Faculty and Staff Stories

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An image of Frankenstein’s creature created by MWCC Graphic and Interactive Design alumnus Dylan Safford to illustrate the MWCC Humanities Project second-year theme.

Like many great works of science fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, explores what it means to be human in a rapidly changing world.

Published nearly 200 years ago when Shelley was just 20 years old, the novel’s influence extends well beyond the literary domain into film, science and politics, making it an ideal theme for the Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project.

Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy has been selected as the second year theme for the MWCC Humanities Project. The project, an interdisciplinary and community study, is funded through a multi-year, matching $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to deepen and sustain quality and humanities programing and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

The impact of Shelley’s 1818 story has prevailed into the modern era, spawning countless interpretations, retellings, and inspirations, yet it bears little resemblance to the Hollywood adaptions that have dominated popular culture for decades, said Professor Michelle Valois, chair of the MWCC’s Liberal Arts & Sciences programs and coordinator of the Humanities Project. Frankenstein continues to raise important questions about science and community, family and education.

“If, when you think Frankenstein, you think only of a grotesquely disfigured giant of a man who grunts and groans, then you only know half the story,” Valois said. “Mary Shelley’s novel – though a work of the imagination – offers an approach to these philosophical and ethical questions: Can science go too far?  What does it mean to play God?  How do we tolerate difference?  Who are the real monsters?  Our world is witnessing rapid scientific and technological advances – how do works of the imagination help society cope with these changes?”

As he becomes obsessed with his experiments, Dr. Frankenstein cuts himself off from his family and friends. In this self-imposed isolation, he brings to life a creature that he can’t stand to look upon and which he rejects. “This question of responsibility and control is central to many discussions about the new science that our contemporary society faces in the area of biotechnology and artificial intelligence,” Valois said.

Other ideas and themes that the novel explores include the social outcast, nature vs. nurture, the effects of abandonment on children, beauty, good and evil, the limits of science, the responsibility of science, the fact and fiction behind many new scientific and technological developments, rationality vs. intuition, faith vs. reason, and, most of all, the power of a good story to invade our imagination and transform how we see ourselves and our world, Valois said.

During a recent three-day workshop, MWCC faculty from various disciplines met to discuss the tale and its significance today, and plan ways to integrate themes into the curriculum for the upcoming academic year. This cross-college team included attendees from the fields of English, philosophy, sociology, graphic and interactive design, art, computer information systems, biology, biotechnology and natural resources.

Participating faculty and staff members include: Julie Capozzi, Paula Pitkiewicz, Paul Swerzenski, David Wyman, Lara Dowland, Donalyn Schofield, Kathryn Smith, Candace Shivers, Tom Montagno, Kenneth Roy, Shelley Nicholson, Maureen Provost, Wanda Pothier-Hill, Daniel Soucy, Lorie Donahue, Susan Blake, Michelle Paranto, Constance Porter, and Jess Mynes.

Events will include a panel discussion on “Frankenscience – The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Science,”  a Halloween hike for the Humanities at Wachusett Mountain, a book discussion with Elizabeth Young, author of Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor, and lectures by visiting professors Sonia Hofkosh of Tufts University, Robert Schwartz of Mount Holyoke College, and Shelley Errington Nicholson of MWCC and Springfield College. 

Films will include Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, James Whales’ 1931 classic Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and  Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein as well as a monster movie marathon with Fitchburg State University Professor Joe Moser.

The study follows the MWCC Humanities Project first-year theme, East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond, which provided students and the community an opportunity to examine Henry David Thoreau’s lasting relevance through lectures, films, and book discussions. During the past academic year, students studied Thoreau’s Walden: Or Life in the Woods, not only in English courses, but in science, business, philosophy, art, sociology, graphic design, and history courses as well. MWCC sponsored 12 community events held at the college and at local libraries.

VA Secretary Urena and Bob Mayer

Massachusetts VA Secretary Francisco Urena with MWCC Veteran Services Director Bob Mayer.

Mount Wachusett Community College welcomed Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs Francisco A. Urena to its Gardner campus on June 23. The secretary’s visit included a meeting with President Daniel M. Asquino, a tour of the college’s Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success with MWCC Veteran Services Director Bob Mayer, and an opportunity to meet with a coalition of state educators who were on campus to discuss services for student veterans.

Secretary Urena, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Charlie Baker in January, said he was impressed with the college’s array of support services for veterans, commitment to academic success, and construction and renovation projects underway. He is touring the state’s community colleges with Steven R. Sullivan, Director of Grants and Workforce Development for the Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office.

MWCC Transfer Counselor Limari Rivera was among the MWCC administrators and staff to greet the secretary. Rivera was Secretary Urena’s first academic advisor when he was a student at Northern Essex Community College.

“I knew he was going places the minute I met him,” Rivera said.

After earning an associate degree, Secretary Urena went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and is pursuing a master’s degree from UMass Boston. Prior to his appointment as secretary, he served three years as Commissioner of Veterans’ Services in Boston and five years as director of veterans’ services in Lawrence. A recipient of the Purple Heart, he served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps guarding US embassies in Syria and Kyrgyzstan and was a tank commander during operation Iraqi Freedom.

 

Steve W and Jared S MWCC Fitness Center

Retiring Fitness & Wellness Center Director Steve Washkevich welcomes new Director Jared Swerzenski.

After nearly two decades at the helm of the Mount Wachusett Community College Fitness & Wellness Center, Director Steve Washkevich retired in June. Members of the college and fitness center community paid tribute to his 18 years of service during the Silver Sneakers program’s annual barbecue on June 22. The community also welcomed the center’s incoming Director Jared Swerzenski.

Washkevich, who was appointed a year after the facility was converted into a community fitness center, said the center appeals to patrons of all ages and fitness levels due to its large size, wide variety of program offerings, state-of-the-art equipment, indoor swimming pool, and personalized training.

“You can get personal training, you can swim, play basketball, and racquet ball. It’s a great family place, where parents can work out while their children are at the indoor playground or doing other activities.”

Prior to coming to Mount Wachusett, Washkevich was the director of athletics at Anna Maria College for over 20 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Health and Physical Education and his master’s degree in Education Administration and Leadership from Bridgewater State University. In retirement, Washkevich plans on spending more time with his family, which includes his wife, three daughters and a grandchild.

“It’s been a great experience for me and hopefully everybody else feels the same. The members have been great and I’ve built a lot of friendships.”

Incoming director Swerzenski most served as the director of intramurals and assistant director of facilities at Framingham State University. Previously, he was the athletic director at North Central Charter Essential School in Fitchburg, now the Sizer School, and associate director of East Coast Field Admissions at Post University in Waterbury, CT.

Swerzenski attended Clark University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Culture and Urban Development, and a master’s degree in Professional Communications. He also played varsity soccer for four years.

MWCC’s 60,000-square-foot facility includes a six-lane, Olympic sized swimming pool; more than 40 fitness programs; a nursery; summer sports camps; three full-size, indoor basketball courts; outdoor tennis and basketball courts; a 200-meter outdoor track; two regulation racquetball courts; and state-of-the-art weight training and cardiovascular equipment.

Programs are available for people of all ages and abilities and include personalized nutrition classes, body composition testing, weight training, massage therapy, personal training and yoga. In addition, the center’s group exercise programs are free to members and offers more than 50 classes a week led by certified trainers, including Zumba, Centergy, water aerobics and yoga.

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Community and college officials joined students at the Jackson Playground to celebrate the new mural. From Left, City Councillor Karen Hardern, Jesse Maguine, Margot Parrot, Gardner Economic Development Coordinator Joshua Cormier, State Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Ben Mikels, President Daniel Asquino, Kabilgangai Subramanian, Cyrus Ndolo, Mayor Mark Hawke, and Art Department Chair Thomas Matsudo. Not Pictured Anthony Guerrero.

Mount Wachusett Community College art students partnered with the city of Gardner to transform a graffiti-covered wall into public art at the newly refurbished Jackson Playground.

Since mid-May, five students have been working on their “Unplug and Play” mural conveying their message that children should put down the controllers and have fun at the playground. The 150-foot mural depicts Gardner scenes, ranging from the giant chair to the orange and black stripes of the Wildcats to the college’s turbines.

On June 8, President Daniel M. Asquino, Mayor Mark Hawke, and state Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Art Professor Thomas Matsuda, chair of the college’s art department, and other community and college officials visited the site and congratulated the artists on their accomplishment. The artists are Ben Mikels, Anthony Guerrero, Cyrus Ndolo, Margot Parrot, and Kablilganfai Subramanian.

MWCC art students have participated in community art projects since 2008, beginning with a mural at the Goodnow Pearson building on Main Street that covered boarded windows at the former department store.

“Civic engagement has become a hallmark of Mount Wachusett Community College, and this is largely due to the enthusiasm and dedication of our students and faculty, who volunteered their time and talents in so many ways,” said MWCC president Daniel M. Asquino. “We’re very proud of the students who participated in this downtown beautification project.”

“This is a great project. It provides experience for the students and enhances the image of the city. It’s ideal,” he added.

Matsuda, chair of the college’s art department, explained that the students worked collaboratively to develop the theme. “I was so amazed at how quickly it all came together. The students worked very hard and are very dedicated.”

The project has received great support from the community said Joshua Cormier, the city’s Economic Development Coordinator, who has heard from many families who appreciate what the students have done.

“It added a lot of character to the playground, Cormier said, noting it would likely gain the new nickname “Unplug and Play Playground”

State Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik recalled playing at the park as a child. “It’s great to see all of this come together.”

-Katherine Best

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MWCC student Bella Ballin, second from left, is among this year’s recipients of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s prestigious Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship. Pictured with her at the May 28 ceremony at the Massachusetts Statehouse, from left, Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships, Natalie Mercier, director of MWCC’s Pathways Early College Innovation School and Early College Experience programs, and DHE Commissioner Richard Freeland.

Bella Ballin, a high school junior enrolled in the Pathways Early College Innovation School at Mount Wachusett Community College, is among the 25 recipients of this year’s prestigious Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship.

The award, presented by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education during a ceremony at the Statehouse on May 28, covers 50 percent of recipients’ expenses toward a bachelor’s degree at the public or private college or university of their choice.

“It really is a great honor,” said Ballin, a Worcester resident. “With this scholarship, many new opportunities are opening up for me that before were completely out of my range. I’m still looking for my niche, though I know I’m more oriented toward the STEM fields.”

As a dual enrollment student at MWCC, Ballin is majoring in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a concentration in chemistry and plans to continue studying science at a four year school after graduation. She said she enjoyed high school, but wanted to tap into the opportunities provided through the Pathways school, including the cost of tuition and fees covered through school choice funding. Pathways students simultaneously earn their high school diploma and a transferrable associate degree.

“The Pathways Early College Innovation School provides highly motivated and academically successful students, like Bella, the opportunity to start their college experience early while being engaged in a comprehensive support system that develops academic and social skills,” said Pathways Director Natalie Mercier. “Bella is a dedicated and hardworking student who exemplifies the mission of our program. We’re very proud of her.”

The Herter scholarship program provides educational opportunities to students who demonstrate profound personal strength and academic promise and desire to pursue postsecondary education. The program was established in 1972 by the Massachusetts State Legislature in honor of Herter, who served as the 59th governor of Massachusetts from 1953 to 1957 and as U.S. Secretary of State from 1959 to 1961.

 

 

 

 

 

Dean Eileen Costello pins Fortunate Munhutu May 2015

Fortunate Munhutu receives her pin from Dean Eileen Costello during MWCC’s 42nd nurse pinning ceremony.

Ninety eight graduates of MWCC’s day, evening and LPN to ADN  nursing programs celebrated  a  milestone during the 42nd annual Nurse Pinning Ceremony held May 21 at the Fitness & Wellness Center.

Each graduate, dressed in a traditional nurse uniform, was welcomed into the profession by having a nursing pin fastened to her/his lapel by a fellow nurse—a family member, friend or faculty member. The eight-star pin is imprinted with the words “Service to Humanity and the World” with the nursing symbol in the middle.

“This is a big night for our nursing students,” Executive Vice President Ann McDonald told the gathering of hundreds of friends and family members, current students and alumni. “I see first-hand, every day the dedication our nursing students have to their studies and profession.”

Eileen Costello, Dean of the School of Health Professions, Public Service Programs and Social Sciences led the ceremony with the assistance of faculty members.

The graduates also lit electronic candles and recited the Florence Nightinigale Pledge, an oath originally composed in 1893 and named for the founder of modern nursing.

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Student Government Association President Cathy Teague leads the Class of 2015 to their Commencement ceremony.

Unlike Mount Wachusett Community College’s first commencement in 1966, when 71 graduates received associate degrees in six academic programs, the college this year awarded 842 associate degrees and academic certificates to 785 graduates enrolled in nearly 50 program options.

During the college’s 50th commencement on May 20, President Daniel M. Asquino asked the graduates to reflect on their accomplishments and their journey ahead.

“Lives change here like nowhere else. Over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of students have crossed this stage and they are now contributing members of our communities,” he said. “I challenge you to go forward and use your skills and the education that you received to continue these pursuits and to improve your life, that of your family and friends and that of our community, your state and your nation, and that you manifest an overall behavior that generates happiness, goodwill and contagious optimism.”

Kevin Berg

Kevin Berg

Keynote speaker and 2015 Alumnus of the Year Award recipient Kevin Berg urged the graduates to embrace change, persist toward their goals with drive, determination and desire, and accept the help and support of others as needed.“To me there can be no greater honor than being asked to give the Commencement address at the institution that started me on my path in becoming the person I am today,” said Berg, who grew up in Gardner and is now executive vice president of production for CBS Network Entertainment in Los Angeles. “My path clearly had its genesis right here at Mount Wachusett.”After studying broadcasting and communications at MWCC, he worked for six months at a news station in Boston. In the summer of 1984, he moved to LA, where he landed a job in television production and quickly moved up the ranks working with award-winning director Marty Pasetta and then at CBS.

 

Jim Garrison and President Asquino

Long-serving Board of Trustees chairman Jim Garrison received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters and the 2015 Service Above Self Award for his leadership and generosity. In appreciation, he also received a standing ovation.

MWCC also presented business leader, philanthropist and college advocate James O. Garrison with an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters and the 2015 Service Above Self Award. The award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to MWCC and the 29 North Central Massachusetts cities and towns that make up MWCC’s service area. In addition to extensive community service, Mr. Garrison is a former chair of the college’s Board of Trustees and benefactor of the Garrison Center for Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Education scholarships.“His philanthropic endeavors have resulted in countless improvements and changes to MWCC that have enhanced the learning environment for college students and children and the vital role the college plays in the community,” President Asquino said.

Student speaker Yasmine Kanaan of Still River, a Business Administration major, shared her poignant story of how MWCC helped her overcome obstacles, redirect her life and discover her potential.

Yasmine Kanaan

Yasmine Kanaan

“My rise was not easy, and my journey continues as I work hard to better myself and put the pieces of my life back together,” she said. “I have gone from a lost young adult with no goals and no identity, to a student with a high GPA, an associate’s degree in business that I was able to complete in one year, and an acceptance to the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This was all possible because this college embraced me and opened so many doors for me. We all owe this day and our success to the Mount for creating that stepping stone, that opportunity for each of us to be able to have a better and brighter future, for creating an environment that makes it easy to transition back into school, and for faculty who are very willing to help and advise us in any way they can.”

Student Trustee Phillip M. Stan was presented with the Trustees’ Award. Bryce Bodley-Gomes of Ashburnham and Cindy Caron of Jaffrey, N.H. received President’s Keys. John Day of Gardner was presented with this year’s Dean’s Key.

Five retiring professors were awarded emeriti status: Joel Anderson, Media Arts & Technology; Paul Laverty, Mathematics; John McNally, Health Sciences, Fitness & Wellness; Elena Natalizia, Criminal Justice; and John Reilly, Business Administration.

Garrisons with Dan and Tina

Peggy and Jim Garrison, with Board of Trustees Chair Tina Sbrega and President Asquino, were recognized for their generous contributions to the college and its students.

Prior to MWCC’s 50th Commencement ceremony, college and local officials paid tribute to Jim and Peggy Garrison for their generous support over the past several decades to the college and students.

Named in their honor, the Garrison Center for Early Childhood Education on the Gardner campus serves as an educational setting for college students as well as a preschool in collaboration with the Montachusett Opportunity Council. The center will be adorned with a plaque commemorating their gifts.

“Jim and Peggy Garrison epitomize the essence of what it means to be caring, engaged citizens in a democratic society. They give freely of their time, talent, and resources to philanthropic efforts that advance humankind,” the plaque reads.

“This Center is named in recognition of their generous gift toward the construction of the facility and their additional gift of $1,000,000 for scholarships to students who study in the field of early childhood education. It is their belief that those who care for our precious children deserve to have all barriers to higher education eliminated. Further, they correctly believe that the foundation to success and compassion begins in the early years and that children have the right to be supported by parents and caregivers who are keenly interested in their development.

Jim and Peggy Garrison will be forever instrumental in the success of our city, our community, and our nation by their efforts to nurture the development of compassionate and engaged human beings from their formative years forward.”

Visions & RX awards May 15 2015

Visions and Rx program award winners Rhonda Albert, Renee Chandler, Kimberly Mertell and Stevie LaBelle with Rx senior advisor Catherine Maddox-Wiley, Executive Vice President Ann McDonald, and TRIO SSS Programs Director Gaurav Khanna.

During its annual awards ceremony, MWCC’s Visions and Rx programs celebrated the achievements of graduating and continuing students, welcomed back a program alumnus, and bid a tearful farewell to a longserving staff member who has taken on a new role at the college.

“We have a bumper crop of graduates this year,” said Gaurav Khanna, Director of  the TRIO Student Support Services Programs at MWCC. Many of the graduates are continuing on for bachelor’s degrees, with this year’s graduates transferring to Mount Holyoke College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, UMass Amherst, UMass Lowell, Fitchburg, Worcester and Westfield state universities, Nichols College, Hampshire Colleges and others.

Edwin Encarnacion, who participated in the Visions program in the mid 1990s shortly after moving to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, shared how the program and supportive staff were instrumental in helping him excel academically, professionally and personally as he transitioned to life in a new country.  After earning a degree in media arts, Encarnacion went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in communciations and instructional technology from Fitchburg State University. He now works as a test engineer for Image Stream Medical.

“I would not be where I am today without the visions Program. I knew I had the drive to succeed, but they made the road a lot easier.”

The Visions Program, which has been offered at MWCC for more than three decades, assists eligible students enrolled in any non-healthcare major. The Rx program, which focuses on supporting students pursuing healthcare majors, is graduating 35 students with associate degrees and certificates.

The programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education TRIO grants,  help guide participants throughout the college experience and assist those who wish to transfer to a four-year institution by offering a variety of services, including intensive academic advising, transfer and personal counseling, professional tutoring and supplemental instruction. The Visions and Rx programs support income-eligible students, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities.

During the May 15 awards ceremony, graduating Visions Program students who collectively earned 55 associate degrees and certificates were recognized with a number of achievement awards. The President’s Award was presented to graduating Human Resources major Renée Chandler, who will continue studies at Fitchburg State University, and the Visions Award was presented to continuing student Stevie LaBelle, who is pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. Each will receive a $250 scholarship.

The Rx Award for a continuing student was presented to Kimberly Mertell, who plans to continue studies in Healthcare Information Management. The President’s Award was presented to Rhonda Albert, who is graduating with an associate degree in Human Services and transferring to Anna Maria College to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.

Program mainstay Gloria Correa expressed her admiration for the staff and students, and explained she will continue supporting students in her new position within MWCC’s Financial Aid office.