Faculty and Staff Stories

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFollowing academic and career pursuits that have taken her to three continents, educator and anthropologist Dr. Laurie Occhipinti has returned to her native Massachusetts as Mount Wachusett Community College’s new Dean of Liberal Arts, Humanities, Education, and Communications.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Laurie Occhipinti to Mount Wachusett Community College to lead our School of Liberal Arts, Humanities, Education, and Communications,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “Dean Occhipinti brings experience in academic leadership and teaching, a solid understanding of the value of civic engagement to society and great enthusiasm during this period of growth at MWCC. The liberal arts are essential to a holistic education, providing students of all academic disciplines with critical thinking skills and a core knowledge of the world around them.”

Prior to joining MWCC in January, Dr. Occhipinti served as an assistant dean and professor of anthropology at Clarion University in Clarion, PA. At MWCC, she fills a position previously held on an interim basis by Dr. Vincent Ialenti, Dean of Academic and Institutional Technology.

A native of Beverly and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dr. Occhipinti said she is excited to join MWCC. Her first priority is to get to know the college, students and faculty.

“I come with a blank sheet of paper. I want to know what’s important to others,” she said. “I am really committed to public education. It plays a critical role and opens up opportunity for everyone. Community colleges have a particularly special role in that.”

Dr. Occhipinti joined Clarion University, a public institution, in 2003 as an assistant professor of anthropology and was subsequently promoted to associate professor and full professor. In addition to working on program development and assessment for the anthropology program, she served as coordinator of the university’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies program and as vice chair and chair of the university’s faculty senate. In 2014, she was appointed assistant dean of the College of Arts, Education and Sciences, where she was responsible for student advising, transfers, graduation and curriculum.

Prior to joining Clarion, she worked as a lecturer for three years at Northeastern University in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She previously taught at Salem State University and McGill University, and worked for the American Anthropological Association as an assistant with its Association for Feminist Anthropology.

Much of her research has focused on poverty and economic development; the role of religious organizations in combatting poverty; creating meaningful and sustainable service projects; and the impact of volunteerism on volunteers. Her field work and professional travel have brought her to Argentina, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador.

Among her many publications, she is the author of Making a Difference in a Globalized World: Short Term Missions that Work; Faith-Based Organizations and Development in the Handbook on Religions and Global Development; and Liberating development: Religious transformations of development discourse.

Dr. Occhipinti earned her Ph.D. and master’s degree in anthropology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She lives in Salem with her husband and their son.

Black Frankenstein bookThough the calendar says it’s the dead of winter, Frankenstein’s monster is still alive as Mount Wachusett Community College’s Humanities Project continues its series “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy” through April.

Sponsored through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this year’s theme takes an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 200-year-old novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, and its impact in the modern era. Free events will take place at MWCC’s Gardner campus and in the community

On Wednesday, February 17, Professor Robert Schwartz from Mount Holyoke College will present “Historical Perspectives on Frankenstein” from 12:30-1:30 pm in MWCC’s North Café.

Elizabeth Young, author of Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor, and a professor of English and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College, will speak Thursday, Feb. 25 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Fitchburg Art Museum. In her book, Young identifies and interprets the figure of a black American Frankenstein monster as it appears throughout 19th and 20th-century U.S. culture in fiction, film, essays, painting and other media.

On Saturday, March 5, from 11-5, Professor Joseph Moser of Fitchburg State University will present two film versions of Frankenstein: James Whale’s 1931 classic starring Boris Karloff, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, directed by Kenneth Branagh in 1994. This program, co-sponsored by the Friends of the Leominster Library, includes a light lunch between films. Registration to this event is required and can be made online through the Calendar of Events at www.leominsterlibrary.org or by calling the library’s information desk at 978-534-7522, ext. 3.

On Thursday, March 24, MWCC Assistant Professor of Philosophy Daniel Soucy and UMass doctoral candidate Shelley Errington Nicholson, director of community learning with MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, will discuss, “Girls and Their Ghost Stories: Feminism, Philosophy, and Frankenstein,” at the Athol Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

In April, two final events are scheduled in the North Café at MWCC: on Tuesday, April 5, Mel Brooks’ parody, Young Frankenstein, will be shown from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., and on Wednesday, April 27, MWCC students will present Frankenstein-themed projects from the 2015-2016 academic year.


President Daniel M. Asquino presented certificates and a free course to the winners of the fourth annual President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition. From left, President Asquino, Darrège Bruny, Monica Kwan and Eddie Vargas of Gardner, with Human Resources Generalist Maria Gariepy, co-chair of the college’s Diversity Committee.

MWCC students from a variety of academic disciplines shared their views on diversity during the college’s annual President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition. College faculty and staff selected four winning submissions from among the poems, essays and artwork entered into the competition.

This year’s winners are Gemini Walter of Leominster, Monica Kwan of Fitchburg, Darrège Bruny of Clinton and Eddie Vargas of Gardner. Each will receive a free, three-credit academic course for use during the spring or summer semesters.

Now in its fourth year, the competition was developed by MWCC’s Diversity Committee to highlight the value diversity brings to the learning and working environment. Students are encouraged to submit papers, posters, essays, research work, art work or other original, creative work related to issues of diversity or identity, such as those involving disability, race, socio-economic status, veteran status, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and national origin.

Walter, a Human Services major, is the competition’s first two-time honoree, following up on his winning essay on race relations last year with a new essay on what it means to embrace diversity.

“Diversity is looking into, not around your fellow human beings,” he writes. “Diversity is knowing in your heart that every man is your brother and every woman is your sister.”

MWCC Diversity Competition Photo 2 Gemini Walter

Gemini Walter, center, with Kim Kayser, Senior Community Outreach Specialist/Adult Basic Education and Leominster Campus Dean John Walshis, is the first two-time winner of MWCC’s President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition.

Walter’s essay goes on to address gender, disability, illness, faith, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, and physical appearance. “Diversity is understanding that there are no absolutes when it comes to human beings…Diversity is not black and white.”

Kwan, a Dental Hygiene major, created a painting of a bee inching toward an abstract set of teeth through the unknown. The artwork represents her goal of gaining an education and becoming a successful healthcare professional in contrast to the discrimination against women in China.

“Bees area symbol of perseverance, while simultaneously advocating a team-oriented approach. Their nature of persistence and maintaining equality runs parallel to why my grandparents relocated to the United States from Hong Kong. I wish to honor my grandparents’ beliefs that women deserve an education and have the ability to defy stereotypes by being successful.”

Bruny, who recently transitioned from English as a Second Language student to an Interdisciplinary Studies major, wrote about the vast difference between how people with disabilities are treated in Haiti, where she was born, and in the U.S., where she now lives with her family. In her essay, the aspiring cardiologist shares the struggles her family experienced due to their physical and medical disabilities of her two young brothers.

“Haiti has a system where disabled people are ostracized or rejected by society. It is a system that will not be over soon, although a great deal of citizens are fighting every day to change it.”

Vargas, who is majoring in Media Arts and Technology with a concentration in photography, submitted a collection of photographs and a statement on the diverse, supportive community of skateboarders, a culture that does not discriminate. The submission stemmed from a year of photographing skateboarders of all ages and backgrounds through his volunteer work with the nonprofit organization he founded called Keep Kids Off the Streets, which strives to break stereotypes about skateboarders as trouble-makers.

“I’ve never seen a happier, more diverse or civilized group of people,” he said.



President Asquino photoThe New Year began at Mount Wachusett Community College not with the customary noisemakers of bells and horns, but with drills, hammers and saws as construction continues on our Gardner campus.

The patience of our students, faculty, staff and visitors during the modernization of our 45-year-old facility is greatly appreciated. In the coming weeks and months, renovations to our Advising Center, Commons Area, Theatre at the Mount, and main entrance will be unveiled, followed later this year by the opening of our new science and technology building.

Less obvious than these outwards signs of growth and improvement, but equally impressive, is the transformation taking place inside the classroom walls. New student support services, new faculty and staff, new transfer agreements, and new civic engagement initiatives will enhance our existing resources to help students build up their academic and career skills in preparation for the workforce or a bachelor’s degree.

This spring semester provides opportunities to help students build up their résumés as well as increase understanding on national issues, including race, income inequality, and citizenship. Continuing programs through the office of Student Life include alternative spring break with Habitat for Humanity, the Leadership for Life workshop series, and events commemorating Black History Month and Women’s History Month.

Upcoming events include a not-to-miss presentation in March by Harvard political scientist and best-selling author Robert D. Putnam. This presentation comes to the Mount through our involvement with the national “Citizenship Under Siege” program sponsored by the American Association of Colleges & Universities and The Democracy Commitment, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

In February, the MWCC Humanities Project continues its second year of programming with “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy,” an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and its relevance in today’s world. Free events will take place on the Gardner campus and in the community at public libraries and other venues, funded through a grant from the NEH to deepen and sustain quality humanities programming and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

The Division of Access and Transition is launching a Tea Time Speaker Series that will kick off on February 29 with a Men of Color panel presentation exploring the journey and obstacles of men of color in society, with an emphasis on those working in the field of healthcare.

Theatre at the Mount will reopen with a slate of new productions, we’re hosting a job fair for students and the public in March, and sooner than we realize, the season will conclude with our most joyous event of all, Commencement, on May 18.



MWCC Workforce Diversity Pipeline appointments group photo

MWCC’s Workforce Diversity Pipeline team, from left, Heidi Wharton, Train Wu, Melissa Bourque-Silva and Shaunti Phillips.

Four area educators have been appointed to Mount Wachusett Community College’s Workforce Diversity Pipeline program, a new partnership with the Fitchburg and Leominster school districts funded through a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.

The goal of the Workforce Diversity Pipeline program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority and disadvantaged healthcare providers by creating a high school-to-college pipeline of students who plan to enter the healthcare field. The program will provide counseling, coaching, field trips, guest speakers, and dual enrollment courses to 120 high school students attending Fitchburg High School, Leominster High School and Leominster Center for Technical Education Innovation.

Melissa Bourque-Silva of Fitchburg has been appointed director of the Workforce Diversity Pipeline program. Since 2006, she has worked in partnership with area high schools throughout her employment with MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, beginning as an academic counselor for the GEAR UP grant in the Fitchburg Public Schools. As a senior community outreach counselor and then as the director of dual enrollment contracts, she has had the opportunity to serve over 12 area high schools under the College Access Challenge Grant and the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Program, developing dual enrollment opportunities for underrepresented youth. Bourque-Silva is also an English adjunct professor at MWCC.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, and a master’s degree in English from Fitchburg State University.

The program’s three newly appointed senior outreach specialists/career coaches are Shaunti Phillips of Fitchburg, Heidi Wharton of Harvard and Train Wu of Fitchburg.

Phillips joined MWCC in 2005, working as an academic counselor advising and mentoring middle and high school students through the college’s Division of Access & Transition. For the past three years, she has served as career vocational technical education transition counselor within the college’s Division of Academic Affairs. She previously worked as a mentoring specialist with LUK, Inc. in Fitchburg.

Phillips earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a master’s degree in school guidance counseling from Fitchburg State University.

Wharton most recently worked as an academic counselor in MWCC’s Rx program, a federal TRIO Student Support Services program for students pursuing healthcare majors. Prior to joining MWCC in 2012, she worked as a graduate intern in the office of International Education at Fitchburg State University.

She earned a master’s degree in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University and bachelor’s degrees in International Studies and Spanish from Capital University. She previously worked in England for 3 Com (UK) Ltd.

Wu has more than 15 years of experience working with diverse youth and students in the education and human services sectors. He earned a master’s degree in education, with a concentration in higher education, from Merrimack College, and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Rhode Island College.

He previously was a case manager for My Turn, Inc. in Fitchburg, a program instructor at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, and a youth development coordinator at LUK, Inc. 


L to R: Jim Adams, VP/Regional Business Advisor at Enterprise Bank; Daniel M. Asquino, President of MWCC; Tina Sbrega, Chair of MWCC's Board of Trustees

L to R: Jim Adams, VP/Regional Business Advisor at Enterprise Bank; Daniel M. Asquino, President of MWCC; Tina Sbrega, Chair of MWCC’s Board of Trustees

With toes tapping and fingers snapping, an audience of nearly 500 grooved to the soulful songs of the Motown era during a benefit performance Friday, Jan. 22 that raised more than $100,000 to support student scholarships and youth programs in the region.

The “Magic of Motown at the Mount” benefit, co-sponsored by the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, took place in the college’s newly renovated Theatre at the Mount.

The five-person cast of singers and dancers recreated the harmonies, dance moves, stylish looks and legendary musicianship of the era, including the hits Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Isley Brothers and others.

“It was heartening to see so many people enjoying an evening of fantastic entertainment while supporting our college students and area youth,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino.

Established in 1971, the MWCC Foundation now offers 38 scholarships for continuing students and transfer students pursuing certificates and degrees in a wide range of academic disciplines. More than $260,000 is awarded to students annually.

The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has worked in youth development since 2001. A STEAM- (science, technology, engineering, art and math) focused club, it serves young people ages 8 to 18 from many economic, social and family circumstances.

“We are truly grateful to Mount Wachusett Community College, President Asquino and Theatre at the Mount for coordinating another spectacular community event,” said Donata Martin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club. “The music was superb and the community’s support for our organization is so greatly appreciated.”

Event sponsors were Dr. Daniel Asquino and Alberta DelPrete; Advanced Cable Ties, The Ronald M. Ansin Foundation, Enterprise Bank; Heat Trace Products, LLC; Heywood Hospital; IC Federal Credit Union; Fidelity Bank; UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital; Bemis and Associates; Clementi Family Trust; GFA Federal Credit Union; Hometown Bank; Workers’ Credit Union; Rollstone Bank & Trust; Medical Associates Pediatrics; Geosearch Inc.; Leominster Credit Union; Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School; North Middlesex Savings Bank; Royal Steam Heater Co.;

Shawmut Design & Construction; Simonds International; Tyco SimplexGrinnell; Anderson, Bagley and Mayo Insurance; Scot and Janice Barrett; Dunkin Donuts KCMC Management; Fitchburg State University; Molds International & Consulting Co. Inc; Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Moran, Jr.; Zottoli Family Trust; Avidia Bank; Becker College; Commonfund Securities, Inc.; Geronimo Properties; GVNA HealthCare, Inc.; Raymond and Susan Martino; W.E. Aubuchon Foundation; and media sponsor the Sentinel & Enterprise.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAfter 10 years in a cashier’s job that left her unfulfilled, Francine Cochran of Winchendon became determined to pursue her dream of working in a salon as a nail technician.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that in order to pursue training and certification in this field, she had unfinished business to resolve. Cochran, one of many area residents who left high school before earning her diploma, needed to earn a high school equivalency credential before she could move forward with her plan.

So she enrolled in the Winchendon Skills Program, a free Adult Basic Education program offered through Mount Wachusett Community College at the Winchendon Community Action Center through a generous grant from the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation. After eight months of taking evening classes twice a week, she aced her exams and earned her high school equivalency credential in January 2013.

“I would recommend this to anybody,” said Cochran, who credits her mother Ardy Bilodeau, her sister Cassie Cutting, and MWCC Adult Basic Education faculty and staff with providing her with support and encouragement she needed to reach her goal.

“It’s a lot of work, but if you want to do it, you can do it.” Cochran’s dedication inspired her boyfriend to take the challenge, and now their diplomas are proudly displayed beside each other on a wall in their living room. “It was a great accomplishment.”

Cochran went on to enroll in specialized training at an area cosmetology school and become a state-licensed nail technician. She is now happily employed in town at Dugan’s Salon & Spa and “enjoys coming to work” in an industry that makes people feel happy.

Adult Basic Education programs seek to inspire students to see beyond the challenges of their daily lives, said Adam Duggan, MWCC’s Interim Director of Adult Basic Education.

“Supportive instructors and staff collaborate with students to realize their full potential as members of their communities. Francine is a perfect example of how our program supports students in pursuit of their academic, personal, and professional goals. We are so proud of her accomplishments and contributions to the Winchendon community.”

MWCC is committed to providing adults and out of school youth the opportunity to obtain a high school equivalency credential in order to assist them in accessing post-secondary education and skills training programs. The college operates a High School Equivalency Test Center serving adults 18 years old and older seeking to complete their high school equivalency test if they have not previously earned a high school diploma.

MWCC’s free Adult Basic Education courses to prepare students for the HiSET test are also available at the college’s campuses in Gardner, Leominster and Devens, as well as a site located in Fitchburg on the Fitchburg State University Campus. These classes are funded through various grants from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

For more information about enrolling in the free classes, contact Pamela Dempsey-O’Connell at 978-630-9259, email pdempsey-oconnell@mwcc.mass.edu, or visit mwcc.edu/abe.



A dozen current and recent graduates of MWCC’s Gateway to College program recently shared their experiences with 27 incoming Gateway students. Pictured from left, Katriona Bell, Mariah Courtemanche, Mary Grace Daly, Angela Nicoli, Jasmine Welch, Anders Bigelbach, Alysia Ladd, Mya Shepard, Manny Corbeil, Kayla Pollack, Jason Alvarado-Gomes and Arturo Aponte-Cruz.

With the new academic semester about to begin, Mount Wachusett Community College is welcoming its largest spring cohort of Gateway to College students to campus.

The free dual-enrollment program, offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, is open to Massachusetts residents ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school, are at risk of dropping out, or experienced a setback due to health or personal reasons. Home schooled students are also eligible to enroll in the program, which allows students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and college credits toward an academic degree or certificate.

“I’m excited to be surrounded by people who have priorities,” said Kali Stetson, 16, of Orange, one of 27 new Gateway students from throughout central and north central Massachusetts who will begin classes on January 20.

During the week of January 11, the cohort attended a three-day orientation which included a “Been there, done that!” panel presentation with 12 current Gateway students and recent graduates; information sessions on technology, student support services and resources, and campus clubs and activities; campus and library tours; a viewing of the film “Homeless to Harvard: the Liz Murray Story,” and an indoor ropes course at Cottage Hill Academy in Baldwinville.

A national program that began in 2000 in Portland, OR, Gateway to College is now offered at 43 colleges in 23 states. MWCC’s Gateway to College program, now in its 10th year, was the first program established in New England and now serves nearly 100 students each year.

The program provides students with full access to campus resources and a dedicated resource specialist for academic advising counseling, tutoring and instructional support. School choice funding covers the cost of tuition and fees. Students also receive free textbooks during their first semester and are eligible to continue receiving free textbooks if they earn a grade point average of 3.0 or above.

“Students come here for a variety of reasons,” said MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn. “Some come for the environment – it’s a different environment than high school and allows them more flexibility with their time and schedules. Others come in due to medical issues, or they have been home schooled and this is their first formal classroom experience. Some students want to have that academic rigor. They enroll as a cohort and we create a community within the college for them. They take some courses together when they are starting out, then continue on with a major of their choice.”

“I really was inspired to further my education and the Gateway program provides a great opportunity,” said current student Manny Corbeil, 19, of Baldwinville. After he graduates this spring with an associate degree in liberal arts & sciences and academic certificates in business administration and small business management, he plans to transfer to a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“I like everything about Gateway and the college experience,” said Mariah Courtemanche of Orange, who plans to become a certified nurse assistant and then continue her education to become a registered nurse. The flexibility of a college schedule allows her better balance family time with her two-year-old daughter and a part-time job, she said. “I can work and spend time with my daughter.”

This spring, MWCC will begin hosting information sessions for students interested in enrolling in the Gateway to College program for the fall 2016 semester. For more information, visit mwcc.edu/gateway or call 978-630-9248.




Members of the Fitchburg High School Class of 2015, pictured with Principal Jeremy Roche and Victor Rojas, Assistant GEAR UP Director at MWCC, returned to the school to advise seniors on transitioning to college.

Take time to tour a variety of colleges and universities prior to enrolling. Seek out scholarships and financial aid. Once enrolled, become involved with clubs and activities to meet new friends. Beware the “freshman 15” weight gain. Learn to manage your time. Don’t skip class, and above all, study.

A dozen Fitchburg High School alumni returned to their alma mater on January 8 to offer these and other tips to high school seniors about successfully transitioning to college. The alumni, all graduates of the Class of 2015, are now pursuing a variety of academic programs at public and private colleges and universities.

The hour-long Alumni Breakfast forum, sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College’s Division of Access & Transition and the high school’s guidance department, 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 enduring difficult roommates.

“If you’re not a morning person, I don’t recommend taking early morning classes,” advised Mariah Comeau, a student at the University of South Carolina. “Your mother is not there to wake you up.”

The forum was open to the entire senior class through MWCC’s GEAR UP program (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), which is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The annual event was initiated more than a decade ago and is still going strong.

“It is a wonderful chance for FHS alumni from the class of 2015 to give back to FHS,” said Principal Jeremy Roche. “They provide the messages and advice about planning for college that the current seniors find most relevant and credible. This is some of the most helpful information coming directly from their peers.”

When discussing balancing classes, homework, study time and a social life, Worcester State University education major Kelsen Boyette advised the students, “manage your freedom well.”

Similar events are also taking place this month at Leominster, Athol, Ralph C. Mahar and Murdock high schools.

“This is certainly an impactful experience from which the seniors get important lessons on the transition to college,” said MWCC GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin.

Participating Fitchburg High School alumni were Micaela Canessa Giorello (Mount Wachusett Community College); Alicia Giannetti (Boston University); Caylin Rymph (Ashland University); Jillian Crocker (Fitchburg State University); Dasia Aldarondo (Worcester Polytechnic Institute); Hannah Hallett (UMass Amherst); Morgan Gray (UMass Amherst); Kelsen Boyette (Worcester State University); Janelle Forgues (Bridgewater State University); Mariah Comeau (University of South Carolina); Isabel Wilder (Southern New Hampshire University); and Bridget Colon (UMass Dartmouth).




Manufacturing Roundtable at MWCC Jan 5 2016

Senior Learning Specialist Jennifer Stephens demonstrates new advanced manufacturing equipment to lawmakers, business and community leaders during a tour of the Devens campus and meeting of the North Central Massachusetts Manufacturing Roundtable.

State lawmakers joined community and business leaders to underscore the value manufacturing brings to the region and brainstorm ways to employ more workers in this prosperous and growing field during the monthly meeting of the North Central Massachusetts Manufacturing Roundtable.

The January 5 meeting was hosted by Mount Wachusett Community College at its Devens campus, and included tours of the college’s Manufacturing Workforce Center and equipment demonstrations.

Nearly 40 people joined MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino for the dialogue, including state Senators Jennifer Flanagan, Anne Gobi and Jamie Eldridge; state Representative Jennifer Benson; Thatcher Kezer, MassDevelopment senior vice president, Devens; Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke; Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale; North Central Massachusetts Chamber President and CEO Roy Nascimento; Nashoba Valley Chamber President and CEO Melissa Fetterhoff; Greater Gardner Chamber President and CEO Jim Bellina; and representatives from the North Central Career Center, Workforce Investment Board and offices of Congressman Jim McGovern, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, and state Representative Harold Naughton.

Much of the discussion focused on changing public perception about manufacturing by raising awareness about today’s clean, modern and safe facilities, diverse, well-paying jobs, employee benefits and opportunities for career growth in the industry. Attendees vowed to remain committed to fighting the stigma associated with manufacturing by enhancing collaboration with area school systems to provide career information to students, parents and educators.

“There is a greater awareness, but it hasn’t risen to the parents’ level” of recommending manufacturing as a viable, stable career field for their children, said David McKeehan, former president of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber who founded the Manufacturing Roundtable 15 years ago as a way for business and industry leaders to address mutual concerns and grow the region’s economy.

Manufacturing accounts for nearly 25 percent of the workforce in North Central Massachusetts, yet finding workers remains a critical issue, particularly among young people who are needed to fill positions being vacated by retiring baby boomers.

“Manufacturing is what built us. This is the backbone of our community,” said Senator Flanagan.

MWCC opened its Manufacturing Workforce Center in fall 2013 in response to the increasing demand for production workers. In addition to the Industry Readiness Training Program, the college offers a variety of credit and noncredit STEM programs including analytical laboratory & quality systems training, mechatronics and associate degrees in biotechnology and manufacturing technology.

This year, MWCC will continue offering free training in advanced manufacturing through its Industry Readiness Training Program. The next, six-week course begins on January 19 at the Devens campus.

The training program is made possible through a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. For more information about registering, visit mwcc.edu/advancedmanufacturing or contact the campus at 978-630-9883 or creifsteck@mwcc.mass.edu.