General News

American Legion donation Nov 2014

Members of the Gardner-based Chapter 907 of the Vietnam Veterans of American donated $2,000 to the MWCC Foundation to support scholarships for veterans. Pictured from left: James Benton III, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, President Daniel M. Asquino, Bryan Wickman, Dan Ninno and Jay Ringquist.

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

President Daniel M. Asquino and Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli accepted the generous contribution from chapter President Bryan Wickman, Vice President and Secretary James Benton III, Treasurer C. Dan Ninno and Jay Ringquist.

The 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.


Daniel M. AsquinoAs we prepare to recognize the service of all the men and women who have served our country, I urge all of you to take the opportunity to reflect on the importance of Veterans Day and the contributions and sacrifices made by millions of Americans. About 350 veterans are currently attending Mount Wachusett Community College, and I am proud of their accomplishments both in service to their country and in our classrooms. I want to thank each of these students for their service.

The majority of these students served their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The history of our college has always been closely tied to our veterans. When members of our local Veterans of Foreign Wars post visit us each year to make a contribution to support student scholarships, past commander and MWCC alumnus Don Progen and others remark that when they returned home from Vietnam, they found Mount Wachusett Community College to be, “a haven.”

We strive to continue to be that haven for our veteran students. These students bring great leadership skills to our campus and ultimately to our workforce. They are a tremendous asset to our communities. I am proud that Mount Wachusett Community College has been named for the fifth consecutive year, as a “Top Military School” and is also a designated Yellow Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, USA Today has named MWCC as one of its “Best Colleges for Vets” in 2014. Most recently, WGBY in Springfield filmed a segment spotlighting our residential and educational partnership with the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center, run on a portion of campus property by the Fitchburg-based nonprofit Veterans Homestead, Inc. To view this inspiring video, go to

If you would like to learn more about our Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, visit I extend my deepest gratitude to our staff in this center and across the campus who work with our student veterans as they pursue their academic goals.

The campus will be closed on Veterans Day as we honor our veterans.  Please take the time for reflection and recognition of our heroes.

MWCC's new STEM building will advance its standing as a leader in STEM education.

MWCC’s new STEM building will advance its position as a leader in STEM education.

Following more than a year of extensive planning and design, Mount Wachusett Community College is preparing for the start of construction on a new $41 million science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building. The 44,000-square-foot addition and renovation of the 40-year-old Arthur F. Haley Academic Center will bring MWCC to the forefront of STEM education.

“Construction is expected to begin in March,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “If all goes as planned, pre-construction work on the Haley Building will begin in December. Our students deserve the very best. This project supports trends in teaching and learning and reflects the national and statewide STEM initiatives while providing the best possible education for our students.”

The Commonwealth is investing $38 million in the project to support the academic needs in North Central Massachusetts. The project will be one of the largest in North Worcester County.

Amenities will include eight new classrooms and laboratories, four lab prep rooms, 24 new faculty offices, student study space and interior glass walls to highlight STEM student innovation. New laboratory equipment, including projection microscopes with 60-inch flat screen monitors, will be acquired through a $500,000 grant the college received from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Designed by Boston-based Architerra, Inc. to meet LEED certification for efficiency and sustainability, the new building will contain energy-efficient features related to heating, exhaust, lighting and plumbing that will further reduce MWCC’s carbon footprint.

Upgrades to audio/visual equipment and enhanced wireless capabilities in labs and open areas, are also among the features, as well as a new 2,300-square-foot greenhouse for science programs. Improvements to the Haley Academic Center also will include a new visitor entrance, a multi-purpose room, an academic advising suite, a refurbished student-centered campus hub and increased accessibility to the Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center.

Fitchburg’s School Committee recognized the MWCC/Fitchburg High School GEAR UP partnership during its Nov. 3 meeting. Front row, left to right, GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin, GEAR UP 2016/2017 students Keanu Bouthsarath, Sabrina Hyvarinen, Crystal Ocasio, Stephanie Ocasio; back row, Timothy Harkin, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, and GEAR UP Assistant Director Victor Rojas.

Fitchburg’s School Committee recognized the MWCC/Fitchburg High School GEAR UP partnership during its Nov. 3 meeting. Front row, left to right, GEAR UP Director Andrew Goodwin, GEAR UP 2016/2017 students Keanu Bouthsarath, Sabrina Hyvarinen, Crystal Ocasio, Stephanie Ocasio; back row, Timothy Harkin, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, and GEAR UP Assistant Director Victor Rojas.

Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg High School are being recognized with a 2014 Gateway Cities Innovation Award from the MassINC Gateway Innovation Institute for the GEAR UP program, a 15-year-old partnership between the two institutions.

Each year, the MassINC recognizes organizations and individuals that utilize innovative models to grow the economies of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities. The 2014 awards will be presented at the Institute’s annual event on Nov. 13.

Through GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition provides academic support and early college-awareness activities to Fitchburg High School students.

“This year’s awards celebrate leaders who have advanced educational excellence in their communities,” said Ben Forman, executive director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “They each achieved this by working collaboratively to build new learning models that take advantage of unique Gateway City educational opportunities.”

In 2010, MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition received a $3.6-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the college’s partnership with Fitchburg Public Schools. The grant allowed MWCC to offer college-preparation services to every student entering sixth and seventh grades, lasting until their respective graduations in 2016 and 2017.

“We wish to thank the MassINC Gateways Innovation Institute for identifying GEAR UP as one of five model partnerships,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “Fitchburg is a critically important city in our service area, and we are proud of the bond we have developed with Fitchburg High School. GEAR UP has allowed us to foster increased access to higher education for students, which has long been one of our fundamental goals at MWCC.”

“The GEAR Up program with Mount Wachusett Community College is one of the longest-sustained educational partnerships we have had as a school district,” said Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle. “This collaboration has brought not only an institutional commitment to the Fitchburg Public Schools, but more importantly a one-on-one commitment of MWCC staff to hundreds of FHS students, helping them navigate the challenges in life to eventual academic success.”

“Fitchburg High School is honored to be recognized with our partner, MWCC, for this MassINC Innovation Award,” said Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche. “GEAR UP is a driving force in our school setting because it truly reflects our mission to help prepare students for college through high expectations and strong supports. Our children and faculty are fortunate to be working with the GEAR UP team, which is comprised of individuals committed to helping students achieve post-secondary success.”

Specifically, GEAR UP students receive academic counseling, tutoring, homework support, MCAS and PSAT/SAT preparation and college admissions assistance. GEAR UP also offers after-school academic and social activities, workshops on college awareness and financial aid, and access to internships, as well as professional-development seminars for faculty and staff.

Similarly, the program also exists to provide public school districts sustainable curricula in science, math, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with the goal of improving instruction and knowledge acquisition in these areas.

Additional 2014 Gateway Cities Innovation Award winners are Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative, Greater Lawrence Advanced Manufacturing Academy, Revere High Advisory Program and the Worcester Arts Magnet School.

“These award winners exemplify the creativity and dedication Gateway Cities have shown in attempting to build new learning modules that respond to the needs of students and families in our changing economy,” said Forman. “The time has come to take a hard look at how we change funding models developed two decades ago to better position leaders to bring effective new learning models to scale.”

The Fitchburg School Committee announced the recognition at its Nov. 3 meeting.

The LEAD team (Let's Empower, Advocate and Do) took home the award for Changemaker of the Year.

The LEAD team (Let’s Empower, Advocate and Do) received the award for Changemaker of the Year.

MWCC coordinates the Youth Venture program along with the United Way and Ashoka’s Youth Venture.

The program exists to empower youth through support for innovative, community-outreach proposals, and its annual event celebrates and further educates these future leaders. Successful proposals from this most recent year offered support for animal shelters, Alzheimer’s patients and homeless children.

Through various training sessions, attendees in the 2014 kickoff received guidance on creative fundraising, mentorship and leadership, outreach to communities and schools, and collaboration with fellow venture participants. Speakers from the United Way and its community partners, including MWCC, also offered words of encouragement to an audience that represented 10 percent of the student population.

“Change your world,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino during his opening remarks. MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement also houses a segment of the UWYV.

Keynote speaker Marquis Cabrera discussed Foster Skills, initially a venture and now an award-winning social enterprise dedicated to empowering foster children to become successful, productive citizens.

Additional speakers included Phil Grzewinski, president of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts; Bob Chauvin, president of Tyco SimplexGrinnell; and Autumn Williams, partnerships manager at Ashoka’s Youth Venture.

Through three separate awards, the United Way recognized Ally of the Year, Champion of the Year, and Changemarker of the Year. Last year’s Changemaker honoree, Kylee McCumber, presented the award to the 2014 wining team, Let’s Empower, Advocate & Do (LEAD).

Throughout last year, over 8,965 students were exposed to the UWYV program, with 2,623 actively engaged in workshops and developing ideas for ventures. A total of 748 students took leadership roles in current ventures or launched one of 29 new ventures, receiving over $22,000 in direct seed funding for their efforts.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project continues with a book discussion on Thoreau's modern connection to student debt.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project continues Nov. 6 with a book discussion on Thoreau’s modern connection to student debt.

One author’s unconventional approach to repaying his student loans will be the focus of a Nov. 6 event for the Mount Wachusett Community College Humanities Project, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant.

Leominster Public Library will host a book discussion of Ken Ilgunas’ “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom” from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

In his book, Ilgunas describes adopting Henry David Thoreau’s frugal lifestyle to repay undergraduate student loans and enroll in a master’s program, while using his van as a makeshift dorm and avoiding further debt. The book discussion continues the Humanities Project’s first-year theme, “East Meets West in a Cabin in Concord: Walden and Beyond,” an ongoing discussion of Thoreau’s lasting relevance.

Thoreau famously lived an economical two years in a self-built cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, MA, immersing himself in nature and writing journal entries that would become “Walden.”

The MWCC Humanities Project is a multi-year initiative to integrate annual themes in the humanities into campus curricula and community events. The first year features a slate of free events spotlighting various works written or inspired by Thoreau, as well as related student projects developed by several MWCC professors.

In 2013, MWCC received one of 173 NEH grants, which are awarded to recipients representing the highest level of humanities research and public engagement.

For more information about the MWCC Humanities Project and a full schedule of events, visit

Mount Wachusett Community College pre-engineering student Casey Bortle pilots the college’s new drone during a Math Modeling Initiative presentation to 350 area high school seniors.

Mount Wachusett Community College pre-engineering student Casey Bortle pilots the college’s new drone during a Math Modeling Initiative presentation to 350 area high school seniors.

Mount Wachusett Community College lauded the 350 high school students participating in this year’s Math Modeling Initiative and encouraged them to explore the opportunities available through a college education.

As part of the Oct. 29 event, students and teachers from partnering institutions Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, Fitchburg High School, Leominster High School and Leominster’s Center for Technical Education Innovation witnessed the unveiling of MWCC’s new quadcopter drone.

Through the initiative, MWCC offers the Modeling in Mathematics course to provide essential skills to high school seniors who require developmental math education. The free course emphasizes complex problem solving and the application of math in everyday life and eliminates the need for students to take remedial mathematics upon entering college.

“I want to congratulate you for getting a head start on your mathematics education and thank the faculty and staff who commit to your welfare,” MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino said during his opening remarks. “Our goal is to help you become college-ready so that you can move on to earn your degrees. Math has traditionally been an impediment to students, but by being college-ready, you will be unique.”

Led by MWCC Professor and Math Department Chair Yoav Elinevsky, educators from MWCC’s Access & Transition and Academic Affairs divisions and LHS developed the initiative as a pilot program in 2012. After 116 LHS seniors initially took one of six Modeling in Mathematics sections, MWCC expanded the initiative for the 2014-2015 academic year to include Monty Tech and Fitchburg High.

“Congratulations on being so close to graduating high school and preparing yourself for college and the job market,” Elinevsky said.

To promote the physics department and the importance of mathematics, faculty member Dr. Peter Olszak and students Adam Suzor and Casey Bortle led a demonstration of the quadcopter drone, which hovered for several minutes while displaying a live video feed.

Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, a first-generation college student, emphasized the importance of a college education as an investment in their future. Recruitment Counselor Natasha Robinson, Career/Vocational Education Transition Counselor Shaunti Phillips and Kijah Gordon, academic advisor for STEM programs, discussed the enrollment process, articulation agreements, and the college’s STEM Set Scholarships and STEM Starter Academy.

In addition, chairs from academic departments, including Dan Donovan from computer information systems, John Little from media arts & technology, and Tom Matsuda from art explained their respective programs. Students from the pilot course encouraged their successors to take advantage of the program and continue their educations after graduating high school.

- Cameron Woodcock


Shawn Case, Assistant Professor of Math, participates in Department of Higher Education’s #Memo2MA Twitter campaign highlighting the department’s 2014 Vision Project report.

At a time of rising demand for skilled college graduates in the Commonwealth, the Department of Higher Education’s third annual Vision Project report shows progress being made to raise graduation rates and close achievement gaps among public college and university students in Massachusetts, but also projects a shortage of skilled graduates needed to meet the needs of employers in key industry sectors that fuel economic growth, based on an expected drop in the state’s high school population in the coming years. 

“The Vision Project report provides state leaders with a road map that allows us to think and respond proactively to the issues in higher education we will face in the next decade,” said Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.”At the same time it allows us to celebrate achievements by our campuses and by the Patrick Administration. There are many points of progress contained in this report, and I am proud that our public colleges and universities share a vision for the future.”

Mount Wachusett Community College made continued strides during the year in several key areas, including new initiatives in area high schools and on campus to help close achievement gaps, such as a new Modeling in Mathematics program launched in three area high schools to prepare students for college-level math courses; the creation of a new bridge program to assist nontraditional students returning to college; and enhanced student support services for veterans, working parents, and students of all ages seeking degrees and careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Additionally, advances in workforce development include new accelerated training programs in advanced manufacturing, continued partnerships with industry, and the creation of a Manufacturing Workforce Certification Center at its Devens campus.

“In order to enhance college access and student success, we work closely with our regional K-12 school systems, as well as provide robust, student-centered programs and initiatives on campus,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. MWCC’s new FY2015 to FY2017 strategic plan, “Embracing Transformation,” focuses on the college’s four strategic, college-wide goals – Access, Success, Learning, and Progress, and the plan is shaped by the key outcomes of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Vision Project, he said.

“Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now,” was released this morning before a group of 275 business and civic leaders gathered at the Boston Foundation.  The report, which can be accessed at, outlines system and campus-level achievements aligned with the Vision Project goal of leading nationally among state systems of public higher education.

Among the recent gains:

  • One-third of Massachusetts campuses are now meeting or exceeding the Vision Project goal for improvement in six-year graduation/success rates, increases that are well above the national and leading states’ averages.
  • At the University of Massachusetts and state university campuses, the six-year graduation rate gap between White and Latino/a students has narrowed.
  • At community colleges, the rate of enrollment in remedial coursework among Latino/a students has declined, a sign that collaborative work with high schools to align curriculum and close gaps is working.
  • The focus on workforce planning in high-growth industry sectors is yielding results; as an example, the report cites a 34% increase in nurses with bachelor’s degrees (2010-2013), important because research shows that higher education levels result in improved patient outcomes.
  • Mount Wachusett Community College’s was showcased in the report for being among the institutions that have improved student success rates above the national average, as well as its support for student veterans and military families.
  • MWCC alumnus Bryan Sanderson was featured in an article for his efforts to found the college’s Students Serving Our Service office, a peer-to-peer program that is administered through the college’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

Along with citing progress, the report draws attention to a major challenge facing the Commonwealth: declining enrollments at public colleges and universities at a time when the state’s need for more college-educated workers has never been greater.

The report forecasts that by 2020, the system that now educates 70% of high school students who remain in state to attend college will be under-producing needed graduates by a minimum of 55,000 to 65,000, the result of enrollment declines that stem from a drop in the state’s high school population. Within six years, Massachusetts’ high school population will shrink by 9%, a shift from the previous decade which saw a 31% increase in the number of high school graduates. The prior growth helped fuel record enrollments at Massachusetts’ community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses, a boom which has now ended. This fall the public higher education system posted its first decline in enrollment in a decade.

“Today we put forth a major plan to address the state’s need for more college graduates,” said Richard M. Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education. “This is vital work on behalf of the Commonwealth and we understand that we can only deliver the graduates Massachusetts needs if we are improving our overall academic performance, which campuses are striving to do, and if such efforts receive strong state support.”

At outlined by Commissioner Freeland at the Boston Foundation report release event, the “Big Three Completion Plan” to address the state’s need for more graduates focuses on 1) helping more students succeed in and complete college 2) redoubling efforts to close persistent achievement gaps that keep too many African American and Latino/a students from graduating, and 3) attracting and retaining students who are not being served by the system, including those who currently can’t afford to attend college, those who are choosing to attend college out of state, and adult students who need to finish their degrees.

Despite recent investments by the Patrick Administration, decades of insufficient funding to Massachusetts public higher education have resulted in the Commonwealth ranking no better than average (currently, 26th in the nation) in state support for its public colleges and universities. A report released Tuesday by the Commonwealth’s Higher Education Finance Commission recommended that the public campuses receive significant additional funding tied to performance improvement, and that such support also be linked to campus efforts to achieve greater operating efficiencies.

“The particular needs of this state, more than many other states, demand a first class system of public higher education,” said Charles F. Desmond, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “If we hope to reap the economic dividends that come from being an educational leader, Massachusetts must make academic excellence at its public colleges and universities an even higher priority than it is right now.”

“There is clear consensus, Massachusetts must have a national top tier public higher education system to compete in our 21st century economy,” said the Co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland.) “This means greater efficiency and collaboration on the part of our higher education institutions, and strategic investment on par with the states that lead the way in public higher education nationally. This effort will require support from every resident of our Commonwealth. We understand what must be done, and today we affirm the need to act.”

Chris Jason Sinatra Live Big Band

An Oct. 24 performance by Frank Sinatra stylist Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band raised more than $38,000 to support scholarship funds for MWCC students.

Frank Sinatra stylist Chris Jason and the Sinatra Live Big Band transported a capacity crowd to Las Vegas, 1966, during an Oct. 24 concert sponsored by the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation that raised more than $38,000 for student scholarships.

Making his first appearance at MWCC’s theatre, Jason performed over 20 Sinatra favorites and exchanged quips with audience members in the two-act benefit concert that served as the foundation’s annual fundraiser.

“Students need our financial support now more than ever,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “It was heartening to see so many friends of the college enjoying an evening out with great music, while raising much needed money for student scholarships.”

“On behalf of the entire board, I want to thank those who came out in support of our hard-working students. I applaud all the MWCC staff who worked to bring Chris Jason to the stage for Sinatra at the Mount,” said MWCC Board of Trustees Chair Tina Sbrega.

Established in 1971, the MWCC Foundation currently offers 38 scholarships, 21 for continuing students and 17 for transfer students, to support degree seekers from a range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Sinatra at the Mount was part of an annual slate of fundraising events that help provide increased access to a college education at MWCC.

“Thanks to a dedicated team at the college, we raised more than $30,000 for our students,” said MWCC Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, “Support from donors and friends helps us award more than $260,000 in scholarships each year.”

“What a great evening,” said Foundation Board Chair Richard Mohnk. “I want to thank Executive Director Carla Zottoli and her team for hosting a flawless event. The music was wonderful, and the evening was for a very good cause – our students.”

After opening with “Come Fly with Me,” Jason crooned through renditions of “Luck Be a Lady,” “Where or When,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” My Way,” “I’ve Got You under My Skin” and “Strangers in the Night.” Shortly into the second act, one couple danced to Jason’s version of “A Summer Wind.”

To cap off the night, the Sinatra tribute artist returned to a standing ovation for one final performance of “New York, New York.”

In paying tribute to Sinatra, Jason adapted songs from the 1966 live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” and “The Great American Songbook” and infused the artist’s trademark humor into his performance.

- Cameron Woodcock

MWCC student leader John Day received the Dean Sullivan Award at the Community College Student Leadership Association's annual conference in Wakefield.

MWCC student leader John Day received the Dean Sullivan Award at the Community College Student Leadership Association’s annual conference in Wakefield.

Mount Wachusett Community College student leader John Day was recognized for his enthusiasm and dedication, qualities demonstrated by Dean Richard Sullivan, formerly of Cape Cod Community College (CCCC).

Day received the Dean Sullivan Award at the Community College Student Leadership Association’s (CCSLA) annual conference, held Oct. 16 through 17 in Wakefield, months after receiving the MWCC Peter J. Trainor Leadership Award.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA in the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, Day recruited 200 volunteers to package over 20,000 meals for the MWCC edition of September’s 19th Annual United Way Day of Caring. He also serves as president of Beyond Str8 and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, as well as treasurer of the Student Government Association (SGA), an ambassador for and a mentor for Students Serving Our Students (SOS).

“I am very humbled and touched that my MWCC advisors, particularly Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, nominated me for this award and put so much thought into the submission letter,” said Day. “Opportunities at MWCC are abundant, and the people I’ve met have led me into the various roles I currently perform.”

“John is an ideal candidate for the Dean Sullivan Award. In a short amount of time, he has become an active participant in student and veteran affairs and a mentor and advocate for students from all backgrounds,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, who spent seven years as Sullivan’s colleague dean at CCCC and also praised Day’s leadership in the Day of Caring. “Dean Sullivan’s number-one concern was always the well-being of his students. He would bend over backwards to help any student in trouble, and John exemplifies these qualities.”

During his two-plus years at MWCC, Day has also served as SGA Vice President, an orientation leader and a work-study employee in the Veterans Success Center.

“John is an exceptional role model for MWCC students. His greatest characteristics are his kindness and energy,” said Clement. “He takes advantage of all the opportunities offered here and encourages other students to do the same. ”

The CCSLA is comprised of all 15 Massachusetts community colleges, as well as New Hampshire Technical Institute and Nashua Community College in New Hampshire.