for Raku and pit-firing ceramics. In addition to supporting the college’s art program, the equipment will support area high school art programs and their students by offering field trip opportunities and chances to participate in pit-firing or Raku firing, which in turn will assist with college recruitment.

Veronica Guay, Assistant Dean of Business, Science, Technology and Mathematics, and Perkins Counselor Shaunti Phillips, Career Vocational/Technical Education, will receive funding to create a new dual enrollment program for Gardner High School seniors interested in graphic and interactive design. Guay and Phillips will partner with Professor Leslie Cullen, chair of the Graphic & Interactive Design department; Natasha Robinson, Recruitment Counselor for the Admissions office; and members of the Gardner High School system.

Interim Director of Admissions Ai Co Abercrombie was awarded a grant to develop a peer-to-peer recruitment program, specifically targeting first-time students from traditionally underrepresented population groups: low-income and minority students and students with disabilities. The Admissions office plans to employ two student recruiters, one of traditional college age and one of non-traditional college age, who will accompany admissions representatives to college fairs, events and community activities and perform additional recruitment tasks.

Director of Student Success Debra Boucher received funding for a new program supporting non-traditional students as they transition to college life. The first portion of this program, a summer bridge session for non-traditional students and students returning to school following a five-year absence, took place in August. Incoming students learned about available resources at the college, while also participating in team-building activities. The program will continue this fall, as students attend two meetings to evaluate their college experiences and participate in leadership-building activities. Boucher is partnering with Student Services, the Visions program, the Advising Center and the Admissions office.

Lauren Mountain, Associate Director of the United Way Youth Venture in the college’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, received funding to further develop immersive learning opportunities for MWCC students. Along with her colleagues in the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, Mountain will use funding to support student ventures that create tangible changes in the community and at the college, similar to the Youth Venture program that has long served middle and high school students. This initiative is designed to promote retention and involvement at MWCC, enhance the educational experience for students, and provide them with community contacts and job skills.

Professor Sheila Murphy will partner with the Admissions office to further promote the benefits of the Honors Program and increase awareness among incoming students. By continuing to shape and market this honors culture, Murphy hopes to attract prospective students to MWCC and motivate them to participate in the many challenging degree programs. Further program goals include emerging as a top destination for students who excel in high school. To increase first-year student enrollment and eligibility for the Honors Program, Murphy will also partner with the Marketing and Communications department and the Dual Enrollment program.

Associate Professor John Little, chair of the Media Arts and Technology department, will receive funds to enlist students to record and produce concert DVDs. The project will build upon previous concert recording initiatives and will serve to promote the academic program, as well as provide service learning and entrepreneurship opportunities for students. Little will collaborate Theatre at the Mount as well as the Graphic and Interactive Design, Media Services, and Marketing and Communications departments.