Faculty and Staff Stories

Project Healthcare students from Fitchburg and Leominster High Schools participate in an activity at the MIT museum

Project Healthcare students Rohanji Novas and Preya Patel from Fitchburg and Leominster High Schools participate in an activity at the MIT museum.

Incoming freshmen at Fitchburg and Leominster’s public high schools will have an opportunity to join a program administered by Mount Wachusett Community College that prepares students for careers in the healthcare field.

In November, MWCC was awarded a five-year, $2.25 million federal grant to create the Project Healthcare program in collaboration with Fitchburg High School, Leominster High School and Leominster Center for Technical Education Innovation. The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, is helping to address a national initiative to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

The goal of the 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. Health disparities – differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage – are often driven by the social conditions in which individuals live, learn, work and play. The workforce pipeline initiative aligns with federal initiatives to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities, known as the HHS Disparities Action Plan.

The program provides counseling, coaching, field trips, guest speakers, and dual enrollment courses for up to 120 high school students. This spring, 98 students were recruited to participate in the program. In addition to continuing support for these students during the upcoming academic year, college administrators will recruit additional students from the class of 2020 to join the program.

“We were able to accomplish a lot in just the first six months of the program,” said Director Melissa Bourque-Silva of MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition. “I know that our hard working staff and productive partnerships will keep our students motivated to learn and grow. I’m very excited to see what this year will bring.”

Within five years, the two cohorts of students who entered ninth grade in fall 2015 and fall 2016 will graduate from high school prepared to enter MWCC’s Pre-Healthcare Academy. By the end of their second semester at MWCC, students will have completed 15 college credits. By earning dual enrollment college credits, students can complete a healthcare certificate program within the first year or two of college, and an associate degree within three years of entering college. Students are motivated to transfer to a four-year institution to continue with healthcare studies.

In addition to Bourque-Silva, MWCC educators Shaunti Phillips, Heidi Wharton and Train Wu serve as the program’s senior outreach specialists and career coaches.

This spring, during the school day and after school, students learned about career and college research with a healthcare focus, took field trips to healthcare facilities, participated in hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities, and heard from multiple guest speakers including doctors and nutritionists, Bourque-Silva said. This summer, several participants obtained their CPR certification.

“We are delighted to have six classes of such courses already scheduled during the school day, and we’re looking forward to having several more scheduled in the coming school year during after-school hours,” said Dr. Christopher Lord, Principal of Leominster High School. “This gives students an opportunity to get a taste of the rigors of college life while in high school,” he said.

“Our students are so fortunate to be participating in the Workforce Diversity Pipeline Grant with MWCC. At Fitchburg High School, we seek to prepare students for college preparation as well as the careers of the 21st Century,” said Principal Jeremy Roche. “Exposing our students to these kind of relevant, engaging and purposeful experiences in the health care fields is a tremendous opportunity and one that will hopefully reap benefits in the immediate school year, but more importantly, for years to come.”

First-year participants are reporting that the program has opened their eyes to the academic and career opportunities that will be available to them. “I probably wouldn’t have wanted to go to college,” one Fitchburg High School student noted. “But now since I have the opportunity, I want to.”

booksThe North Central Educational Opportunity Center (NCEOC) at Mount Wachusett Community College has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue providing adults in the region with comprehensive services to successfully transition to college or other postsecondary education.

MWCC was awarded $236,900 for the first year of a five-year grant totaling $1.18 million. The NCEOC, housed within MWCC’s Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development, was created in 2002 through federal funding, with additional financial and in-kind support from the college.

Designed to provide support for first generation college students and those with income challenges, Educational Opportunity Center programs are one of the nationwide TRIO programs created through federal legislation more than 40 years ago.

The NCEOC program serves 1,000 adults from throughout North Central Massachusetts at MWCC’s Gardner and Leominster campuses. Two-thirds of the participants are low-income, first-generation college students.

“Using federal funds to partner with local institutions to address the needs of the region is a key tool in ensuring all people have the opportunity to pursue higher education,” said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-3).

“The significant return on these investments will have ongoing reverberations for many years to come, as more students are encouraged and able to complete their college careers and enter the workforce with the skills necessary to succeed. Mount Wachusett received these funds after a rigorous grant process, which speaks to both the quality of their application and the school in general. They exemplify the growing trend of Third District institutions becoming academic leaders in the Commonwealth. I look forward to seeing the far-reaching benefits take hold,” she said.

“A college education should be within reach for all who seek it. We must ensure that this applies to everyone regardless of age, income, or where they live. Whether it’s the hardworking parent who put off a college education in order to provide for their kids or someone who just never thought college was in the cards for them, it’s never too late,” Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) said. “With this grant, Mount Wachusett Community College will be able to continue the incredible work they’re doing to support lifelong learners and put a college education within reach for all Massachusetts residents. This is a smart investment that will help to lift families up and grow our whole economy.”

“We are grateful for the continued support of our Congressional delegation for this outstanding program, which has helped thousands of students over the past 15 years and, with this renewed funding, will continue to do so in the years ahead,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We also appreciate the many community agencies and organizations that partner with us on this initiative. We are all committed to student success.”

The North Central Educational Opportunity Center actively assists participants in the planning and implementation of a student learning plan, which may include high school equivalency preparation, English as a Second Language courses, technical or professional training and college courses.

The center provides free and confidential client-centered services in English and Spanish that are tailored to the learning needs of each participant, including assistance with applying to the public or private college, university or vocational school of their choice, applying for financial aid, and academic and career counseling.

As a federally funded program, the NCEOC assists area residents with their academic and career goals no matter where they want to go to school, whether it is Mount Wachusett, one of the state universities or a career training program. The program also provides services specifically designed for veterans and their dependents, as well as current military personnel.

Charlene Dukes President Asquino Walter BumphusPresident Daniel M. Asquino was recently recognized for his three decades of leadership at MWCC by the American Association of Community Colleges. President Asquino, who announced plans to retire in early 2017, was among approximately two dozen retiring CEOs honored during the AACC’s 96th annual convention in Chicago.
Dr. Asquino is currently the longest serving president among Massachusetts’ public institutions of higher education. He was appointed in August, 1987 to succeed the college’s first president, Arthur F. Haley. The college’s Board of Trustees has appointed a search committee to find his successor.
Pictured: Charlene Dukes, left, chair of the AACC Board of Directors and president of Prince George’s Community College, joins AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus, right, in thanking President Asquino for his years of service to MWCC, the AACC, and public higher education.
Gardner News Summer Up Mark Hawke July 2016

Mayor Mark Hawke visited Mount Wachusett Community College’s Summer Up program on Wednesday, held at Jackson Playground. Here, Hawke impresses children with his whistling skills. (Photos by Andrew Mansfield)

GARDNER – Fun learning and games have kept Gardner’s youth so busy this summer they can almost forget the heat of 90 degree days.

Mount Wachusett Com­munity College is in the midst of its 12th annual Summer Up program, run in collaboration with the city and held at Jackson Playground, which is free for families and lasts five weeks.

An average of about 70 kids a day stop by the playground and on Wednesday morning they were given a treat almost as good as a popsicle: A visit from Mayor Mark Hawke.

“It’s a safe environment. It’s structured, supportive, it’s fantastic,” Hawke said, adding the program fits well with the playground improvements the city has made in the last few years. He said the city donated $12,500 to help run the program.

Summer Up is held Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for children ages 5 to 12. It also provides an employment opportunity for several teenagers who are counselors helping out the Mount’s adult staff.

Every week the children visit Greenwood Memorial Pool and are introduced to fun, safe STEM-related activities, standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I really enjoy when you put Mentos inside of the soda,” said Jeremias Rodriguez, referring to a science experiment with the mint candy and Coke that produces a volcanic-like chemical reaction.  Rodriguez is 7 years old and in his second year going to Summer Up.  He said he also likes playing water dodge ball at the pool.

Anthony Frediani, 9, is in his third year at the program.  He enjoys spending time with his friends at the jungle gym and games like capture the flag. “I like playing basketball the best; my favorite game is knockout,” he said, which involves players competing against each other to make basketball shots.

STEM instructor JoAnn Pel­lechia is in her third year with the program, saying she loves the opportunity.  Making miniature greenhouses for plants, bird feeders, glow-in-the-dark slime, and buildings made from spaghetti and marshmallows are some of the activities she’s been teaching.  She teaches the teenage workers how to instruct the children in groups, working together.

“It’s keeps getting better each year,” she said.  “Teamwork is a very important component of the working force of the future.”

Gardner News Summer UP July 2016

Children form a circle to perform a song together.

Samantha Phelps-Pineo, 15, is one of the youth workers.  They undergo a week of training beforehand, being taught leadership skills and bullying prevention.  They are also taught job skills such as resume writing for their future careers. “I’ve been working here since seventh grade and I’m going to 10th,” said Phelps-Pineo. “I think this job gets you ready to do interviews for a bigger, better job.”

Lea Ann Scales, who is the Mount’s vice president for external affairs, communications, and K-12 partnerships, said the program is the “coolest thing going.”

“The mayor has been so innovative and creative and supportive.”

The $12,500 contribution from the city was a budget item approved by the City Council. “This is always in jeopardy because it’s funding,” said Hawke.  “I’ll give them credit. Without a blink of an eye they said absolutely, this needs to be done.”

The Mount also runs separate Summer Up programs at sites in Fitchburg and Leominster.  At all sites meals are provided to the children.

The Division of Access and Transition at the Mount coordinates the program, which costs about $40,000 per site.  For Gardner, after the city’s contribution and grant funding, the Mount is left to pay about $15,000.

Scales said the program fits a need for childcare over the summer and youth employment, and is also part of the civic engagement focus put in place by Mount President Dan Asquino. “It’s the college’s job to make sure our communities are vibrant,” she said.

Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, July 28, 2016

 

Gateway photo

Sharmese Gunn, left, MWCC Gateway to College Senior Resource Specialist, and Lea Ann Scales, right, Vice President of External Affairs, Community Relations and K-12 Partnerships, accept the Gateway Program Excellence Award from Emily Froimson, President of the Gateway to College National Network.

Mount Wachusett Community College has been recognized with a 2016 Gateway Program Excellence Award from the Gateway to College National Network.

The award honors MWCC for exceeding all four of the Gateway to College National Network’s performance benchmarks: grade point average, one-year persistence, two-year persistence and graduation rate. The award was presented June 28 during Gateway’s College Peer Learning Conference at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“The Gateway to College program opens doors and provides a true second chance for students to achieve academic success,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are proud to partner with the Gateway national network in this transformative work, and are delighted to be recognized with this year’s program excellence award.”

MWCC’s Gateway to College program is a free, full-immersion dual enrollment program for Massachusetts students ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school, are at risk of dropping out, or have experienced a setback in high school. The program, also available to home schooled students, provides motivated students a fresh chance to achieve academic success while getting a jumpstart on college. Established in 2005 as the first Gateway site in New England, MWCC’s Gateway program is offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District. Students simultaneously earn their high school diploma as well as college credits toward an academic degree or certificate. All classes take place on MWCC’s campuses.

“Thanks to the hard work of MWCC’S Gateway to College team, our students exceeded all four national benchmarks,” said Lea Ann Scales, vice president of external affairs, communications and K-12 partnerships. “More importantly, this award recognizes the success our students and graduates are achieving.”

More than 40 communities across the country have implemented the Gateway to College model as a strategy to address the needs of many off-track and out-of-school youth.

“Mount Wachusett’s program, based on a strong partnership and shared vision with your school districts as well as exceptional program and college leadership – is poised to build on its successes and can serve as an example for the rest of our network,” stated Gateway to College National Network President Emily Froimson. “You have not simply made a difference for students in Gardner Massachusetts; the work that your school district and college partnership has accomplished is a model for how we solve these persistent problems as a nation.”

“A theme of the conference, establishing relationships with students, rings true with the students we serve at MWCC, which has made this award possible,” said Sharmese Gunn, senior resource specialist.

MWCC is currently enrolling Gateway to College students for the academic year that begins Sept. 6. Applicants must attend a two-day information session to be considered for the program. Upcoming information sessions will take place on July 20 and 22, Aug. 3 and 5 and Aug. 10 and 12. For more information about the program or to register for an information session, call 978-630-9248 or visit mwcc.edu/gateway.

3 Chamber breakfast President Asquino groupVisionary. Collaborative. Energetic. Dedicated. Pioneering. Inclusive. A true leader.

These were among the words and phrases used by area legislators, mayors and business leaders to describe retiring Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel M. Asquino during a breakfast sponsored in his honor by three regional Chambers of Commerce.

More than 200 business and community leaders gathered June 24 in the college’s South Café to toast, and occasionally roast, the long-serving president, who has announced his plans to retire in early 2017 following three decades at the helm of the college and 47 years in Massachusetts public higher education.

“Dan’s resume is long and is far reaching, not only in North Central Massachusetts, but throughout the Commonwealth and in higher education nationwide,” said retired State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, who served as master of ceremonies. “He is a visionary leader whose emphasis on community engagement and collaboration has left a continuing legacy.”

The president was lauded for his leadership in key areas, including championing access to higher education; K-12, business and industry and community partnerships; civic engagement; and sustainability.

State Sen. Anne Gobi and State Rep. Jon Zlotnik shared remarks on behalf of the region’s legislative delegation. Additional speakers included Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who are both alumni of the college; Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale; Raymond LaFond, senior vice president at Enterprise Bank, who spoke on behalf of the college’s Board of Trustees and Foundation Board of Directors; and Jim Bellina, president of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce.

Bellina, along with Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce President Melissa Fetterhoff and Roy Nascimento, president of the North Central Chamber of Commerce, presented Dr. Asquino with a $1,000 donation to the MWCC Foundation for the newly created Class of 2016 scholarship fund.

“Thank you, President Asquino, for giving us leadership by example,” Bellina said.

Senator Gobi shared a story of working with determined MWCC students on a legislative bill focused on consumer protection as an example of the president’s impact on encouraging young people to become engaged citizens. “Students and the community. That’s something that President Asquino has never, ever forgotten.”

President Asquino acknowledged that there is still much to do during the remainder of his tenure, including completing construction of the college’s $42 million science and technology building and campus renovations. “My focus right now is on Mount Wachusett Community College.”

He said he is most proud of the service provided to students by the college’s faculty and staff, the college’s economic impact on the region, and leadership in academic, workforce and community endeavors.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you and to achieve my dream,” President Asquino said. “I certainly will miss all of you. I’ll miss the opportunity this position has given me to give back.”

In addition to the three chambers, event sponsors included Advanced Cable Ties, Inc., Heywood HealthCare, MWCC, HeathAlliance Hospital, Heat Trace Products, Workers’ Credit Union, GFA Federal Credit Union, RCAP Solutions, Perkins, Fidelity Bank, GVNA Healthcare, Inc, Lynde Hardware & Supply, C.M. Chartier Contracting, MassDevelopment, Gervais Ford, Apple Valley Center, IC Federal Credit Union, The Shine Initiative, Enterprise Bank, Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Daly’s Property Shoppe, and the Gardner Redevelopment Authority.

Theatre at the Mount Jeff Boisseau and LG Karyn Polito

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Theatre at the Mount Technical Director Jeff Boisseau during the June 23 reception.

Mount Wachusett Community College’s Theatre at the Mount is the recipient of a $49,600 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund to update its sound system.

The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, administered through a partnership between MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, fosters the growth of the creative economy by supporting building projects in the nonprofit arts, humanities and sciences. This new round of funding includes 68 capital grants totaling $8.9 million and 23 planning grants totaling more than $400,000. Grants range from $7,000 to $300,000 and are matched from private of other public sources.

The grant, which will be matched by MWCC, will be used to replace the theater’s aging analog sound system. The updated digital sound system will improve the audience experience, particularly for patrons who require hearing assistance or other special needs.

“Making high quality theater affordable and accessible for everyone is our highest priority,” said Professor Gail Steele, director of Theatre at the Mount. “This grant will allow us to make major strides in achieving our goal.”

The award was announced during a reception in Worcester on Thursday, June 23 with Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. Jeff Boisseau, technical director and set designer, and Joseph Stiso, vice president of planning, development and institutional research, accepted the award on behalf of the college.

“Our administration is proud to support these capital investments in the creative economy,” said Lt. Governor Polito. “The rich history of our cities and towns is an important draw for out-of-state visitors, and these grants will help direct private investments into these projects.”

Now entering its 40th year, Theatre at the Mount is in the midst of a makeover, including a new lobby, box office and ADA improvements as part of a $41 million addition and renovation project to the Gardner campus.

“We’re very grateful to receive this grant,” Boisseau said. “We’re hoping to have these new features installed before we reopen later this year.”

Located in the college’s Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center, Theatre at the Mount serves the community as a premier regional theater presenting high quality entertainment at affordable prices. TAM’s season consists of five full-scale musicals and plays, a spring children’s show and a fall touring production performed at local elementary schools. Additionally, TAM offers summer drama programs for children and teens and sponsors the annual TAMY Awards program, which celebrates excellence in high school musicals.

In a statement earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker noted the new investments will drive tourism and benefit residents and visitors for years to come. Since 2007, CFF has invested nearly $92 million in the state’s creative sector for projects in more than 130 cities and towns.

“We thank Governor Baker and his administration for its continued support of this vital source of creative capital,” said Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The grants are highly competitive. In this round of funding, the state received 146 applications seeking nearly $25 million for projects with total development costs of more than $200 million. Steele, Boisseau and Grant Writer/Development Specialist Moira Adams are the lead investigators for the project. In 2013, Theatre at the Mount received a $30,000 CFF grant to replace its lighting system.

Upcoming Theatre at the Mount productions include Almost, Maine on June 24, 25 and 26, and Hairspray on Aug. 12, 13, 19, 20 and 21. Due to current construction, these performances will take place at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham. For more information, visit mwcc.edu/tam or contact the box office at 978-630-9388.

 

MCO Award Pratt Santiago Levasseur

MWCC librarians Ellen Pratt, left, and Suzanne Levasseur received their Course of Distinction Award from Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago during the MCO annual conference.

In January 2001, shortly after attending a conference on tele-learning, Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel Asquino founded Massachusetts Colleges Online, which grew into a consortium of the state’s 15 community colleges and nine state universities.

In appreciation for his leadership, the consortium presented President Asquino with a Contributor of Distinction Award during its annual conference this spring at Greenfield Community College. MWCC librarians Ellen Pratt and Suzanne Levasseur were among the faculty members statewide to receive Course of Distinction Awards for their online courses.

More than 2,600 courses are offered through MCO. The Course of Distinction (COD) award is named after the Bay State’s unique association with the “Sacred Cod.” The award recognizes faculty from throughout the state who have developed and teach innovative and exciting online courses.

MCO Dan Vin Commissioner

President Asquino receiving his Contributor of Distinction Award from Dean Vincent Ialenti and Commissioner Carlos Santiago.

“Would an organization like MCO have been created without the leadership of Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel Asquino? Probably. Would it have happened so quickly? No way,” Vincent Ialenti, MWCC Dean of Academic and Institutional Technology, said in presenting the award. The president, who plans to retire in early 2017 after nearly 30 years at the helm of MWCC, was recognized for his role as the founder of Mass Colleges Online and for being one of its “greatest advocates,” Ialenti said.

Pratt, MWCC’s distance education and outreach librarian, and Levasseur, reference and instructional services librarian, were reconized for their Research Skills course, which introduces students to the skills necessary to write a college paper and develop critical thinking. More than 3,300 students have enrolled in their course over the past two years.