Student Stories

MWCC Kaila-SecPeyser-CommSantiago

MWCC Student Kaila Lundgren shared the stage with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, left, and Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago at the Department of Higher Education’s first Go Higher! event of the academic year.

Kaila Lundgren, a Pre-Healthcare Academy student at Mount Wachusett Community College, shared the stage with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser and Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago during the state’s first Go Higher! event, held Sept. 24 at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.

Lundgren, a 2015 graduate of Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School, told an assembly of 350 seniors that she was inspired to become a registered nurse to help her 7-year-old brother, who lives courageously with a rare, chronic kidney stone disease called cystinuria, and by her mother, who became an RN after studying at one of Massachusetts’ community college while raising a family of five children.

One of six student speakers, Lundgren said she chose MWCC because of its fast-track option into the college’s nursing program through its Pre-Healthcare Academy. Following a year of earning good grades in co-requisite courses, including anatomy & physiology, psychology and statistics, she and other academy students are immediately accepted into the healthcare program of their choice at MWCC. In less than three years, she will be graduating with her nursing degree and practicing in a field she loves, she said.

Lundgren, who also coaches field hockey at Mahar, advised the students to pursue their dreams.

“Follow your heart.”

Go Higher!, previously known as Go Public! gives Massachusetts high school students a chance to discover the programs and opportunities available at the state’s 29 public college and university campuses. The event at Monty Tech launched a series of statewide events that will take place at various high schools throughout the academic year to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

Secretary Peyser encouraged the high school audience to take a close look at the Commonwealth’s 29 public community colleges and universities for the abundance of program options that cost a fraction of private institutions.

“Massachusetts public higher education has a program and a course of study for you. Like all things in life, you get out what you put in,” he said.

Commissioner Santiago noted that two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts are enrolled in the state’s public institutions. “College will transform you,” he said.

Monty Tech Superintendent Sheila Harrity and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education hosted the event, which was also attended by State Rep. Stephen DiNatale.

In addition to Lundgren, students representing UMass Lowell, Fitchburg State University, Worcester State University, Quinsigamond Community College and Massachusetts Maritime Academy also spoke about their college experiences.



More than 100 students at the Mount packaged 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday.

More than 100 students at the Mount packaged 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday.

GARDNER – Packaging macaroni during the 20th annual United Way Day of Caring, Jennifer Gariepy had flashbacks to her youth.

“I actually grew up on some of these,” said Ms. Gariepy, a student at Mount Wachusett Community College. “I remember eating them … recently I was down at a low point and had to go back on them, actually.”

More than 100 students volunteered their time packing 21,078 bags of macaroni and soybeans with a tomato basil sauce for local food banks on Thursday. The event is one of the Mount’s largest community service endeavors every year.

“It’s part of the fabric of the college,” said MWCC President Daniel Asquino.

Students, who typically volunteer to work an hour shift, say the event helps them appreciate what they have and boosts their self confidence.

“It feels great knowing this is going to go to people who need it,” said second-year student Jason Alvarado Gomez.

To Ms. Gariepy, it feels better than great.

“It’s so different to be on the other side of the table,” she said. “It’s so nice to help someone who has been where I have been.”

When she had to go back to a food bank as an adult to support her two children, she remembered feeling disbelief.

“I thought, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe I have to go to a food pantry’,” Ms. Gariepy said. “I came to think of it as kind of a gift from God. When you’re down and out, it’s okay to accept it.”

This was Ms. Gariepy’s first time volunteering at an event like the Day of Caring. She had heard about it from a friend and seen posters advertising it around the school.
As soon as she had the information, she knew it was something she wanted to do.

During her shift, she was all smiles as she counted out the bags of macaroni, packaged them in shipping boxes, and taped them up. It was, she said, “fairly easy work,” but she knew how much it would mean to someone.

This is the Mount’s third year participating in the Day of Caring. During their shift, the students packed the one millionth bag of food over the United Way of Northern Worcester County’s 20 years.

“Thank you for packing these thousands of meals,” said United Way President Phil Grzewinski. “By what you are doing here today, you are allowing greater food security.”

Patriot Riders flag ceremonyStudents and employees at Mount Wachusett Community College paused in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks, then joined in a card-writing project to thank men and women in the region who serve as first-responders and in the military.

The Patriot Riders returned again this year to lead flag ceremonies at the Gardner and Devens campuses, which were followed by a reading by Bob Mayer, MWCC Director of Veteran Services. Carrie Progen, a 1995 alumna from Ashburnham who worked at the World Trade Center, was among those remembered.

Student Government Association President Carrie DeCosta, who lost a friend in the attack on the World Trade Center, distributed patriotic ribbons to those who signed thank you cards to who serve others. Cards will be available for signing at the Gardner campus through Sept. 18 before they are distributed to active military personnel, veterans and first responders in the region.

President Asquino signs a thank you card to first reponders and service members, an initiative organized by SGA President Carrie DeCosta.

“We want our service men and women, our veterans and our first responders to know they’re appreciated, and they’re appreciated every day, not only on days of tragedy,” DeCosta said.The events were coordinated by the college’s Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, and the Student Leaders in Civic Engagement (SLICE) program, a new initiative of MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.


UWYV - North Middlesex Regional High School

The Bright Lights Project, comprised of North Middlesex Regional High School team members Marina Sheid, Jordan Keating, Nu Nu Laphai, Kaitlyn Istnick, Margaret Ritchie ,Liz Palmer and Ben Dauphinais-Szabady works to donate and install environmentally friendly LED lights in businesses and private homes around North Central Massachusetts.

This fall, United Way Youth Venture of North Central Massachusetts returns to schools throughout the region to continue the great work being done by middle and high school students.

Now starting its 13th year, the program works with students to help them transform their passions into independent community service projects. Through their participation in the UWYV program, students have been able to implement instrumental change  throughout North Central Massachusetts on a variety of issues including supporting foster youth in need, raising awareness about autism, and educating the youth on building positive relationships with local police departments.

United Way Youth Venture got its start in 2002 when the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Mount Wachusett Community College, and Ashoka’s Youth Venture partnered to found the program to help schools integrate youth-based social ventures into their curriculum, afterschool activities and special events.

“It is inspiring to see young people identify solutions to challenges they see in our region, then build a plan to address these challenges in innovative and creative ways,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This program has grown exponentially over the years and serves as a model that demonstrates the power of today’s youth to initiate change that benefits citizens now and in the future.”

“United Way Youth Venture is very much on the cutting edge because it is tapping into the entrepreneurial power of young people who want to address important community issues,” said Phil Grzewinski, President of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.

During the 2014-2015 year, United Way Youth Venture strengthened its position in the community through the support of its school partners by engaging more than 4,000 youth across North Central Massachusetts. Through seed funding investments, 41 new Venture Teams were successfully started on their journey to making an impact in the local community. UWYV is run through Mount Wachusett Community College and as such creates a pipeline to higher education.

“We’ve enjoyed the opportunities this past year to collaborate closely with our school partners,” said Lauren Mountain, Associate Director of UWYV. “The outcomes of these relationships are evident through the significant increase of students interested in forming Ventures, and also in the frequency of curriculum integration, which leverages UWYV skill development workshops to bring classroom learning to life.”

Last year, the UWYV program was especially impactful at its home institution, Mount Wachusett Community College, with the launch of four new Venture Teams through the MWCC Changemakers Program, which helps MWCC students in supporting the strategic goals of the college. These engaged students, who created projects to support MWCC incoming students, local veterans and adjunct faculty, have taken great strides to enhance the college experience for both students and staff.

The UWYV program is currently offered to students at the following partner schools: Ayer Shirley Middle and High School, Murdock Middle/High School, Leominster High School & CTEi, Sky View Middle School, Samoset Middle School, Fitchburg High School, North Middlesex Regional High School, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School, Sizer School, Parker Charter, and MWCC.

“United Way Youth Venture gives the power to those who wouldn’t necessarily have a say in what’s happening and gives them the chance to make an impact,” said participant Helen Muma, now a freshman at Leominster High School.

To learn more about what is happening with United Way Youth Venture or become involved in the program, visit or email the staff at



CJ Husselbee

2014 graduate CJ Husselbee, who began his studies as a high school student, is featured in the DHE’s video on dual enrollment.

As nearly 300,000 students return to Massachusetts’ community colleges, state universities and University of Massachusetts campuses this week, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) awarded competitive grants to increase access to college by students across the Commonwealth.

Twenty-five campuses, including Mount Wachusett, were awarded grants through the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership (CDEP). The program expands the state’s dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college courses and earn credit for free or at a reduced cost. CDEP funding increased from $750,000 in FY15 to $1 million in FY16. MWCC was awarded a $50,000 grant.

The DHE has set a goal of increasing dual enrollment from 2,000 to 3,400 students and is using a new dual enrollment video, outreach to high schools, and social media to promote opportunities on campuses. MWCC alumnus Charles “CJ” Husselbee, who is completing his bachelor’s degree in accounting this semester at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, is among the featured students in the video.

“Increasing collaboration between high schools and higher education is important to making a college education more affordable and creating more opportunities for students across the Commonwealth to succeed in college and their careers,”  Governor Charlie Baker said when announcing the grants. “These awards also present opportunities for college campuses and their regional partners to focus creatively on boosting college completion rates and advancing more students from diverse and underserved populations.”

Musicians at the Mount New student orientation Sept 1 2015

Incoming MWCC student Ruben Figueiredo visits with  Musicians at the Mount club members Mike MacLean, with guitar, and Trevor Hanson during the college’s orientation for new students. MWCC’s academic year begins on September 2.

More than 1,000 new Mount Wachusett Community College students earned accolades for deciding to invest in their future through higher education, during a series of orientation sessions hosted by the college. Sessions were offered for day and evening students, veterans, dual enrollment students and students enrolled in specific healthcare programs.

A majority of the incoming day students attended orientation on September 1 in advance of classes beginning Wednesday, September 2 at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner, satellite campuses in Leominster, Devens and Fitchburg, and online.

President Daniel M. Asquino and college administrators welcomed the group with advice ranging from ways to achieve academic success to navigating around the main campus while a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building is under construction and other campus renovations are underway.

When completed next year, the renovations and new building will transform the college and enhance the academic experience for all students, he said.

Coordinated by the office of Student Life, the orientation sessions provide students with an opportunity to learn about college life and MWCC programs and activities. Students met with faculty, deans and advisors, toured the campus, received information about campus resources, and attended a student club expo. The event also included a presentation by national motivational speaker Jermaine M. Davis. He encouraged the students to identify their passion in life and then persevere until they achieve their goals.

“As you achieve your goals, your life will inspire other people,” said Davis, who also delivered a presentation to faculty in the afternoon.

“There are not too many opportunities in our lives when we can take the time and energy to invest in ourselves. This is one of those times for you,” said Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, adding that the college community recognizes each students as individuals. “You matter. Your success matters. And we want nothing more than to watch you grown and to see you achieve your educational goals.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs Melissa Fama, Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, Student Government Association President Carrie DeCosta, and Student Trustee Tom Berger also were among the featured speakers.

MWCC Leadership Academy 2015 backpack drive

Community service during the 11th annual Summer Leadership Academy included an outpouring of donations for school children in foster care. Volunteers filled 123 packpacks with school supplies.

Fifty-six incoming Mount Wachusett Community College students learned new skills, met new friends and volunteered in the community during the college’s 11th annual Summer Leadership Academy.

Participants attended educational workshops designed to enhance their academic and leadership skills, took part in team-building activities and completed civic engagement projects. Sponsored by the office of Student Life in collaboration with the college’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, the two-day program took place August 25 and 26 at the college’s Gardner campus.

Service projects included a back-pack drive to benefit children living in foster care in Massachusetts. Through donations from students, faculty, staff and local organizations and businesses, the drive yielded 123 backpacks filled with an array of school supplies. The drive  exceed the goal of 100 backpacks and broke the program’s previous record of 93.

Leadership Academy participants also volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts’ ReStore center in Leominster and Cathy’s House, a residential program for women veterans in Winchendon under renovation by the Montachusett Veteran Outreach Center. Volunteers also helped prepare the college’s Fitness & Wellness Center, nature trail and campus grounds for the start of the new academic year on September 2.

The Leadership Academy is designed to give new students a jump start on their first semester, said Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement. College faculty, staff, alumni and current students take part to ensure a meaningful experience for the incoming students, he said.

“This is one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s so rewarding to see new students come in as strangers and gain friends and confidence during the two-day program.”

“Leadership Academy is a great way to become involved in school and a great way to get to know your peers,” said volunteer Carrie DeCosta of Winchendon, president of the Student Government Association.

Student Trustee Tom Berger, also of Winchendon, said the service component provides new students with an opportunity to meet people at the college and in the community.

“It gives people a sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to give back to the community.”

Zoe Hammond of Templeton, who will begin her college degree as a dual-enrolled high school student in the Pathways Early College Innovation School, said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was great to meet people before starting classes.” Hammond said she particularly enjoyed a martial arts exercise that guided each student to break a solid board with their hand during a lesson on overcoming challenges and barriers. 

“It was inspiring.”


Louis Ayisi

Pre-engineering student Louis Ayisi is headed to Carnegie Mellon University this fall, and has also been selected to participate in the year-long i-Trek research program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Louis Ayisi, a pre-engineering student at Mount Wachusett Community College, is one of 15 students selected for the 2015-2016 i-Trek research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The competitive program is open to undergraduate students from varying schools who are currently pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) and are interested in gaining research experience.

i-Trek (I Turn Research into Empowerment and Knowledge) provides undergraduates students with support as they conduct a self-defined, community-based research project. Working with MIT mentors and professors, students select a research project, work together as a virtual team during the school year, then return for a two-week data collection trek the following June at a location selected by the team.

Along with defining and executing their research ideas, students are guided through the process of funding, organizing and publicizing their research. At the end of the project, team members lead a STEM-focused outreach initiative for high school students based on their research. Participants gain research skills, grant and fundraising experience, and leadership skills to help make them competitive candidates at a graduate institution.

The team’s project, proposed by Ayisi, will focus on the conversion of waste products into energy and clean water.

Following a semester of college in Ghana, Ayisi moved to the U.S. in March 2014 to continue his studies. The Leominster resident selected MWCC for its strong pre-engineering program and transfer opportunities.

“I was attracted to the Mount’s motto, ‘Start Near…Go Far.’ I said to myself, ‘This is exactly what I want to do,’” Ayisi recalled. “The pre-engineering curriculum was strong and transferable toward a bachelor’s degree at the universities I was interested in.” He was accepted this spring into Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Harvey Mudd College and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, to name a few.

This fall, the 21-year-old is transferring to Carnegie Mellon on a generous university scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. While at CMU, he will simultaneously complete his associate degree at MWCC. He plans to return to the Gardner campus in May for Commencement. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he intends to enroll in graduate school and ultimately work as an engineering consultant and professor.

Ayisi attributes his academic success to the support he received from his faculty and staff mentors at MWCC, including Professors Aliza Miller, Shawn Case and Peter Olszak; Janice Barney, Dean of the School of Business, Science, Technology and Math; Sharmese Gunn of the division of Access & Transition; President Daniel M. Asquino and the college administration; and the MWCC Foundation. He is one of MWCC’s STEM SET scholars, a program funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation; a member of the STEM Starter Academy, a program funded by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; and the college’s TRIO Visions Program.

Among many academic and civic activities, he is a member of the Honors Program, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the National Society of Leadership and Success honor society, the National Student Math League, and Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities. He served as a student ambassador in the admissions office, as president of the Math Club, as a calculus and chemistry tutor in the college’s Academic Support Center, as a math tutor at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, and as a volunteer during the United Way Day of Caring.

Ayisi was named to the President’s List for academic achievement during each of his semesters at MWCC, and this spring, was the first recipient of the Roberts Scholar Award, named in memory of long-serving administrator Glenn Roberts. He also was a student speaker at a higher education advocacy event at the Statehouse, and during a state DOE event in Worcester with former Governor Deval Patrick.

“I was motivated and honored to be involved,” Ayisi said. “At the Mount, the people are near and dear, and they can empower you to reach your dreams. Every student should realize the Mount is a well-positioned catapult, ready to send its students wherever they want. Just fix yourself in it, and let the sky be your stepping stone,” he said.

“Louis exemplifies the best sort of student who takes every opportunity to participate and explore, all while challenging himself to excel,” said Dean Barney. “It has been our privilege to work with him at the start of his educational path, and we stand proudly behind him while he continues his journey toward future excellence.”

STEM Starter Summer Academy photo 3 Ifra and Marissa

Mount Wachusett Community College students Ifra Hassan and Marissa Pitisci are among the students participating in the college’s Stem Starter Summer Academy.

Along with typical summertime activities, Adam Leyenaar spent the better part of the season getting a jump start on his college degree.

A 2015 graduate of the Parker Charter School, Leyenaar was one of 16 area students participating in Mount Wachusett Community College’s eight-week STEM Starter Summer Academy. Students received up to two free college courses, textbooks, a substantial stipend, academic support and tutoring.

“I want to be an immunologist, so I need a good background,” said Leyenaar, who plans to earn an associate degree in medical laboratory technology so he can work in the field while pursuing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, the STEM Starter Summer Academy is open to high school graduates or qualifying MWCC students who place into college-level English and math courses and are enrolling in one of MWCC’s STEM majors in the fall.

Qualifying MWCC STEM majors include allied health, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, computer information systems, fitness leadership and exercise science, medical laboratory technology, natural resources, physics and pre-engineering.

STEM Starter Summer Academy photo 2 Adam and Joe

Students Adam Leyenaar and Joe Vasilak solve a math problem in a recent spacial reasoning workshop.

Courses offered during the summer academy included intermediate algebra, introduction to functions and modeling, life science for allied health, anatomy and physiology I, general chemistry II and introduction to psychology. In addition to the coursework, students helped run experiments at Rapoport Lab at Harvard Medical School, visited AbbVie medical labs in Worcester, and toured the construction site of MWCC’s new STEM building, which will open in 2016. The students also participated in MWCC’s Summer Leadership Academy.

“Our students have had an outstanding summer and are ready to continue their studies this fall with two courses already under their belt,” said Christine Davis, MWCC’s STEM Starter Academy recruiter. Students from more than 10 area towns enrolled in the rigorous program, and tackled classes in an accelerated format that will prepare them for their careers, she said.

Many of the academy students are also recipients of STEM SET scholarships. These awards of up to $3,500 per year are available to qualifying STEM majors through a grant the college received from the National Science Foundation.

Ifra Hassan enrolled in MWCC’s liberal arts biological studies program with the goal of continuing her studies in medicine and become a doctor. Hassan said she chose the college for its supportive environment. “I wanted to start my career where I will receive teachers’ support,” she said.

Next year, up to 30 students will be accepted into the Stem Starter Summer Academy. For more information, contact MWCC’s admission’s office at 978-630-9110 or