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President James Vander Hooven, Ed. D. talks with Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise Editor Charlie St. Amand at the North Central Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Breakfast Thursday.

Mount Wachusett Community College President James Vander Hooven, Ed. D., stressed the vital nature of the connection between the business community and MWCC at the North Central Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Breakfast Thursday.

“Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had conversations with folks who are intimately aware of what is going on at the Mount and they want to be involved,” said President Vander Hooven. “It’s my hope that we can continue to build on that.”

During a question and answer discussion with Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise Editor Charlie St. Amand, President Vander Hooven reinforced his commitment to the businesses in the 29 communities served by the Mount. The college has a connection with and support of its communities that is unmatched in the United States, he said, and this puts the college in a position to be responsive to community and business needs.

This can be done in many ways, according to President Vander Hooven, but starts by being at the table with local businesses and working through not only the needs they know but those they haven’t event anticipated yet. President Vander Hooven explained that it is through these partnerships that the future story of MWCC will be written.

“Through innovation and the partnerships we can build with everyone in this room, we will tell our story in the workplace,” he said. “We are going to be preparing students for transfer or other degrees, but it’s also just as important to be providing the skills to them that our employers need and I think that is where the story is going to be told.”

Although he will be reaching out to the business community, President Vander Hooven invited those in the audience to reach out and engage the opportunities at the college.

Diane Gilliam Fisher will read excerpts from her book “Kettle Bottom” on April, 6.

Mount Wachusett Community College will host nationally acclaimed poet and author Diane Gilliam Fisher for a reading of selections from her book “Kettle Bottom” on April, 6.

“When Diane Gilliam Fisher reads from “Kettle Bottom,” she performs the poetry and resurrects the poignant voices of the past with an undeniable authenticity,” said MWCC English Professor Lorie Donahue who helped organize the reading. “She often intersperses the readings with details regarding the development of the work, allowing the audience a deeper understanding of her process. With quiet power and intensity, she really holds onto the room.”

“Kettle Bottom” is Fisher’s award-winning book of poetry that explores the West Virginia Mine Wars from the perspectives of those who lived and worked in the coal camps from 1920 to 1921. “Kettle Bottom” has won several prizes, including a Pushcart Prize and the Ohioana Library Association Book of the Year in Poetry. Gilliam also won the 2008 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing.

In her review of “Kettle Bottom,” Catherine MacDonald said, “Set in 1920–21, a period of violent unrest known as the West Virginia Mine Wars, the poems in Kettle Bottom combine compelling narratives with the charged, heightened language of lyric poetry. It is an unforgettable combination, one that characterizes the very best contemporary verse.”

The reading at Mount Wachusett Community College will take place on April 6 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the North Café. An additional reading will take place later that night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Athol Public Library at 568 Main Street.

Gilliam grew up in Columbus, Ohio, daughter of parents who were part of the post-war Appalachian outmigration, from Mingo County West Virginia and Johnson County Kentucky. She earned a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Ohio State and an MFA from Warren Wilson. Gilliam is the recipient of the 2013 Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation.

She lives in Akron, Ohio, where she works as a poet and quilter. She is currently working on two projects, supported by her two-year, $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award: a collection of poems titled “The Blackbirds Too,” and a Young Adult novel in poems that continues the voices of female characters from Kettle Bottom.

The poetry reading is part of the college’s Imagining Work humanities project from the MWCC Humanities Initiative that is funded through a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant as well as $1 million in funds from the MWCC Foundation.

The purpose of the endowment is to support collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching and research in the humanities and to engage MWCC students and residents in the North Central Massachusetts region in studies and discussions of enduring themes and ideas from the world’s rich cultural and intellectual traditions. The endowment will fund common annual themes to be integrated across campus curricula and woven into campus and community humanities programming.

Mount Wachusett Community College James Vander Hooven signs onto the CEO’s Against Stigma Campaign on Monday with Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director of NAMI Massachusetts.

James Vander Hooven, Ed. D, signed onto the CEO’s Against Stigma Campaign on Monday as he began his second week as Mount Wachusett Community College’s president.

“I cannot control the family or community support mechanisms our valued employees may or may not have at home. What I can control is our ability here, in the workplace, to be supportive of each other through the difficult times. This is an expectation I have for our College community,” President Vander Hooven said of his signing on to the The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) CEOs Against Stigma campaign.

NAMI Mass launched the CEOs Against Stigma campaign in 2015 with a grant from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. CEOs Against Stigma partners with the leaders of businesses, organizations and municipalities across the Commonwealth to educate and combat stigma. President Vander Hooven’s signing of the pledge Monday continued a commitment to fighting this stigma that previous President Dr. Daniel M. Asquino made last year.

“Mental health conditions affect one in five adults and are the leading cause of workplace disability. Even in the best workplaces, mental illness remains a secret on account of stigma,” says Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director of NAMI Massachusetts. “We are thrilled to have President Vander Hooven of Mount Wachusett Community College sign onto our CEOs Against Stigma campaign. His leadership role will help transform the way people think and act at MWCC.”

As part of this campaign, participating employers host In Our Own Voice, a NAMI signature program featuring two people living with mental illness who share their personal stories and how they are achieving recovery. The In Our Own Voice program has been recognized by a leading national mental health researcher as the most effective anti-stigma program in America.

Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is a nonprofit, grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. It is the state’s voice on mental illness, with 21 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental health challenges and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. To that end, the organization offers free, peer-led programs that provide resources, insights, coping skills and genuine support. To learn more about NAMI Mass, please visit namimass.org.

President James Vander Hooven.

(Article courtesy the Telegram & Gazette) Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) is more than half a century old, yet the school has only had a few presidents – the newest is James L. Vander Hooven, 45, who officially took the post as MWCC’s third president on March 19.

His predecessor, former president Daniel M. Asquino, who retired March 17, held the post for 30 years and was the longest-serving public higher education president in the state. Mr. Asquino, appointed in 1987, succeeded the college’s first president, Arthur F. Haley.
On Dec. 15, the MWCC board of rrustees voted to appoint Mr. Vander Hooven and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved the appointment on Jan. 17.

Mr. Vander Hooven, who lives in Keene, N.H., was vice president of enrollment management at Landmark College in Putney, Vt. He previously served as president of Tohono O’odham Community College, a tribal college in Arizona; as vice president of student affairs and management at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, N.H.; and as regional dean of academic and student affairs at National American University in Denver. He holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Maine.

Mr. Asquino, who announced his retirement last year, remained at the college through a transition period with the new president.

At the end of Mr. Vander Hooven’s first week at the accredited, two-year public college that serves 29 cities and towns in North Central Massachusetts, he conducted interviews with the media.

He said he was humbled to be able to follow in Mr. Asquino’s footsteps and moving into the post solidified his return to New England a year ago.

He became aware of the opportunity during his “brief” time working at Landmark College, he said.

“I wasn’t actually looking for anything,” he said. “I think my wife signed up for automatic alerts through HigherEdJobs.com and it came to her, and she, at some point, said, ‘This is just down the road.’ Five months later, I’m talking to you. Otherwise, I would have stayed where I was. I was not on the market. It was an unexpected opportunity – one I could just never pass up trying for. I have a deep, longstanding passion for community college and coming back to this environment here is a real thrill and honor.”

He echoed the same sentiments about following in Mr. Asquino’s long-lasting footsteps.

“I’ve known his reputation for many years in the community college world, even on a national scale,” Mr. Vander Hooven said. “It is a real honor to help build upon the foundation he built at the college.”

Asked if he thought he would stay as long as Mr. Asqunio, he joked, “If I do, I think the college will be like 95-years-old and looking for its fourth president. But, I’d like to get through my first week as president before I commit to 30 years.”

Mr. Vander Hooven was chosen over four other candidates for the post. He didn’t apply to any other colleges, he said. MWCC’s commitment to civic engagement and the dedication of the faculty and staff attracted him, he said.

“I was attracted for two reasons: one is the passion the faculty and staff have for the students and for the North Central Massachusetts community and also there is a really heavy focus on civic engagement for students as well as our partnerships established over many years with different regional entities, businesses and industry.”

Mr. Vander Hooven said he plans to build and expand on those relationships.

He said he was also attracted to the 269-acre main campus with its innovative buildings and green technology including two wind turbines, calling it “groundbreaking in many areas.”

Working at one of the nation’s 37 tribal colleges was one of the “most fascinating experiences” of his life, he said, and gives him a unique perspective because of the fully-accredited school’s focus on culture and maintaining the tribes’ cultures, history and personality within an education system.

“I think it will help with my ability or desire to truly, constructively listen to the challenges that students have to be successful,” Mr. Vander Hooven said. “I once heard someone indicate that a lot of our students’ challenges are beyond our control as an institution. Are they? I really challenge that line of thinking.”

Supporting a diverse student population, he said, including some that are single parents, needs to be part of the culture and system to make sure MWCC can support those students.

MWCC’s five-year strategic plan is also coming to a close, as Mr. Vander Hooven takes the post. He said he plans to extend it a few months while he takes eight to 10 months to develop a new strategic plan, requesting input from the community and the college’s partners, as well as students. Expanding on partnerships that are already in place like MWCC’s many workforce development programs, is key, he said. Responsiveness to the needs of area employers in regards to what they are looking for in a skilled workforce is one of MWCC’s strengths, he said.

“Companies are saying they have jobs, but need trained people to hire,” he said. “They are looking for quick, in-depth training programs for certification. Community college, by definition, should be a higher education entity to do that. We can be more nimble than other colleges that are a little bit more entrenched with what they are doing, and we can be there on the spot.”

Mr. Vander Hooven and Jennie L. Vander Hooven, his wife of 12 years, have three children, daughter Josephine, 4, and sons Jonah, 6, and Jude, 9.

President James Vander Hooven.

(Article courtesy the Sentinel & Enterprise) James Vander Hooven was expecting a lot of tough questions his first day this Monday as Mount Wachusett Community College president.

Is the tuition going to go up? Is there something you can do about the price of textbooks? What is your educational philosophy?

But one question caught him off-guard.

“I asked the students there if they had any questions for me and the very first student said ‘Well, how are you doing?’ ” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Whoa!’

“That was just so cool. That to me really provided a definition of the culture here.”

For some of the tougher questions, after one week on the job, he still doesn’t have answers , he said.

“I think it would be disingenuous of me to come in in my first week and say we’re going to have this specific program and we’re going to start it by the fall,” he said.

However, he is expecting to begin the process of creating a strategic plan to replace the three-year plan that ends in 2017. He said he wants the process, which will take about a year to develop, to involve the community, including businesses, industry, K-12 partnerships, as well as the college’s faculty, students and staff.

“We’re a community college,” he said. “The word community is really important there. We need to listening and engaging our partners agencies organizations, hospitals, et cetera to make sure that we are providing the academic programs that will meet there needs.”

Vander Hooven, 45, said he has been interested in the idea of educational access ever since he walked into a non-traditional classroom at a business school in Colorado prepared to teach “The Great Gatsby,” only to discover, at about age 28, he was the youngest person in the room.

“I don’t know if I ever taught ‘The Great Gatsby’ in my class,” he said. “I think they taught ‘The Great Gatsby’ to me.”

He was expecting to teach the book similar to the way he did during his day job at a high school, but soon realized this would be impossible.

“It was a big moment in my life because it opened my eyes to, quote unquote, nontraditional higher education and to the desire these students have to improve their lives, improve the lives of their families and overcome significant obstacles in order to do that,” he said.

Vander Hooven said his own education was traditional. From birth he knew he was going to go to college — Ohio State University, to be exact.

He struggled in high school, particularly with test anxiety.

“One day I was taking a test and I had a cough attack, like I couldn’t breath, so I went out into the hallway to try to get some water,” he said. “The teacher sent a student out to say if I don’t get back in there to take the test you’re going to get a zero.”

Vander Hooven said that teacher’s unhelpful response to his anxiety combined with the positive, supportive teachers he encountered, made him interested in pursuing a career in education.

He graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and went on to get a master of arts degree in American studies. In 2009 he was awarded a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Maine where he studied access in education.

Vander Hooven served as an administrator at several colleges before becoming a president in 2011 of Tohono O’odham Community College, a tribal college in Arizona.

He said his previous experience as a college president is guiding his approach to settling into the job this time around.

Though not a schoolwide initiative, personally, he is trying to take a step back from technology, such as avoiding his email from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in order to better engage with the people around him and build a team.

He left Tohono O’odham Community College in 2015 for a position at Landmark College as the vice president for Enrollment Management.

Later, drawn to the school’s “innovation” and strong community connections, he applied to MWCC.

“I was also really drawn to the extraordinary level of civic engagement that students have in our communities,” he said.

Though he is just starting his position, he said the conversations with students and the community about access and how to best serve students have already begun.

“We can’t take the obstacles away totally,” he said. “So what can we do? Is it the delivery format? Is it the time of our classes? Is it financial support for childcare? Is it actual childcare?”

“It’s all a web so we really need to seek a strategy that will enable our students to be even more successful.”

Writer and Director Paul Dalio speaks with Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, during a question and answer session.

A packed room listened to stories of personal struggles and strength on Tuesday at the fourth Mental Health Awareness Conference held by Mount Wachusett Community College and the SHINE Initiative.

In a continued effort to raise awareness about mental health and wellness, the two groups brought together four speakers to discuss their personal experiences with mental health and addiction. Each year, approximately one in five Americans suffer from some mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and the conference is designed to shine a light on mental illness.

During his welcome address, Mount Wachusett Community College President James Vander Hooven, Ed.D., recognized the school’s students in the audience, asking them to stand. This group included over 100 nursing students. He told the gathered students that this year’s graduation will be moving for him because of the cumulative good that MWCC’s graduates will be doing in their communities.

“You will be saving lives and I hope you recognize that. I hope you recognize and value that as much as I do,” he said.

President Vander Hooven then talked about his experience realizing that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. He said that while he has had the benefit of supportive family and friends, he cannot control the amount of support those at the school have amongst their families, friends or communities. But what he can do, he said, is pledge to support those in the MWCC community as they seek the assistance they need.

“It took me a long time to get to a point where I would consistently seek help when I experienced my own symptoms of depression,” said President Vander Hooven. “I know that what we experience does not define us.”

This year’s keynote speaker was writer and director Paul Dalio who talked about his experience managing bipolar and how it influenced his film “Touched with Fire”. He spoke about the difficulty in managing bipolar and the importance of letting people know that even though they have been diagnosed and life will change, with the right care they will be able to tap into their creativity while avoiding the detrimental cycle of mania.

“You can be stable and you can have the creativity and the fire. And I am definitely more stable than I was. I’m much more creative now than I was before bipolar,” said Dalio to Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, during a question and answer session. “Part of it is you live through the depth of life and it enriches your perspective.”

Dalio’s feature film, “Touched with Fire,” stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby and has been acclaimed by critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times as “an extraordinarily sensitive, nonjudgmental exploration of bipolar disorder and creativity.” It draws inspiration from Dalio’s bipolar diagnosis and experiences dealing with his illness and artistic nature. Dalio has been outspoken about his hospitalization and treatment while being a voice for the contributions of people diagnosed as bipolar.

In addition to Dalio, a trio of speakers discussed everything from living with mental illness, new treatments for addiction and the governmental challenges in helping to break the cycle of addiction.

Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School in Worcester talked about his mindfulness research and how he has turned this towards helping people break the cycles of cigarette smoking and emotional eating. By having people be mindful of why they are being urged to do something such as smoking, it is possible to have them break the cycle as they examine that the behavior will not solve their actual concerns, he said.

“There’s an urge for the pleasant to continue and the unpleasant to go away. That leads to a behavior,” said Dr. Brewer. “If we can understand mechanistically what is happening, we can work with things … and drive a wedge between the urge to act and the action.”

Dr. Barrie Baker, Director of Clinical Activities at Tufts Health Public Plans, discussed her own struggles with what has been classified as bipolar even though she has never had a manic episode. She has been lucky to have support when she needed it, she said, and it is important to extend that support to others going through mental health challenges.

“We as medical professionals can’t even talk about it amongst ourselves,” she said explaining that we all need to do our part to break the stigma against mental illness. “I’m damn good at my job. I’m really good but no one would have given me the chance. You can function. You can do your job. You can be a productive member of society.”

Massachusetts State Senator for Worcester & Middlesex Districts Jennifer Flanagan spoke about the ongoing struggle to get Massachusetts residents treatment for addiction, specifically focusing on the fight against opioids, heroin and fentanyl. These drugs are ripping through our communities, she said, and it often takes people over five times through rehab to finally get clean. She addressed the numerous nursing students from Mount Wachusett in attendance, urging them to work with the addicts they will encounter as they undertake the long journey to sobriety.

“You are all going to see it. And you are probably not going to know what to do about it. But stick with them,” Flanagan said.

Following the presentation, Mount Wachusett Community College nursing students participated in QPR (question, persuade, refer) suicide prevention training.

President James Vander Hooven.

James Vander Hooven, Ed.D., has officially stepped into his role as the third president of Mount Wachusett Community College since the school was founded in 1963.

“MWCC has a long history serving as an integral part of the communities of North Central Massachusetts and responds to the region’s ever-evolving needs in order to best serve our students. We plan to build upon that history and create an equally bright and important future for this college at its Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner and Leominster locations,” said President Vander Hooven. “We have an opportunity not only to educate, but to be a conduit for the personal transformation and growth of our students and the ongoing growth of our communities.”

President Vander Hooven has been on campus since February, which allowed for a transition period with Dr. Daniel M. Asquino who announced his retirement last year and served as president at MWCC for over 30 years. President Vander Hooven used this transition time to meet with students, faculty, staff and community members and said he looks forward to continuing the process.

“I have met faculty who strive every day to impart knowledge and support students as well as staff who work tirelessly towards everyone’s success in so many ways. During this time, I have also been able to meet some of our students who persevere in ways both large and small to better themselves through education and personal growth,” said Vander Hooven.

President Vander Hooven has been committed to access and opportunity to higher education since first stepping into a nontraditional classroom, as an instructor, where he was the youngest person in the group. At that point, he began focusing his energy and time on increasing opportunities for students of all ages and backgrounds.

As the president of Tohono O’odham Community College in Tucson, Arizona, President Vander Hooven successfully raised more than $9 million for the construction of the college’s new main campus. He has also served as Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, New Hampshire, and Regional Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at National American University in Denver, Colorado.

President Vander Hooven attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The Ohio State University. He received his Master of Arts degree in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. In 2009, he was awarded his Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from the University of Maine, where he focused on student access. His dissertation was titled, “Lessons From Success: The Experience of Women Who Successfully Completed an Associate Degree While Parenting Children.”

He lives in Keene, New Hampshire.

Membership to the Mount Wachusett Community College Fitness and Wellness Center through the new Veterans Move program includes classes.

The Mount Wachusett Community College Fitness and Wellness Center is now offering a new program called Veterans Move that provides veterans and their spouses full memberships at the cost of $15 per month when obtained on a physician’s referral.
The program came directly from a need in the community, with many physicians seeking an affordable facility in North Central Massachusetts for their patients, said Director of the Fitness & Wellness Center Jared Swerzenski. Before this, many veterans have been making use of the facility in Bedford, which is almost an hour away, he said.
“When I was approached with the opportunity to create this program, I thought it would be a great partnership. Many of these veterans are suffering from significant joint and knee ailments and will be able to use the pool and equipment to help with rehabilitation,” said Swerzenski. “Mount Wachusett Community College has created such a positive environment for veterans with the school’s varied programming and support systems so this program is a natural fit for the MWCC Fitness Center.”
MWCC Fitness and Wellness Center supports veterans in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The facility includes a six-lane, Olympic sized swimming pool, three full-size indoor basketball courts, two regulation racquetball courts and state-of-the-art weight training/cardiovascular equipment. In addition, the center offers more than 90 free group fitness classes a week, which include Zumba, Yoga, Group Active, Group Groove, Group Power, SilverSneakers and much more, all led by certified instructors and trainers.

Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel M. Asquino addresses the crowd during a naturalization ceremony, encouraging them to get involved in their communities.

Mount Wachusett Community College served as the backdrop welcoming 271 Massachusetts residents from 58 different countries as new U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony on March 15 in the Fine Arts theatre.

The ceremony was carried out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The Honorable Timothy S. Hillman, United States District Judge, presided over the ceremonies with the clerk of the court administering the Oath of Allegiance to America’s newest citizens.

As the event began, Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel M. Asquino addressed the soon-to-be citizens as the proceedings got underway. He encouraged those being nationalized to get involved, reminding them that the country was built by immigrants who strove for change and engaged actively in governing a new country.

“Congratulations to all of you who are about to become a citizen of the United States of America,” said Asquino who explained what it meant to be a citizen. “It is being engaged, voting, taking care of one another, your neighbors and your citizens … as you become citizens and leave us today make our democracy better than it is now.”

Senator Stephen Brewer reminded those gathered of the commitment the United States has made to immigrants; offering a promise of welcome. To these new citizens being welcomed, he emphasized the refrain of E Pluribus Unum – out of many one – that epitomizes the melting pot that is the United States.

“You become a part of the greatest country in the world and we welcome you,” Senator Brewer told the gathered crowd.

Gardner Mayor Mark P. Hawke took a somewhat lighter tone as he noted that although the crowd represented members of 64 communities, none of those gathered to become citizens were from Gardner. He spoke of Gardner’s history as a location for immigrants and the positive impact they had on the area’s culture and economy before encouraging those at the ceremony to become a part of the future of the city.

“We do have a rich history of immigrants in the city and I seriously do hope you consider the city of Gardner if you ever consider relocating in the future,” said Mayor Hawke to laughter from the audience.

On Wednesday, 271 people took the Oath of Allegiance at Mount Wachusett Community College during a naturalization ceremony.

The real stars of the event were the 271 citizenship candidates who originated from the following 58 countries: Albania, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hong Kong, India Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russia, Senegal, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

The candidates reside in the following Massachusetts cities and towns: Acton, Ashburnham, Auburn, Bedford, Billerica, Boston, Boxford, Bradford, Burlington, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Clinton, Concord, Danvers, Dracut, Dudley, Fitchburg, Georgetown, Gloucester, Greenfield, Groton, Haverhill, Holden, Holyoke, Hudson, Lancaster, Lawrence, Leominster, Littleton, Lowell, Manchester, Marlborough, Maynard, Methuen, Middleton, Newburyport, North Adams, North Andover, North Billerica, North Oxford, Palmer, Paxton, Pepperell, Petersham, Pittsfield, Reading, Salisbury, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Southbridge, Springfield, Sudbury, Templeton, Tewksbury, Webster, Wenham, West Springfield, Westborough, Westfield, Westford, Westminster, Wilmington, Winchendon, and Worcester.

As he closed the ceremony, Judge Hillman again encouraged the new citizens to make use of their newfound rights and become involved.

“I am proud to call each and every one of you a fellow American,” said Judge Hillman. “Perhaps you or one of the children in this room today, hopefully more than one, will become a great leader of this nation.”

For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit www.uscis.gov.

Project Healthcare Spring Orientation attendees stand around Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services Dr. Matilde Castiel after her keynote address Friday.

The spring orientation for Project Healthcare, a program that is working to diversify the health care workforce, took place on Friday, March 10 with a keynote address from Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Dr. Matilde Castiel to over 100 attendees.

“A degree in medicine means you can do a whole lot of other things,” said Castiel who has a medical degree but has founded nonprofits including the Hector Reyes House as well as working in an emergency room and as a professor. “If you feel that there is something in our community that needs to be changed, you can change it.”

In her current role, Castiel oversees the divisions of Public Health, Youth Services, Human Rights and Disabilities, Veterans Affairs, and Elder Affairs, and Homelessness along with advancing important new initiatives that fall under the scope of youth violence and the current opioid crisis.

The orientation at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Leominster on Friday was for a program with the goal of increasing the number of underrepresented minority and disadvantaged health care providers by creating a high school to college pipeline of students who plan to enter the health care field.

“Project Healthcare aims to fulfill a regional and national need to create a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce. Having culturally competent workers will improve patient care and health outcomes by decreasing racial and ethnic inequities in the health care system,” said Melissa Bourque-Silva, Director of the National Workforce Diversity Pipeline at Mount Wachusett Community College.

Project Healthcare is a partnership between Mount Wachusett Community College and Leominster High School, Fitchburg High School, and the Leominster Center for Technical Education Innovation; and is designed to recruit 120 9th and 10th graders with an interest in health care professions to enter a Workforce Diversity Pipeline program. This program is designed with a scaffolding approach, so the students can attain a credential to enter the healthcare field at a young age, which will then lead into a healthcare certificate program, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and beyond, according to Bourque-Silva.

The program aims to reduce student debt through dual enrollment coursework; while simultaneously giving students an advantage for admission into competitive healthcare undergraduate programs here at MWCC and elsewhere. The program offers counseling, coaching, field trips, guest speakers, and dual enrollment courses for its members until the grant ends in 2020. This program is funded through a federal grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health.