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Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago met with Mount Wachusett Community College students during his tour of the college.

Continuing his mission to spend a full day at each of the state’s public colleges and universities, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago took a whirlwind tour of Mount Wachusett Community College on Thursday, April 14.

The day began at MWCC’s satellite campus in Devens – which rekindled fond memories for the commissioner, who spent several years there as a child when his father was stationed at Fort Devens – and ended at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner with a meeting with the Board of Trustees.

In between, he met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, K-12 partners and business and community leaders, exchanging thoughts and ideas on a wide range of topics including an enhanced K-16 approach toward education, college accessibility, transfer pathways to four-year schools, industry partnerships, MWCC’s new science and technology building under construction and student support services. By late afternoon, he had this to say to college leaders:

“You’re innovative. You are getting it right here,” he told the trustees. “Now we’ve got to learn from your success and scale it up. I need this campus to spread the word about the work you are doing here.”

Under the leadership of President Daniel Asquino, MWCC’s ground-breaking work in dual enrollment, civic engagement, unique K-12 and industry partnerships and wrap-around services have grown into model programs, Dr. Santiago said.

“The campus is well positioned on a number of fronts, he said. “The support services that are provided to students on this campus are superb. The students feel well-served by everyone.”

Earlier in the day, the commissioner met with Mahar Regional School Superintendent Tari Thomas and Mahar administrators for a discussion on the continued success of the Gateway to College program for at-risk students, now in its 10th year, and the Pathways Early College Innovation School, now in its sixth year.

He also met with Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche, members of MWCC’s Access & Transition team and math faculty for a detailed discussion on college-readiness programs, including MWCC’s Math Modeling program, now offered in several area high schools to help reduce students’ need for math remediation in college.

At lunchtime, the commissioner dined on sandwiches, fruit and potato chips with a group of students that included teenagers in dual enrollment programs, career changers, student leaders and parents juggling family responsibilities, work and academic studies. He listened intently as they shared stories about unique challenges, as well as their career aspirations, and how the college is helping them reach their goals.

“No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, you really find your place here,” said student leader Stevie LaBelle.

During his session with business leaders, the commissioner discussed the significant role community colleges, like Mount Wachusett, play in the state’s economic and civic landscape. Two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s public institutions, and 90 percent remain in the state after graduating.

“The future of the Commonwealth really is going to rest on campuses like this.”




President Asquino, left, was among the featured presenters during the 2016 North Central Massachusetts Economic Forecast Breakfast.

On the evening of April 7, the current and three immediate past chairs of the U.S. Federal Reserve held a summit and declared the nation’s economy is on a steady growth path. The following morning in Fitchburg, North Central Massachusetts business leaders were happy to provide a similar assessment for the region during the fifth annual Economic Forecast Breakfast.

MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino was among the featured speakers, sharing the podium with Jeff Fuhrer, executive vice president and senior policy advisory at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Chris McCarthy, President and COO of Fidelity Bank, and former Worcester city manager Mike O’Brien, now with Winn Development.

Fidelity’s 2016 economic outlook survey of 200 consumers/employees and 200 CEOs or CFOs showed that more than half of the businesses and nearly three-quarters of the consumers said they are confident the state’s economy will improve over the next year. Seventy percent of the consumers deemed the best way for the region to retain skilled workers is by strengthening public colleges and universities and connecting the schools with area companies.

Businesses cited the availability of finding and retaining a skilled workforce as one of the most challenging issues they are facing, up from 8 percent a year ago.

In his presentation, President Asquino focused on several key issues, including the growing divide between the country’s rich and poor, the shrinking middle class, workforce training, and the importance of civic engagement in building strong communities.

“We talk about STEM careers, we talk about technology, and this training and education is essential to our economic growth. However, unless we have a citizen and a worker who cares for his or her community and his or her neighbors, and values public service, we have missed the opportunity and the key ingredient in our ability to sustain our democracy,” he said.

The event, held at Great Wolf Lodge, was sponsored by Fidelity Bank and presented by the North Central Massachusetts, Greater Gardner and Nashoba Valley Chambers of Commerce. Ed Manzi, chairman and CEO of Fidelity Bank served as moderator, and Roy Nascimento, President and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber, provided welcoming remarks.



MWCC nursing student Kaila Lundgren, center, was among the guest speakers during the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Go Higher event on April 7 at Wachusett Regional High School. Also pictured, from left, Micah Klayman, Worcester State University; Amanda Beucle, UMass Lowell; Cherise Connolly, Quinsigamond Community College; and Deron Hines, Framingham State University.

MWCC student Kaila Lundgren, an aspiring Registered Nurse, shared college tips and strategies with 1,000 juniors and seniors during the state Department of Higher Education’s “Go Higher” event, held April 7 at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden.

Scheduled throughout the academic year across the state, Go Higher gives Massachusetts high school students the opportunity to learn about academic programs and career options available at the state’s 29 public college and university campuses.

One of five student speakers, Lundgren said she chose MWCC because of the fast-track option it provided into the college’s nursing program through its Pre-Healthcare Academy, as well as the rigorous academic courses and cost savings on her degree.

“Find a college that’s really going to give you stepping stones to your goal,” she said.

Quoting Mark Twain, she advised students during two assemblies, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Lundgren said she was inspired to become a nurse to help her 8-year-old brother, who lives courageously with a rare kidney stone disease called cystinuria, and by the examples set by her mother, who returned to college to become an RN while raising a family of five children.

A 2015 graduate of Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School, Lundgren works as a safety specialist in the emergency room at Athol Hospital. After successfully completing co-requisites this past year, the 18-year-old Orange resident has now been accepted into the college’s nursing program as a member of the Class of 2018.

Students representing UMass Lowell, Framingham State University, Worcester State University and Quinsigamond Community College also spoke about their college experiences. The event included a college fair that showcased numerous Massachusetts schools and featured a variety of STEM-related demonstrations.

Jennifer Stephens, MWCC senior learning specialist in manufacturing, provided a hands-on demonstration in mechatronics, a field that combines mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer control and information technology. 


COMECC_posterMWCC faculty and staff have donated $56,306 to the 2016 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Employees Charitable Campaign (COMECC) and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.

“I am very proud of the generosity our faculty and staff demonstrated during this year’s campaign,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “Collectively, the contributions made by Mount Wachusett Community College employees greatly benefit residents in our region and throughout the Commonwealth.”

The annual campaign at MWCC is coordinated by the college’s Human Resources office, with Director of Payroll and Benefits Connie Helstowski serving as campaign chair and Staff Assistant Nancy Thibodeau serving as campaign coordinator.

Established in 1984, COMECC gives state employees the opportunity to support private, nonprofit health and human services and environmental organizations. Since 2009, more than $8.5 million has been raised statewide to assist children, families and communities in Massachusetts.

MWCC Alumni Network Dine photo

Rick Walton of the Gardner Ale House presents a check for Dine for a Cause proceeds to Briana Nobrega (center), Secretary of the MWCC Alumni Network Board and Carol Jacobson, Associate Director Alumni Relations.

The MWCC Alumni Network held its first Dine for a Cause event, hosted by the Gardner Ale House on March 29, raising $800 for the alumni scholarship fund.

Alumni, members of the college community, supporters and friends enjoyed a delicious meal, and each others company, all in support of student success. The Ale House generously donated 10% of the evening’s dining proceeds to the Alumni Scholarship Fund.

The Alumni Network also hosted a chance table, including a 50/50 cash raffle, and a Wachusett-themed basket valued at approximately $500. MWCC alumnus and member of the alumni board, John Day (’15), won the cash raffle and the basket was won by Paul Geoffroy (’77).

MWCC Alumni Network board member Briana Nobrega (’07) worked with Ale House staff to coordinate the event.

“I was really pleased with the turnout. It was obvious that everyone enjoyed themselves and I think at one point every table was full. There was also a constant flow of guests engaging with our alumni board at the raffle table and quite a few people reconnecting” she said.

“Being a past scholarship recipient myself, I know first-hand how important this fundraising is for the future of our students, so it was great to see so many people come out to support our cause.”

Many MWCC students have a significant financial need, and scholarships help pay for books, laptops or other needed resources that financial aid does not. Without this assistance, many of our students would be unable to attend, or complete their studies. If you are interested in becoming involved in the MWCC Alumni Network, or would like to support student success through a donation to the scholarship fund, visit: http://mwcc.edu/foundation/give/ or contact the Alumni Relations Office at 978-630-9306.

To view photos from the Dine for a Cause event, visit: https://www.facebook.com/MWCCAlumni/

Carol Jacobson


Job Fair 2016Thirty five companies and organizations participated in Job Fair 2016, held at MWCC’s Gardner campus on March 30 and sponsored by the Career Services/Experiential and Service Learning Department. The event provided students with an opportunity to explore career options and learn about job openings in a diverse range of fields.

Coordinator of Career Planning and Placement Patricia Brewerton said she was delighted with the employer support as well as the number of students who benefited from the fair. More than 250 students and visitors attended.

“The job fair provides an optimistic job outlook for students and it attracts a wide range of companies offering job openings for our students. Some students report having interviews already scheduled for next week. I’ve also heard encouraging and optimistic feedback from employers that our students are enthusiastic, dressed for success, well prepared, and have the courage to approach the tables and introduce themselves,” she said.

There were full-time, part-time, temporary and summer positions available from a variety of employers including ARC of Opportunity, Athol Savings Bank, Barton Associates, Bemis Worldwide, Cumulus Media, the Fitchburg Police Department, GAAMHA, GFA Federal Credit Union, Great Wolf, Home Depot, LUK, Mass Life Sciences, Masy Bioservices, Mutual of Omaha, Nouria Energy, Perkins School, Remedy Staffing, Seven Hills, the Bridge and the Worcester County District Attorney’s office.



Gather a panel of successful, healthcare professionals to share how they got where they are today, put them in front of high school students aspiring to similar careers, and something wonderful happens. Synergy.

Six women – three nurses, a doctor, a medical interpreter and a radiographer – captured the attention of nearly 30 freshmen and sophomores during a “Diverse Women in Healthcare” presentation sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College’s new Project Healthcare program. The speakers were equally enthused to share words of encouragement and advice to a group of young women, and a handful of young men, as they begin to discern their own career interests.

The March 29 event for Leominster High School and Leominster Center for Technical Innovation Education students capped off Women’s History Month by showcasing the varied academic, professional and personal paths each woman followed, whether locally or globally.

Panelists included Dr. Maria Del Carmen Al-Homsi, an internal medicine doctor at UMass Medical Group; Cecilia Phelan Stiles, senior manager of HR Communication Systems for Cape Cod Healthcare and president of the Forum on the Coordination of Interpreter Services, a statewide organization; Leominster High and MWCC alumna Elizabeth Warpula, a radiographer at Massachusetts General Hospital; Leominster High alumna and pediatric nurse ZaShanah Copeland, a school nurse at Seven Hills Charter Public School in Worcester; Geri Tusalem, senior director of perioperative services at HealthAlliance Hospital; and Mary Fortunato-Habib, Chief Nursing Officer at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital.

Over the course of an hour, each woman shared what inspired them to enter the healthcare field and the challenges and triumphs they encountered along the way.

Copeland, for instance, was drawn to nursing while in middle school after watching nurses care for her mother following a traumatic accident. As a child, Fortunato-Habib dreamed of becoming an astronaut, until she realized the skills she developed while taking care of younger cousins were pointing toward a career as an RN.

Warpula confessed she had “no intention of going to college after graduating high school. “And now I work at one of the best hospitals in the country.” Dr Del Carmen Al-Homsi and Phelan-Stiles spoke of the challenge of overcoming language barriers, only to find their fluency in multiple languages a major advantage in their careers.

“Be open to your circumstances because you never know where you will land,” Copeland advised. “Finish what you start and keep your eyes on your goal.”

The new Project Healthcare program aims to help students do just that. Last fall, MWCC was awarded a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to create the program in partnership with the Fitchburg and Leominster school districts.

The program aligns with federal initiatives to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities while providing a high school-to-college pipeline for students who plan to enter the healthcare field.

Over the next five years, 120 students will receive academic counseling, coaching, field trips, guest lectures and dual enrollment college courses.

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships, and program Director Melissa Bourque Silva, welcomed the students and role models to the presentation, held at Leominster High School.

Students, like aspiring pediatric oncologist Hellen Muma, said they found the event “inspiring” and “amazing.” Elizabeth O’Neil, a sophomore in the health occupations program, felt encouraged by the forum’s theme of encouraging students to forge their own paths one step at a time.

“I thought it was really great because I’m questioning what I want to do in healthcare. It’s comforting to know that I’m going to find what I want to do and help people in the future.”

Bourque-Silva encouraged the students to take advantage of opportunities as they appear. “Time and time again, we all think it’s a straight line from A to B. Everyone has their own path. I hope you all realize what power and promise you have to make a difference in the world, and I also hope you leave here feeling empowered and confident in yourselves, who you are, and who you can become.”



Participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series event on immigration include from left, MWCC student Mili Silva, Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, and MWCC Diversity Coalition co-chair Maria Gariepy.

Whether their relatives relocated to the U.S. generations ago or arrived just recently, participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s dialogue on immigration realized their family histories share a common theme: Their parents, grandparents, ancestors or even they themselves emigrated for the hope of a better life and greater opportunity.

More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out to discuss “Immigration and the Undocumented Student.” The March 28 Tea Time Speaker Series event was sponsored by the college’s Diversity Consortium and Gateway to College program, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

The forum was moderated by MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, who developed the Tea Time series as a way to create a dialogue around diverse issues that engages the college community and members of the greater community.

MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg/Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, opened the discussion on a personal note, describing her experience moving from Uruguay to Fitchburg at age 14 when the U.S. had a waiver agreement with Uruguay. While in high school, she realized how expensive college would be as an undocumented student.

Through scholarships, community service programs and support through MWCC, she earned her associate degree. Her immigration status was resolved while she was in college when her green card was granted, and she continued on for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.

Realizing the process for others can take decades and entail even greater struggles and obstacles, she has become a strong advocate for immigration reform. Her 40-minute presentation included an overview of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following her presentation, participants broke out into small group discussions, sharing a bit of their family history and their thoughts on the national debate on immigration reform. MWCC student Mili Silva, who was involved with planning the event, stood to thank the crowd for attending and asked for their support on this issue.

“I just hope the outcome of this event helps people become well informed on the issue.”

MWCC alumna Joan Mellanson of Gardner was among the community members attending. She shared in her group discussion that although she speaks with an accent, she was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a U.S. citizen. More than four decades after moving to Massachusetts as a young teenager, she said she still encounters judgment.

“I still feel like an alien at times.”



Robert Putnam Dan Asquino book signing

Political scientist Robert D. Putnam pens a note to MWCC President Daniel Asquino during a book signing that followed the author’s presentation.

The growing divide between the haves and have nots in America is “the most important domestic problem facing our country today,” renowned political scientist and bestselling author Robert D. Putnam told an attentive audience of students, educators and community leaders gathered at Mount Wachusett Community College on March 25.

Over the past four decades, “America has become a more segregated society in terms of education. Our country has become more divided and split among social lines than it used to be. This is a crucial matter for the future of our country and our economy,” Putnam, a Harvard University professor, said during an hour-long presentation filled with staggering statistics, tragic anecdotes and sporadic humor.

The event, sponsored by MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, was made possible through a grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Bowling Alone,” one of Putnam’s 14 books, was the inspiration behind President Daniel Asquino’s drive to make civic engagement a cornerstone of an MWCC education. President Asquino was joined by Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement, in welcoming the guest speaker. A booksigning and public dialogue followed the presentation.

Using examples from his latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Putnam explained that when he graduated high school, 80 percent of his classmates had achieved a higher level of education than their parents. As he and his peers went on to raise families of their own, they did so with the expectation that their children would do even better.

Those, like Putnam, who pursued a college education, did indeed forge a path that enabled their children and grandchildren to have greater opportunities, including access to higher education, extracurricular activities and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, classmates who did not attend college at first fared well in the local workforce, but then the economy tanked, factories closed and stores boarded their windows. Subsequently, their children and grandchildren are now worse off, and the condition is similar throughout the country.

“We’ve been here before,” Putnam said, reflecting on the class divide during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement over a century ago to make public high school education free and accessible led to the national ethos of the American Dream – the belief that through hard work, everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

“That turned out to be the best decision that Americans have ever made because it raised the productivity level of all Americans,” Putnam said. “Everyone was better off, and it leveled the playing field.”

Similar to the investment the nation made a century ago in public high school education, a renewed commitment to invest in education is needed to solve the class gap of the 21st century, Putnam said.

Solutions, he said, include greater support for early childhood education from birth to age four, and an investment in public education that provides equal access to sports, arts and other enrichment activities, rather than only to those who can afford to “pay to play.”

He also advocates for criminal justice system reforms, higher pay for teachers who work in low-income schools, more intensive mentoring for children, and encouraging stable, caring families by boosting wages.

Expanding access to higher education is also part of the solution he said, explaining that community colleges are like highway “on ramps” that lead to a better life.

“A shared investment in everyone’s kids was key to American growth in the past, and it is key to restoring the American Dream today.”