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Kevin Berg, second from left, was honored as one of the 2017 Alumni of the Year by the American Association of Community Colleges. The event was also attended by his wife Donna, MWCC Dean Academic and Institutional Technology Vincent Ialenti and MWCC President James Vander Hooven.

Mount Wachusett Community College Alumnus Kevin Berg was honored as one of the 2017 Alumni of the Year by the American Association of Community Colleges at an awards ceremony highlighting the ability of community colleges to transform lives.

Berg was one of five community college alumni recognized for their outstanding achievements at the AACC’s 97th Annual Convention on Tuesday, April 25.

Berg is executive vice president of production at CBS Network Entertainment Group. He’s been responsible for the launch and success of the CSI and NCIS franchises, Blue Bloods, Elementary, and more. But as a young man growing up in Central Massachusetts, Berg was aimless. He took a year off after high school to work at one of the region’s many chair factories. He didn’t want to do it forever, so he enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College and studied communications. After college, he did a brief stint at a Boston radio station and then headed to Los Angeles. After knocking on doors, he ended up with a job with an award-winning director.

At the ceremony, Berg reflected on his time at MWCC where he said students are given an opportunity to grow as well as learn.

“It’s always nice to be recognized for your achievements – however I feel that all I really did here was to get lucky and pick an excellent institution that gave me the basis to become who I am professionally,” Berg said. “The Mount was, and is, the place that takes high school kids and turns them into working world adults.”

Now a success in his field, Berg also has become a philanthropist. He served five years as a member of the Board for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a leading charitable organization. And he’s involved with Save the Children and several community impact projects. He’s also helped countless people start careers in the industry. He’s known for answering cold calls and taking chances on people. Berg embodies MWCC’s mission to prepare individuals for lives of fulfillment, leadership, and service in a diverse and global society.


Nikki Valila s the director or training at My Life My Choice and has spent the past 12 years of her professional career working with commercially sexually exploited girls.

The following story was written by Paula Owen for the Telegram & Gazette.

Sex trafficking can happen anywhere to anyone, says Nikki Valila, who has spent the past 12 years working with sexually exploited girls, and people need to watch for red flags that may not be that obvious.

Ms. Valila, director of training at My Life My Choice, a national leader in prevention and intervention around the commercial sexual exploitation of children, delivered the keynote at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series Monday afternoon. The South Cafe was packed for her discussion, titled “Sex for Sale: A Look at Human & Sex Trafficking.”

Changing the language used when talking about commercial sexual exploitation of children is key, Ms. Valila said, to getting children help. People look at the issue differently, she explained, when a child is called a “teen prostitute” because the term comes with a stigma and places the responsibility on law enforcement to act rather than the community. When the term “commercial sexual exploitation of children” is used instead, the Gardner native said, it is looked at as a community problem with children as victims in need of help and services.

“I’m from Gardner and people think it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “Everyone says it can’t happen to my kid or neighbor or can’t happen here.”

It is not happening on the streets anymore, she said, with people walking up and down the streets in the middle of the night turning tricks. With social media and classified advertising websites like Backpage, it is done on laptops and cellphones, she said. Children who have no idea what is happening are recruited online by agreeing to meet the wrong person or accepting the wrong friend request. Pimps now look like their boyfriends, she said, and most are much older, but look younger.

The media also sends mixed messages of what commercial sexual exploitation of children is, she said.

“If there was a kid from Gardner thrown into a black van, kidnapped at gunpoint and brought out of state, it would be on the news for days,” she said. “That’s not what human trafficking looks like. The reality is the chains our kids have are invisible. That’s why they keep running back. Their pimp brainwashed, coerced and manipulated, like a cult.”

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a form of child sexual abuse that mandated reporters have to file, she said. The problem is, signs to identify it are not as visible as seeing a “belt mark” on a child’s arm, she said.

The average age of a victim is 14, she said, and 59 percent were under 14 when they were first exploited. Of those, 77 percent were involved with the welfare system and 24 percent had gang ties, she said.

Pimps figure out children’s vulnerabilities and prey on them, she said, and provide some form of remuneration that the child values, including money, goods and services.

Risk factors include domestic violence, addiction, loss of a parent, mental health concerns, learning disabilities, racism, sexism and classism.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not delinquency, she said, or promiscuity that suggests children are enjoying having sex with multiple partners in one night – on average 10 to 20 different people a night.

Children she works with often brag that they are making money doing what other people do for free and about how they go to amazing parties, make money and use drugs.

“They brag when they come back … but they don’t talk about the trauma they went through,” Ms. Valila said.

With 100 pimps in Boston known by law enforcement and another possible 75 more “we don’t know about (who are) pimping your kids,” she said, there are signs parents can look for: kids wearing more makeup, having unexplained cash, a change in attire, new friends and truancy. When looked at in their totality, the signs can be an indicator of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

But parents can’t just tell kids to watch out for the “creepy guy,” she said, because pimps and johns can be anyone.

Ms. Valila said that 15 percent of American men, or 15 million men over 18, have purchased sex, and 1 percent, or 1 million, did it in the last year. Between 60 and 80 percent of illegal commercial sex transactions are brokered online, she said. The average age for first-time buyers is 21, she said, and 43 percent of johns were with their friends.

Pimps bring children to where the money is, she said, such as large cities, sporting events and tourist areas, and also to international airports, where people may be looking for illegal sex during layovers.

Parents and caregivers need to watch for signs and ask tough questions to prevent loved ones from becoming victims, she said.

“Ask them, ‘When you were gone for two weeks, how the hell did you make it out there?’ Part of being on the run is couch surfing. Oftentimes, sex comes with that. Our kids would do anything for weed. It’s ridiculous. Ask the question no one else is asking. Be humiliated and ask (children) the questions because I would rather know than not know,” she said.

Ms. Valila worked for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in the child abuse unit as the lead victim witness advocate on teen exploitation cases and was program director of an eight-bed group home for sexually exploited adolescent females outside of Boston. She also served as a consultant on teen exploitation cases at a youth residential program and has trained hundreds of child workers and law enforcement officials on strategies in working with sexually exploited girls.

The newest members of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Chi Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma international business honor society are pictured following their induction on Friday, April 21 along with their president and faculty advisor. From left to right, they are ABG Chi Gamma Chapter President Tammy Goodgion, Rachael Adams, Cynthia Doyle, Sarah Costa, Honorary Inductee and MWCC Associate Professor Geraldo Maldonado, Brandi Newberg, Elizabeth LaPan, Trevor Leger, Leatitia Sagwe and MWCC Professor Linda Bolduc.

Ten students from Mount Wachusett Community College were inducted into the Chi Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma international business honor society recently.

The honor society recognized the hard work and effort of the students at an induction ceremony on Friday, April 21.

“This is our 27th year on campus. We find the very best business students at the college and give them the honor they deserve,” said Professor Linda Bolduc, the chapter’s longstanding advisor.

Alpha Beta Gamma was established in 1970 to recognize and encourage scholarship among students at two-year colleges, provide leadership training opportunities and career assistance to members. To be eligible for membership into the honor society, students must be enrolled in a business curriculum, have completed 15 academic credit hours in a specific degree program and demonstrate academic excellence by attaining a grade point average of 3.0 or above. At MWCC, the programs include business administration, paralegal studies, computer information systems, graphic & interactive design and medical assisting.

“I am honored to have been involved in bringing these distinguished people not only into ABG but also into our communities and businesses. I hope that they will carry on their hard work and dedication to high standards in all of their future endeavors,” said ABG Chi Gamma Chapter President Tammy Goodgion.

Also present for the ceremony were MWCC’s Executive Vice President and Senior Student Affairs Officer Ann McDonald and honorary inductee and MWCC Associate Professor Geraldo Maldonado.

The Alpha Beta Gamma inductees for 2017 are:

Trevor Leger
Jennifer Churchill
Elizabeth LaPan
Rachael Adams
Sarah Costa
Brandi Newberg
Leatitia Sagwe
Dawn Veino
Cynthia Doyle
Jasson Alvarado Gomez

Students from the 2015 Mount Wachusett Community College Leadership Academy fill backpacks as part of two days of educational workshops, team-building activities and civic engagement projects. The Academic Program Discovery Academy will not only pay students to take two free classes, but has students participate in the Leadership Academy before transitioning into fall classes at Mount Wachusett Community College.

Mount Wachusett Community College has launched a new summer program that will pay recent high school graduates to take free classes before entering school at MWCC this fall.

The Academic Program Discovery Academy is open to high school graduates or qualifying MWCC students who will not only be awarded a full scholarship to take two courses over the summer but also receive a stipend of $1,000, books for both courses, academic support and even a bus pass if the student needs one. Students who go through Discovery Academy will enter MWCC in the fall with six credits completed and having saved over $1,200 in tuition and fees.

Discovery Academy is an expansion of the college’s STEM Starter Academy that has helped numerous MWCC students get their college education started with two free STEM-related courses the summer before they attend MWCC. Dani Baboci attended the STEM Starter Academy in the summer of 2016 and said that the summer courses set students up for a successful transition to college.

“You get two free classes and are paid to study. No one believes it,” Baboci, who is on the Physics and Pre-engineering Track, said of the program. “I only knew one person when I started but ended up meeting a lot of people, including my friend Marcus who I have continued to take courses with and coordinate our schedules.”

Marcus Delgado, who attended STEM Starter Academy with Baboci and is on the same study track, said the connections he made and his familiarity with the campus were a huge benefit as classes began in the fall.

“The program lets you make friends with similar interests, talk about your career and talk about other options you didn’t think about previously. Plus you get to know the campus and get your bearings before other classes start in the fall,” said Delgado.
Discovery Academy is designed for students who have recently graduated from high school, will be attending Mount Wachusett Community College this fall and are planning to major in programs in the liberal arts, humanities or social sciences.

The two classes for the Discovery Academy will be Philosophy 201: Introduction to Philosophical Issues and History 113: History of Contemporary Issues. Classes will run from July 10 through August 10. The summer will end with students participating in MWCC’s Leadership Academy on August 22 and 23.

The program is funded through a $176,711 Performance Incentive Fund Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. More information on the program is available at mwcc.edu/build/discovery. More information on the STEM Starter Academy is available at mwcc.edu/takeiton.

High school students in the new Early College STEM program will be able to participate in college-level courses that correspond with a STEM career this summer and fall.

Mount Wachusett Community College has partnered with three local high schools to offer classes this summer and fall to rising juniors and seniors interested in a career in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Beginning this summer, MWCC’s Early College STEM program will enroll students from existing high school partners as well as Gardner High School, Narragansett Regional High School and Oakmont Regional High School in college-level courses that correspond with a STEM career. Communities covered by this new program are Leominster, Fitchburg, Athol, Gardner Ashburnham, Westminster, Baldwinville, Winchendon, Templeton and Phillipston. The program is designed to serve rising high school juniors and seniors in courses this summer and fall.

“The Early College STEM program gives students interested in a STEM career the opportunity to direct their educational path before they have even graduated high school, benefiting not only themselves but the greater community as they get a head start on well-paid careers.” said Mount Wachusett Community College President James Vander Hooven.

Students will have the opportunity to earn at least six college credits in STEM-only courses across the two semesters. The classes, including books and fees, will be free for the students thanks to a $125,209 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

“I’m delighted but not surprised to see Mount Wachusett Community College step up to the plate in developing a new Early College model for the Commonwealth,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education. “They are leveraging their strong partnerships with local high schools to provide a terrific opportunity for students to experience college-level coursework, acquiring credits and saving money in the process. At the same time, employers stand to benefit because the program helps students learn about STEM careers. It’s a win-win.”

A key part of the program is the pathway to a STEM career with all courses corresponding to a specific career path. Gardner’s Superintendent Mark Pellegrino said that the program will be life-changing for many students, especially those overcoming the obstacle of living in poverty.

“The new Early College STEM program not only provides students with a true college experience, it will also allow them to explore highly skilled, practical, high-paying careers and develop the confidence necessary to succeed in these fields,” said Pellegrino. “The long-standing partnerships that MWCC has made with all of the local high schools have served the students and our communities well. This program in particular will help many of my students begin to see that what they once thought was impossible is not only possible, it’s expected.”

Narragansett Superintendent Dr. Christopher Casavant said this program will allow students to have a college experience prior to full-time enrollment.

“The Early College STEM partnership with Mount Wachusett is a great opportunity for Narragansett’s Classes of 2018 and 2019,” said Superintendent Casavant. “The students will be able to have a true early college experience while completing their high school academic requirements. The flexibility of the Early College STEM schedule also allows students to continue with their high school extra-curricular activities.”

Additional information and applications for the program are available at mwcc.edu/build/opportunity.

At last year’s Mount Wachusett Community College Phi Theta Kappa Character Breakfast, children in costume were able to interact with some of their favorite characters.

The Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Mount Wachusett Community College is hosting a breakfast filled with everyone’s favorite characters from fairy tales, cartoons and beyond on Saturday, April 22 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Gardner campus.

Participants can enjoy a hot breakfast of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and beverages with family, friends and their favorite characters at the North Cafe. Costumes are encouraged.

Admission is $7 for ages 12 and over, $5 for ages 2 to 11, and free for infants age one and under. Proceeds will be used to support hunger alleviation programs in North Central Massachusetts.

Tickets can be purchased at the event or ahead of time at the Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement (Room 152). For more information, contact Jana Murphy at jmurphy49@mwcc.mass.edu or 978-630-9255.

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, pictured in the Massachusetts Statehouse, has been named MWCC’s Alumna of the Year.

State Representative Susannah Whipps has been named Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2017 Alumna of the Year. She will be recognized during the college’s 52nd Commencement on Wednesday, May 17.

“We are proud to honor State Representative Susannah Whipps as our 2016 Alumna of the Year,” said President James Vander Hooven, Ed. D. “Whipps is an example of how students from our graduating class can continue the community connection and engagement that is stressed here at Mount Wachusett Community College. She has exemplified this in both her business ventures, community service and positions in local and state government.”

Created in 1989, the award recognizes a Mount Wachusett Community College graduate who has exhibited exceptional career leadership, service to community and commitment to the college.

“I’m honored to be named Alumna of the Year from MWCC. I enjoyed my time as a student and left with skills which, to this day, help me both professionally and personally,” State Rep. Susannah Whipps said.

Whipps’ connection to the college continued on after her own education. She has used the college as a training resource for employees at her businesses. Additionally, she has several nieces and nephews that have attended MWCC and one is currently enrolled.

Whipps is a seventh generation Athol resident. She attended Athol schools and after earning her Associate’s Degree from MWCC she went on to get her Bachelor’s of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Fitchburg State University and an A.O.S. in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University.

By age 25, she had opened two successful restaurants. Whipps joined her parents at their family business, Whipps, Inc., in 2000. She is now co-owner of the company that currently employs 70 people, designs and manufactures high quality equipment for the water and wastewater industry.

Whipps was first elected to the Athol Board of Selectman in 2005 and was elected as State Rep. in 2015 for the Second Franklin District that consists of Erving, Gill, New Salem, Orange, Warwick, Wendell, Belchertown: Precinct A, Athol; Petersham; Phillipston, Royalston, and Templeton. She currently serves on the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery as well as the House Committee on Ethics.

Throughout her life, she has been active in her community as a volunteer for American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, Athol Memorial Hospital, Athol Historical Society, American Red Cross, United Way and many other charitable organizations. She has been the president of the Athol Historical Society for the last 14 years and prior to joining the legislature was a member of the Heywood Hospital Community Investment Committee.

British counter-terrorism expert Robert Milton addresses MWCC students during his lecture.

(Article by Paula J. Owen Courtesy the Telegram & Gazette) There is a simple model to help fight terrorism, according to British international and counter-terrorism expert Robert Milton, and it includes empowering women, particularly mothers, to look for early signs of radicalization to start interventions before violent attacks occur.

“Family is at the heart of this,” Mr. Milton told criminal justice and psychology students during his guest lecture, “The Path to Violent Radicalization,” Thursday morning at Mount Wachusett Community College. “We need to reach out to families, mothers, and empower women to help them identify when changing behavior might lead to radicalization.”

Although there is a real threat of terrorism from overseas that needs to be taken seriously, the college professor said there is also a need to manage that threat from within our own communities, and turn to those working in schools, colleges, workplaces, prisons and in health services who may pick up on signs someone is changing their behavior and encourage them to start thinking about identifying people close to them.

A retired commander of the London Metropolitan Police Service, New Scotland Yard, Mr. Milton is considered a leading figure in national and international security. During his career he played a leading role in the development and delivery of national counter-terrorism strategies.

Mr. Milton spoke on the definition of violent radicalization and extremism, the process of violent radicalization and what can be done to prevent it.

He first showed the students a short film on recent terrorist attacks around the globe and talked about the March 22 attack in London, the deadliest to hit the United Kingdom in 12 years. It left five people dead, including a police officer.

Extremism is at the edges of society, he said, and there is nothing wrong with taking radical views because often radical views lead to change. The problem is when those views lead people not to care about democracy and the rule of law, and lead to violence and murder.

“It can be anything – extreme right or left wing, homophobia, right-to-lifers,” he said. “They believe there is only one way of changing the world, that is through violence, the only way the government will listen.

“The trouble is, the history of the world says they are right,” he added.

Mr. Milton said he has picked his way through more bomb scenes than he cares to remember and interviewed many extremists and terrorists who were a threat not just from the outside, but from inside their own communities.

There are signs of radicalization, he said, and its roots are part of human behavior. People are empathetic and motivated by causes, he said. Sometimes they are prepared to sacrifice themselves for a cause, even one that doesn’t affect them directly, and are even willing to die for strangers.

But why is a person prepared to commit mass murder for a cause? he asked.

“It is easy to resort to violence when fighting for a cause,” he told the group. “Passion overtakes them and the group suddenly becomes violent.”

One group sees another as a threat and it becomes “us against them,” he said. “It is a human condition.”

The media also magnifies the violence, he said, in what former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called a symbiotic relationship between media and extremists who can’t survive without the media.

Through radicalization, people grab on to the notion that ideas can be delivered and they can change the world through violence. He talked about indicators that may fit a profile for terrorists.

Though there is no specific profile, people who become radicalized are mainly men, though more and more women are at risk, and the age is dropping, he said.

“There is a reason for that,” Mr. Milton said. “They may be second-generation immigrants. Immigration is a great thing, but what happens, particularly in the West, is second-generations think they’ll have a good life and fare better and when there is not those opportunities, they get frustrated and angry when they see others doing well.”

Frustration can lead to real or perceived grievances and an annoyance with the country, he said, and with groups like ISIS that are “brilliant” with social media, those who feel disenfranchised are targeted for radicalization, he said.

Those at risk are also looking for excitement and adventure, he said, and are of mixed educational background. They may suffer from some form of mental illness, have an increased likelihood of criminal backgrounds for males, are underachievers, isolated, unpopular, loners, and are looking for direction and a way to elevate their status. They do research and network with people who share their feelings of injustice and offer a solution for it, he said.

“But the truth is, there is no profile,” he said. “I only say it is likely to be the case. It can be anybody.”

Once radicalized, they become secretive and their appearance changes, he said, and they take part in protests that are sometimes violent, in fundraising, and they disappear for periods of time without notice or explanation while they are further indoctrinated.

They actively recruit others to their cause, encourage and glorify acts of terrorism, and show a desire for martyrdom, Mr. Milton said.

“Their appearance changes dramatically and suddenly they are in control and driving the car along Westminster Bridge,” he said. “It’s about power to change things. They exhibit hate and anger towards people and they want to get revenge. Their change in appearance will be obvious and they believe the only way of changing the world is through violence.”

Each of the warning signs, taken separately, is not a concern, he said, but taken together, they are a red flag of radicalization.

“Don’t ignore small changes. Go and get help,” he said, though he acknowledged it may be difficult to identify to authorities a loved one or neighbor who could be radicalized. But it is the only way to deflect the person from spiraling downward on a path that may lead to violent acts of terrorism, he said.

The UK has introduced legislation to counter violent extremism that would require training for people in the community to identify signs of radicalization so interventions can take place, he said.

Mr. Milton is the managing director of Milton Tezelin, established in 2005 to deliver training and support to countries facing the threat of terrorism. He has worked closely with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the European Commission and law enforcement, intelligence, security and military organizations across Asia to provide high-level training programs that manage the risk of terrorism.

He also serves on the Department of Homeland Security Academic Advisory subcommittee for countering violent extremism and is developing policies to help identify radical behaviors on college campuses.

Gateway to College students at Mount Wachusett Community College take classes at the college through which they earn their high school diploma as well as college credit. MWCC’s Gateway to College program was recently recognized 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.

Mount Wachusett Community College has been recognized with a 2017 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.

“We all enjoy our education. That is why we are here. We all want to be here,” said Gateway to College Junior Morgan Blavackas who explained that the program helps students accelerate their education. “Even if you’re behind you can get ahead two-fold here.”

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 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.

“This award recognizes not only the hard work of MWCC’S Gateway to College team, but all of the Gateway to College students who put in time and effort to be successful and exceed these important benchmarks. We are truly honored to have been selected for this award,” said Fagan Forhan, MWCC’s Assistant Dean K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement.

The Gateway to College National Network has programs operating at 40 colleges in 21 states as a strategy to address the needs of off-track and out-of-school youth.

MWCC is currently enrolling Gateway to College students for the Fall 2017 academic year. For more information about the program or to register for an information session, call 978-630-9248 or visit mwcc.edu/gateway.

Karen Shultz, Director of Academic Support and Testing Services at MWCC, holds up the plaque denoting the Testing Services center’s Test Center Certification from the National College Testing Association (NCTA).

Mount Wachusett Community College’s Testing Services center has earned national recognition as just one of five centers in New England to have Test Center Certification from the National College Testing Association (NCTA).

During a 15 month process, the college’s testing center underwent a rigorous review of its testing procedures by the NCTA. The NCTA is a non-profit organization that is devoted to high quality administration of testing programs and offers certification that demonstrates exemplary testing practices in line with the organization’s standards.

The MWCC Testing Services center offers a wide variety of tests for prospective and current students, alumni and community members.

“As a certified testing center we provide exceptional service not only to our own students, but also for individuals who need a certification test or a proctored exam for their online education,” said Karen Shultz, Director of Academic Support and Testing Services at MWCC. “Being in North Central Massachusetts, we see traffic for testing to meet not only educational needs but professional requirements. It is an honor to provide testing services and be a part of their success and growth.”

While NCTA Professional Standards are viewed as the gold standard in the industry, only 158 centers nationwide have been certified. In New England, MWCC’s Testing Services center is one of only five NCTA certified centers, with three others being located in Massachusetts and one in Vermont.

“We did not achieve certification simply by completing an application process. It was the strength of the Testing Services team and their daily work that enabled us to apply for certification. Now we have the certification that ascribes the level of quality and competence of our team and our center,” Shultz said.

Testing Services Center is located at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Gardner Campus. More information about the array of testing services available at the center can be obtained by calling 978-630-9244 or visiting the center’s website at mwcc.edu/testing.