General News

Lew Evangelidis Jacqueline Belrose Dan Asquino

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Mount Wachusett Community College have received a state grant to begin a Bridges to College Program at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections in West Boylston. Pictured from left, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, Jacqueline Belrose, MWCC Vice President of the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development, and MWCC President Daniel Asquino

Mount Wachusett Community College and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office are launching a prison education program to prepare inmates for college entry and the workforce.

The grant-funded Bridges to College program will provide education and workforce training opportunities to 100 inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections in West Boylston. The program’s goal is to lower recidivism rates by providing ex-offenders with skills needed to enter college, as well as the field of advanced manufacturing.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education recently awarded a $79,000 grant to MWCC to create the program, which expands upon existing Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language, Life Skills, and HISET programs currently offered by the WCSO, and builds upon the college’s successful advanced manufacturing industrial readiness training and adult Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) programs.

Inmates who are between six months to 2.5 years from release, who have a high school credential for college entry upon release, are eligible to participate. Participants are currently being identified for courses that will be held at the correctional facility beginning in January.

“Beyond first addressing the issue of substance abuse with our inmates, nothing is more important than providing educational and vocational training to prepare them for employment and a productive life upon their release,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis. “Our Bridges to College partnership with Mount Wachusett Community College will help us double down on those efforts. Providing postsecondary correctional education as well as workforce training is the most effective path to reducing recidivism and keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison.”

“The power of education to transform lives cannot be underestimated,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This program offers an opportunity for new beginnings.”

According to national studies, the recidivism rate for ex-offenders who participate in postsecondary correctional education is an average 46 percent lower than for those who have not taken college classes.

The Bridges to College program will be offer activities that prepare students for college placement testing and applying for college admissions and financial aid, as well as tutoring, mentoring, financial literacy, and career and academic guidance. They’ll also receive advanced manufacturing industrial readiness training, which embeds contextualized academic remediation instruction in reading, writing and math, and is complemented by college preparation, financial aid/literacy and career workshops and counseling.

VVA donation to MWCC student vet scholarships Oct 2015

Members of the Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of American recently donated $2,000 to the MWCC Foundation to support scholarships for veterans. Pictured from left, chapter executive board members Charles Hodgkinson and Jay Ringquist, MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, chapter vice president Jim Benton and chapter treasurer Dan Ninno.

Members of Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of America recently donated $2,000 to the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation’s Veterans Memorial Scholarship.

“On behalf of Mount Wachusett Community College and the MWCC Foundation, we are most grateful for this generous contribution from our local Vietnam Veterans of America members, and for their continued support of our student veterans,” said Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli.

The Veterans Memorial Scholarship was established to assist student veterans and ensure that their service and sacrifices will not be forgotten. Scholarship funds are awarded to new or returning full-time students who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, or are currently serving in the Reserves or National Guard.



Linda CoyneMount Wachusett Community College is offering free workshops this fall for adult learners interested in earning a college degree.

MWCC’s Adult College Experience (ACE) program features a variety of workshops designed to guide adult learners through the steps of applying for college and financial aid, selecting courses, managing coursework and balancing school with work and family life. All participants attending the first session will receive a free gift, and participants attending all four workshops will be eligible to win a free, three-credit course.

“Each year, millions of adult students return to college to expand their career options, change careers, or fulfill a long-held dream of earning a degree. We developed the ACE program at Mount Wachusett to provide students with a roadmap to follow to make their transition to higher education as seamless as possible,” said Marcia Rosbury-Henne, Dean of Admissions and Enrollment.

The four-session ACE program, geared toward adult learners age 24 and above, starts Thursday, Nov. 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with the workshop “Beginning Your College Journey.” During this workshop, students will review the application and enrollment process and complete their application to begin classes in January during the spring 2016 semester. A panel of MWCC alumni who returned to college as adults balancing work, family and studies, will share their stories and answer questions.

The second session, “College Survival 101” will take place Thursday, Nov. 12 from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. Participants will learn about the requirements of college courses and receive instruction on technology and other tools for achieving college success.

The session, “Getting Financial Aid & Enrollment Express,” will take place Thursday, Nov. 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Students will receive assistance reviewing and understanding the components of their financial aid package, including knowing the difference between loans, grants, scholarships and work study aid.

The series concludes on Thursday Dec. 3 with the session “Ready, Set, Go!” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. During this final session, students will develop the basis of their academic plan and develop a solid understanding of their program of study and the academic requirements for graduation. The session will end with a pizza party celebration and a drawing for a free, three-credit course.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment of students age 25 and above increased by 42 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is predicted to increase by another 20 percent by 2020. In comparison, enrollment of college students age 24 and under increased by 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, and is expected to increase 11 percent by 2020.

To register for MWCC’s free ACE program, contact the admissions office at 978-630-9110 or email Registration can also be completed online at

Tina Sbrega

Board of Trustees Chair Tina Sbrega

Tina Sbrega has been reappointed chair of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Board of Trustees, and Leominster attorney and former state Senator Robert A. Antonioni has been appointed to serve, Governor Charlie Baker has announced.

“Tina Sbrega is a highly regarded leader on our board and in the greater community, and we are pleased that Governor Baker has reappointed her to continue serving Mount Wachusett Community College in this capacity,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are also delighted to welcome former state Senator Bob Antonioni to the board. He has been a strong advocate for our college, our students, and the residents, businesses and organizations that comprise North Central Massachusetts.”

Ms. Sbrega, president and chief executive officer of GFA Federal Credit Union in Gardner, has served on MWCC’s Board of Trustees since 2005, including the past three years as chair. She began her work with GFA in 1980 and served in numerous capacities at the financial institution before being appointed its chief official in 2009.

In addition to her volunteer service with MWCC, Ms. Sbrega serves on the board and is a past chair of the Heywood Hospital Board of Trustees, and is a past director and chair of both the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce and the House of Peace & Education in Gardner. In 2013 she cofounded the  Women’s Circle of Giving, a volunteer philanthropic group serving the greater Gardner region.

She earned an associate degree from Quinsigamond Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Roger Williams University.

Bob Antonioni

Attorney and former state Senator Robert A. Antonioni

Mr. Antonioni has practiced law since 1983, specializing in family law, residential and commercial real estate, estate planning and other areas. He served as a state representative from 1989 to 1992, representing Leominster and parts of Fitchburg and Lunenburg, before being elected to the state senate. From 1992 to 2008, he represented north Worcester County, including the cities of Leominster, Fitchburg, Gardner, and the towns of Ashburnham, Westminster, Princeton, Sterling, Lunenburg, Clinton, Bolton, Lancaster, and Ashby and Townsend in Middlesex County. He served as senate chair of Education, Arts and Humanities for about 12 years and also served on the Mental Health and Ways and Means committees.On Oct. 6, Governor Baker announced new members of the boards of trustees for public colleges and universities and designated chairs at several of the Commonwealth’s community colleges.

“I am pleased to welcome this group of impressive new trustees to our institutions of higher education and am grateful to the trustees who are willing to continue to serve with distinction in leadership positions,” he said. “They are all proven leaders in their communities and our community colleges and universities will be well-served by their deep commitment to our Commonwealth and their depth of experience in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.”

“These leaders will be able to hit the ground running and add value on day one,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “They understand the importance of ensuring that nearly 300,000 students on 29 campuses each year have the best possible opportunities for success.”

“I look forward to working with all trustees as we tackle the challenges that face our education system,” said Education Secretary Jim Peyser. “Together we will be able to ensure that our students continue to receive a top-notch education and meet the workforce needs of the future. I also thank all of the outgoing trustees who have served on our public higher education boards. Their contributions have been invaluable.”

Islam photo Noman Khanani

Noman Khanani, a teacher of Islamic studies, speaks during a forum on Islam on Monday at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. T&G Staff/Christine Peterson

GARDNER – To resolve conflicts in the Middle East and eradicate the Islamic State in Iraq, U.S. leaders must promote democracy there, according to a panelist speaking at a forum on Islam Monday night at Mount Wachusett Community College.

MWCC and Heywood Healthcare presented the public forum, “Radical vs. Real: Islam in the Modern World,” held in a packed South Café on MWCC’s Gardner campus. The event, which stemmed from discussions between Heywood Healthcare President Winfield Brown, MWCC President Daniel Asquino, Heywood physician Dr. Tariq Malik and others, was held to help people understand the difference between the Muslim faith and the violent, radical organizations making global headlines.

Three panelists who are members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester gave an overview of Islam – the world’s second largest religion – and discussed political unrest in the Islamic Middle East. The speakers, all U.S. citizens, included Dr. Saleem Khanani, a hematologist and oncologist affiliated with Heywood Healthcare and St. Vincent Cancer and Wellness Center in Worcester; Noman Khanani, teacher of Islamic studies; and Dr. Amjad Bahnassi, medical director of Behavioral Health Services in Worcester.

Islam forum audience photo

About 200 people attended a forum on Islam Monday at Mount Wachusett Community College. T&G Staff/Christine Peterson

During the question and answer portion of the forum, several comments from panelists raised eyebrows from some audience members.In response to a question about how to “wipe out” ISIS and resolve conflict in the Middle East, Dr. Bahnassi, who was born in Syria where he graduated from medical school, said he does not agree with President Barack Obama’s doctrine not to interfere with what is going on in Syria. Democracy must be promoted in the region, he said.

“When Muslims and Arabs argue it is not very civil,” he said. “It tends to be violent. Ignorance, mistrust and the history of colonialism has left them with no base to live with each other. If you go to Worcester where I am from, there is a street for Italians, Irish, Albanians – they all live together beautifully. In Syria, 80 percent is one sect and they cannot find a way to live with each other … I wanted democracy, but all the dreams got killed, including my dream. I wanted to be part of that movement – part of democracy in my country. I want to vote.”

He suggested that the Syrian government created ISIS as a diversion to democracy by freeing thousands of imprisoned extremists who created the “nucleus of ISIS.” Thousands of Syrian Muslims were killed by ISIS because they wanted to force everyone to adopt their ideology, he said.

“They are not bombing terrorism. They are bombing the Syrian people,” he said. “They had to create an enemy.

“Ask yourself, how many ISIS members were in Syria before 2011? There was no existence,” Dr. Bahnassi said. “Where did they come from? Obama’s doctrine is not to interfere – that the U.S. is not to be the police of the world. That is what happened with Hitler. First they started with socialists, then Jews … When you create a vacuum, everyone is going to jump into it. I am blaming Obama’s doctrine. He should have done something. When I want to protect myself from terrorism, I need to take some protective action. If I don’t act, Russians act, the Iranians act, the Chinese act. To eradicate ISIS, you need to promote democracy in the Middle East.”

He said that Islam is not a “complete political system.” An established democratic state must be ran by experts, not religious leaders, he said, who have the educational background and expertise.

“Yes – we want Islamic principles adopted, but we want (educated) people to do that, not religious people,” he said.

Dr. Saleem Khanani and his son, Noman Khanani, said two of the basic principles of Islam are a belief in one God and justice for all.

Dr. Khanani said Muslims can live in a non-Islamic country where justice dispenses to everyone and the rights of all citizens are equally guaranteed as they are in the U.S., United Kingdom or France.

Noman Khanani said the U.S. is an example of an Islamic country because of the social justice here, and freedoms such as freedom of religion and speech. “The U.S. is more Islamic than Pakistan or Egypt,” he said.

Countries that offer personal freedoms are technically Islamic states because they practice principles that are closer to Islamic principles than those who do it under the cloak of Islam, he said.

Marylou Curran, an adjunct faculty member at MWCC who teaches cultural anthropology, said she was “nervous” that Noman said the U.S. can be an Islamic country and would be concerned if students were taught that. Such comments were causing the panel to lose their audience, she said.

“America is a Christian country,” Ms. Curran said from the audience.

Dr. Khanani reiterated that saying the U.S. could be an Islamic state means the U.S. political system is based on fair principles. Any religion that promotes fair principles and monotheism is “Islamic,” he said.

“Judaism in its purist form is as Islamic as Islam,” he said. “Islam is a social system where we practice human values. Muslim is about being a good person and how to respect others.”

“We share the same values,” Dr. Bahnassi added.

When an audience member asked why the U.S. should step in and why the countries weren’t promoting democracy on their own, Noman Khanani said some countries are still very early in the process of changing their political systems.

“Some countries only gained independence 40 or 50 years ago,” he said. “They are still dealing with the effects of colonialism and imperialism … But dropping bombs is not the best thing, either.”

The panelists said when military strikes kill civilians, those who survive and have lost family members sometimes seek revenge.

“It becomes a bloodbath,” Noman Khanani said. “It needs to be thought of politically, rather than just warfare.”

- Paula J. Owen, Telegram & Gazette, Oct. 19, 2015

Frankenscience Oct 14 2015 Lara Dowland

Dr. Lara Dowland, chair of MWCC’s biotechnology / biomanufacturing program, led a discussion on cloning during the free forum on contemporary science.

The ethics of cloning humans, genetically modified food on our dinner tables and an Italian surgeon’s claim he’ll perform the first human head transplantation in 2017 were among the topics raised during “Frankenscience? The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Science,” a free presentation led by MWCC science professors on Oct. 14 in the Levi Heywood Memorial Library.

Dr. Lara Dowland, chair of MWCC’s biotechnology/biomanufacturing program presented on cloning. Dr. Thomas Montagno, Professor of Biology, presented on genetically modified food, Carrie Arnold presented on transplantation, and Heather Conn presented on the history of prosthetics, beginning 3,000 years ago with an artificial toe invented in Egypt.

Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project,  continues with a free panel presentation and discussion on contemporary science.

The second year of the Humanities Project, “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy,” takes an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and its relevance in today’s world. Throughout the year, free events are taking place at the college’s Gardner campus and in the community at public libraries and other venues. The MWCC Humanities Project is funded through a matching $500,000 grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to deepen and sustain quality humanities programming and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

For more information about upcoming events, visit


Go Higher Oct 14 2015

MWCC alumnus CJ Husselbee, right, joined fellow students at the Department of Higher Education’s Go Higher! presentation in Worcester.

Mount Wachusett Community College alumnus Charles “CJ” Husselbee was among the featured speakers during a Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Go Higher! event held Oct. 14 at North High School in Worcester.

The event, attended by several hundred teenagers from five Worcester public high schools, provided students with information about the state’s 29 public college and university campuses, with topics ranging from paying for college to living with roommates.

Mr. Husselbee shared how he enrolled at MWCC during his senior year in high school through the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation Career Tech dual enrollment program for Winchendon students. He went on to serve as president of the college’s chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma business honor society, secretary of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and served on the Student Government Association.

“Get involved. I cannot stress this enough,” he told the assembly. “It’s the best way to integrate yourself into the community.”

After graduating in May 2014 with an associate degree in Business Administration, Mr. Husselbee transferred as a junior to the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

He will earn his bachelor’s degree in accounting this December at age 21, then plans to teach English in Albania as a volunteer with the Peace Corps.

Ken Tomasetti panel photo

Ken Tomasetti, center, president and CEO of Advanced Cable Ties in Gardner and a member of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Board of Trustees, was among the featured speakers during the sixth annual Massachusetts Jobs and Workforce Summit held in Devens. He and fellow panelists Philip Jordan, right, executive director of the Economic Advancement Institute and MIT Professor Ofer Sharon, (not pictured) joined moderator Reinier Moquette, CEO, Advocate Technology Group, Latino STEM Alliance on the topic “Automation and the Impact of Technology on the Work and the Workplace.

At Advanced Cable Ties in Gardner, 130 people show up to work each weekday, but they are not considered “employees,” President and CEO Ken Tomasetti shared with an audience of state, industry, education and community leaders during the 6th Annual Massachusetts Jobs and Workforce Summit in Devens on Wednesday, Oct. 14.“We don’t have employees. We have 130 family members,” he said.

Mr. Tomasetti, a member of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Board of Trustees, participated in one of six plenary sessions focusing on “The Future of Work,” presented by the Workforce Solutions Group in Devens. The event featured a number of prominent speakers, including Secretary of Labor and Workforce Ronald Walker, II, Secretary of Educatino Jim Peyser, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, Attorney General Maura Healey, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan.

A key theme of the summit focused on the strength of Massachusetts’ community colleges to prepare the 21st century workforce. Mr. Tomasetti could attest to that. At Advanced Cable Ties/ACT Fastening Solutions, dozens of employees have participated in a wide range of workforce development classes offered by MWCC, such as LEAN manufacturing training and supervisory skills, he said.

Mr. Tomasetti, who founded the business at his home in 1994, nurtured his company to become a leading manufacturer of cable ties and wiring accessories proudly made in the U.S. The company now produces 1.7 billion cable ties each year in a high-tech manufacturing facility that is currently expanding by an additional 42,300-square feet and 60 new jobs.

But yearly production and manufacturing space aren’t the only areas of growth at ACT. Over the past two decades, Mr. Tomasetti and his wife, Donna, have invested in their dedicated workers. Despite estimates that more than half of U.S. manufacturing jobs will become automated over the next 20 years, Mr. Tomasetti said that is not the case at ACT.

“Technology and automation have allowed us to expand,” he said. Over the past decade the company has become completely automated, and not one person lost their job. “We have an excellent, dedicated workforce and we decided to stay with them, rather than outsource.”



Sentinel & Enterprise Meg Hutchinson photo

Singer-songwriter and mental-health advocate Meg Hutchinson talks about her battle with mental illness at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Leominster on Thursday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

LEOMINSTER — Amid personal stories of struggle — and triumph — the message was clear: Mental illness touches all of society.

More than 300 health-care professionals gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel Thursday to further their mission to promote open discussion of mental-health issues.

“Things are changing, but so much more needs to be done to put mental health on the same playing field as physical health care,” said Dr. Anne Procyk, one of the guest experts who participated in the conference’s panel discussion.

People from varying fields and backgrounds attended, but all were in agreement when it came to the biggest issue facing those suffering from mental illness.

“The goal is to educate people about mental health, to make them more aware and more sensitive,” said Melissa Manzi, a college counselor for conference sponsor Mount Wachusett Community College.

This was the third awareness conference sponsored by the college and it’s in collaboration with Heywood Hospital and the SHINE initiative. With more than 300 attendees each year. Manzi said they have reached the point where people had to be turned away because there wasn’t enough space left.

“We’re involved because we see our students having mental health issues affecting them. We look at it as a need for everyone to be educated,” said Manzi.

Among the featured guests were Procyk, a naturopathic physician researching the correlation between physical and mental health, Dr. Phoebe Moore, a clinical and adolescent psychologist specializing in youth anxiety orders, and Robert Bureau, a Rehabilitation Counseling Graduate Program faculty member from Assumption College who has been living with bipolar disorder since 1977.

“When I first started to share my diagnosis I was terrified,” said Bureau. “The pain of hiding it can just be overwhelming.”

Bureau was not the only guest expert who shared a story of struggle.

Cambridge-based musician Meg Hutchinson was there to speak of her nine year experience fighting bipolar disorder.

“Of the last 18 years, I’ve spent nine shadow-boxing with something I couldn’t understand,” she said.

Hutchinson described to the audience how she began slipping into a depression at 19 and how it remained prevalent and untreated for much of her life.

“I spent mornings trying to practice with my face to make it look right. I could smile, but I couldn’t get the light back in my eyes,” she said.

In addition to her story, Hutchinson performed two songs, one of which was based on Kevin Briggs, the California patrol officer who has prevented 200 suicide attempts on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Events like mental-health awareness conferences and other community outreach efforts have been some of the strongest forces in removing the stigma surrounding the issue, experts said.

In 2004 Fidelity Bank created the SHINE Initiative in an effort to promote awareness.

“For the past few years we’ve been working on establishing relationships with schools, universities and whoever else wishing to join in the conversation,” said SHINE Director Paul Richard. Richard also said that SHINE has begun focusing more on illness facing children and adolescents.

Though children are at risk, Richard pointed out that anyone can be affected, and therefore everyone should be informed.

- Peter Jasinski, Sentinel and Enterprise, Oct. 9, 2015

To view more photos and videos, click here.



Frankenstein image - JPG

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

Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project, “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy,” continues with a free panel presentation and discussion on contemporary science.

“Frankenscience? The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Science,” will take place Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Levi Heywood Memorial Library in Gardner. Panelists include Lara Dowland, chair of MWCC’s biotechnology/biomanufacturing program, and MWCC biology professors Thomas Montagno, Carrie Arnold and Heather Conn. Topics will include cloning, transplantation, prosthetics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and the food supply.

The second year of the Humanities Project takes an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and its relevance in today’s world. Throughout the year, free events will take place at the college’s Gardner campus and in the community at public libraries and other venues. The MWCC Humanities Project is funded through a matching $500,000 grant the college received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to deepen and sustain quality humanities programming and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

Other fall  events include “Monsters on the Big Screen,” a lecture by Fitchburg State University film and English Professor Joseph Moser Tuesday, Oct. 20 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Gardner campus North Café; a Halloween Hike for the Humanities, fundraiser for the matching NEH grant, on Saturday, Oct. 31 at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton; a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on Nov. 5 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in MWCC’s North Cafe; a lecture “Mary Shelley: The Woman Behind the Monster,” with Tufts University Professor Sonia Hofkosh on Nov. 12 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Leominster Public Library; and a brown bag lunch discussion,What Makes a Monster?” on Nov. 18 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at MWCC’s Gardner campus, room 345.

All events are free and open to the public. Registration is not required. For more information visit