Student Stories

Mount Wachusett Community College student Gina Vilayphone has been sworn in last week to the college’s Board of Trustees.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Gina Vilayphone was sworn in last week to the college’s Board of Trustees, following a spring election by her peers as the board’s student representative.

On Thursday, Aug. 10, the Communications major was sworn in and participated in her first trustee meeting. The Leominster resident, originally from Gardner and having graduated from Gardner High School, is a full voting member representing all students attending Mount Wachusett Community College.

“Gina is a confident and engaged member of our Mount Wachusett community. She will work to bring together our students and represent them on the board. She has a passion for engaging students from all of our locations in Gardner, Devens, Fitchburg, and Leominster. I know she will enthusiastically represent all of them,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven.

A non-traditional student majoring in Communications, Vilayphone will be entering her second year at Mount Wachusett Community College. She is a mother who is passionate about connecting with others, continuously working for positive change, and strongly believes that everyone can succeed with the right support and acknowledgment.

“I really want the satellite campuses to come together. My wish is for other campuses to get more involved,” said Vilayphone. “I want people to get involved in their community more than anything else.”

Mount Wachusett Community College student Gina Vilayphone was sworn in last week to the college’s Board of Trustees.

She participates in the Visions Program and is an active member of the Student Government Association. She said that she genuinely loves to help others and aspires to impact society and the college in a positive way. Her previous career in the beauty service industry led her to become an internationally published hair and makeup artist. Her work has been featured at New York Fashion Week, and published in Vogue Italia, Lula London, and Huf Magazine. Through her work in the beauty industry, Vilayphone has connected with many individuals and empowered them to build confidence in themselves.

“I’m really looking forward to representing the students and advocating for the students,” said Vilayphone who said she hopes to help connect other students as well.

Gina is one of eight Mount Wachusett Community College students that were elected by their peers to student government leadership positions in April. Those representatives are:

Sophomore Representatives:
Olivia Rose Howes, Phillipston
Ashley McHugh, New Ipswich, NH
Samantha Shippell-Stiles, Westminster

Freshman Representative:
GiaBao Truong, Fitchburg

At Large Representatives:
Taylor Rameau, Westminster
Gabriel Roberts, Athol
Sarah Urbina, Sterling

A group of Mount Wachusett Community College students and alumni, faculty and staff gathers in front of the recently completed mural at the West Street Parking Lot in Gardner along with city officials. Pictured from left to right are MWCC Art Professor Tom Matsuda, MWCC Dean for the School of Liberal Arts Laurie Occhipinti, Corinne Goodrich, Assistant Director for the Gardner Department of Community Development & Planning Joshua Cormier, Allyson Bois, Kayla Rameau, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, Sahar Ghavimi, Ben Mikles, Camilo Amarles, WMCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships Lea Ann Scales, Jon Chevrette, MWCC President James Vander Hooven, and Renee Tambling. Not pictured: Artist Mike Littlewood.

A mural depicting local landmarks and welcoming visitors to the city was unveiled recently after a summer of hard work by a group of Mount Wachusett Community College Art Students.

“Thank you to the students and everyone else that has been involved with this,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven at the unveiling on August 9. “It’s really remarkable and beautiful work.”

The mural spanning the entire back wall of the downtown West Street Parking Lot was completed over the summer by a group of nine MWCC students and alumni. The project displays different Gardner landmarks including Dunn Pond, City Hall, and the famous Gardner Chair. Also included in the project was the painting of electric boxes at traffic lights throughout the city. The project followed another mural completed two years ago by MWCC students at Jackson Park in Gardner.

“This is beautifying Gardner. Public art is beautiful and it brightens up otherwise not so beautiful areas,” said Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke who explained this would not be the last project between MWCC’s art department and students and the city. “You can see people are already enjoying this… it is great work. Thank you all. And thank you Mr. President for allowing us to collaborate once again.”

The project was also a growth experience for the students and alumni who participated. In addition to the artistic expression that takes place in public art, there is a huge amount of work that goes into logistics, said Kayla Romeau who coordinated the project with MWCC Alumnus Ben Mikels.

“It was exciting to be out there being able to do our artwork but it is great to know that the community is this accepting of it,” she said explaining that neighbors would come check on the work and commend the artists on the effort.

MWCC Art Professor Tom Matsuda commended the students on all their hard work.

“I was so impressed by the efforts they put in this summer. They were texting each other. I was on the text list and there was text after text… it was so amazing to see the effort they put into this,” said Matsuda. “This was all made possible by our students. It is so great to see all the artwork around the city of Gardner and see that artwork bloom.”

The project was a follow up to the mural created at Jackson Park. Like that project, this was a collaboration between the city and college, with the artists not only getting the exposure of completing a public piece of art but receiving a $200 stipend for their efforts.

Allyson Bois stands in front of her section of wall.

Ben Mikles stands in front of his section of wall. Mikles said that he could never have completed his portion of the mural or helped coordinate the entire mural without the support of his wife and his newborn baby.

Camilo Amarles stands in front of his portion of the mural.

Jon Chevrette sits on his portion of the mural.

Kayla Rameau stands in front of her section of the mural.

Renee Tambling assisted with many sections of the mural.

Sahar Ghavimi stands in front of her portion of the mural.

Students in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree Program practice therapy exercises.

In a testament to the hard work of students and Mount Wachusett Community College’s ongoing effort to maintain high standards and practical relevance for its Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree Program, 100 percent of recent graduates who took their licensure exam in July passed.

“The PTA faculty expect excellence and the students deliver,” said Margaret Jaillet, Assistant Dean for MWCC’s School of Health Professions, Public Service Programs and Social Sciences. “MWCC has long-standing, dedicated PTA faculty who have maintained clinical practice. It is my belief that this provides the faculty an opportunity to present curriculum with clinical relevance to today’s healthcare.”

Eleven of the thirteen PTA students who graduated in May took their licensure exam on July 6th. They all passed. The remaining two PTA graduates will be able to take their test in October. While exciting, this was not a surprise to Jaillet, who explained the program has always had excellent pass rates.

“The first time pass rate is always over 90 percent and the two year ultimate pass rate has been 100 percent for the last two graduating classes. The national average at other institutions hovers around 85 percent for both categories,” said Jaillet.

Physical therapist assistants carry out treatment procedures that assist with the rehabilitation of injured, ill, or debilitated people. The selective program prepares students to work in the healthcare field under the direct supervision of a physical therapist in a variety of settings. Those interested in the program can learn more at

Mount Wachusett Community College students work on a project on their laptop. Mount Wachusett Community College will be giving away 60 laptops to first-time, full-time liberal arts and science students enrolled in the fall semester.

In a push to get technology into the hands of future writers, designers and scientists, Mount Wachusett Community College will be giving away 60 laptops to first-time, full-time liberal arts and science students enrolled in the fall semester.

“For all of our students, but especially liberal arts students, written communication is incredibly important,” said Laurie Occhipinti, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, Education, Humanities, and Communications at Mount Wachusett Community College. “It’s recognizing they do need that technology. They do better with that technology. I don’t want students doing their homework on their cell phones.”

Full-time Liberal Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies or Undecided students enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College this fall will be eligible to receive a free laptop and special orientation. The program includes a day trip to Boston with transportation and food
provided on August 25 and an orientation on August 31 with lunch provided.

“Part of that extended orientation is going to be a technology orientation. So here is how you can use your computer,” said “It’s giving them the tools to use the computer and we are going to give them a workshop on study skills and career development.”

The program is an outgrowth of the Academic Program Discovery Academy that is a new summer program that pays recent high school graduates to take free classes before entering school at MWCC in the fall. Both are funded by a Performance Incentive Fund Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. While the academy was designed to prepare students as they enter college, this laptop will help them as they earn their Associate’s degree and beyond.

“The idea is to give a leg up to our students coming in who are going to specialize in liberal arts,” said Occhipinti. “It’s bridging that barrier and recognizing how important communications is for liberal arts students.”

The 60 laptops are available on a first come, first serve basis. Students must qualify for financial aid to participate in this program. Students meeting the enrollment and major criteria may visit for more information on the requirements of the program and to enroll in the program.

MWCC Dean of Students Jason Zelesky leads a tour of the new Student Center at Mount Wachusett Community College.

Walls are up and windows are going in at the new student center at Mount Wachusett Community College this week.

The $3.5 million project will create a 4,500-square-foot student space, which officials say will open by the start of the school year in September.

“An overwhelming majority of our students come here and spend the better part of their day here,” Dean of Students Jason Zelesky said. “There’s no comfortable, cozy recreation space for them to hang out in.”

The addition, called the Bemis Student Center, will include a study area, a “living room” with a hearth, an outdoor patio and vending machines.

Students will be able bring or rent from the college video game consoles to play on the two televisions.

“This is something our students specifically asked for,” Zelesky said.

The tables in the room will have built-in plugs, so students can easily charge laptops and other devices, he said.

Student service offices will be moved into new spaces off the student center as will campus police.

“We’re bringing student services and life together,” Zelesky said.

The space is being built on the footprint of a rarely used former plaza outside the the Haley Academic Center.

“We also called it the prison yard,” he said. “No students would hang out here.”

The paved area allowed water to leak into offices below and caused problems with heating and cooling systems in adjoining parts of the building, according to Zelesky and Associate Vice President of Facilities Jon Wyman.

Zelesky said the project will fix these issues.

The expansion is the first construction collaboration between a community college and the Massachusetts State College Building Authority in the state, according to Zelesky.

Of the total cost, the college will pay for $2.3 million through a 20-year loan. Bemis Associates Inc., a Shirley company, donated $500,000 to the project and the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance funded the remaining $700,000.

Erland Construction, a Burlington company, started the project in mid-May and plans to complete it within a hundred days.

The quick summer turn around means students won’t be disrupted by the construction, Communications Specialist Sam Bonacci said.

“It was done to ensure there is minimal impact on the students,” he said.

The plan for the project was developed under the administration of former college President Daniel Asquino, who also oversaw the construction of the new science center that opened last September.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten is pictured with one of her drawings at the opening of a juried art show at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, MA.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten is currently displaying three of her drawings in a juried show featuring 11 artists at the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester.

The selective art show is a first for the 19 year-old Van Houten, who is from Jaffrey, NH. She had been looking at different competitive art shows to submit to when she found the Rocky Neck Art Colony show and was then accepted.

“I’m trying to see if the art world is ready to let me in,” she said, explaining that she hopes to eventually curate work in an art gallery. “I’m hoping to get my bachelors at an art school and finish out my last two years there before finding a career in the field.”

One of the accepted pieces was completed as part of Van Houten’s Drawing 1 final at MWCC. She said that she never would have completed if not for being in that class last semester.

“The art department is very proud of Julia. It is quite an accomplishment to begin exhibiting while still in college, especially in her first year,” said MWCC Professor Thomas Matsuda who was one of Van Houten’s professors. “I was very impressed with the drawings she did in my Drawing 1 class. I am glad that one of the drawings was recognized and will be viewed by a wider audience.”

Van Houten said the education she has received in her first semester at MWCC has allowed her to explore many different facets of art. It has also been a chance for her to apply herself academically, she said. Van Houten earned a 4.0 in her first semester at MWCC.

“In high school, I didn’t try as hard as I should have. So when I got here I was able to focus and work really hard and so far it has been paying off,” she said.

Mount Wachusett Community College student Julia Van Houten’s sketch is currently on display in a juried art show at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, MA.

The education she is receiving will be a stepping stone to further art education, said Van Houten. During her time at MWCC, she has already taken classes in art history, drawing, 2D design as well as general education courses.

“It’s giving me a background of everything I need. It is setting me up with everything before I go to a different school or a different career. It’s very expansive knowledge,” she said.

The show is being held at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson Street, Gloucester. It will run until August 6.

A Certain Slant is the Literary Arts Journal created by Mount Wachusett Community College students.

A collection of original poetry, prose and artwork by Mount Wachusett Community College students was published recently.

The “A Certain Slant” publication not only includes 48 pieces of student work, but was edited by student Stephanie Arnold, cover art by Kyle Johnson and cover design by Ian Cook.

The entire magazine is available online by clicking this link.


(Written by Yamileyka Rojas) Mount Wachusett Community College student volunteers recently completed the school’s second annual civic engagement and volunteerism trip to Costa Rica. The trip included numerous service-oriented projects but students said it was they who benefited from the trip.

“I was able to take everything I did in Costa Rica with me. It changed me as a person and made my outlook on life completely different from how it was before,” said MWCC Student Volunteer Morgann Kirker.

The week-long trip with host organization True Nature Education took place in the second week of May. It consisted of side-by-side service with local people, exploring Costa Rican culture, and numerous service learning projects. Student volunteer work included service at an animal sanctuary, participating in a beach restoration project, and serving at local schools.

MWCC students Thomas Berger Jr., Cristen Comptois, Morgann Kirker, Stevie LaBelle, Jana Murphy, Mary Remillard, Eden Shaveet, and Rachel Vargeletis made the trip. LaBelle, of Hubbardston, said that it was an opportunity for her to expand her experiences.

“I knew this trip would consist of conquering my fears and I was ready to make every bit of it count. Our host organization made sure that we were partaking in meaningful experiences and assisted us every step of the way,” she said.

LaBelle’s first service experience in Costa Rica began when she volunteered to make compost out of twigs and leaves with a wood chipper and was challenged to overcome her phobia of spiders. But the trip was not just about personal growth, but learning from the people she was interacting with.

Kirker, of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, said the trip balanced service work and fun activities. She took part in a number of different service projects. They included beach cleanup, cleaning and building cages at a monkey sanctuary, planting trees, and painting a house for a family in need. The group also participated in activities such as zip lining and horseback riding.

“This trip opened my eyes to the many opportunities that are out there to give back to any community, no matter what the circumstances are,” Kirker said.

MWCC’s Associate Dean of Students Gregory Clement and Director of MWCC’s Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement Shelley Errington Nicholson accompanied the students and saw first-hand their hard work. According to Errington Nicholson, Costa Rica is recognized as a country in need of service and economic revitalization with poverty and deforestation being two of the major issues faced by the country and is therefore a prime location for service learning.

“The most meaningful aspect of these trips is witnessing the impact a group of people can make on global issues through local service,” she said. “Each of our students pushed themselves out of their comfort zones and filled the need that was at hand.”

The trip supplements the service learning that takes place in student’s classes, she said, building on that service and through volunteerism that is encouraged on and off campus.

“Every student who attended the trip has contributed to the community on a local level before the trip and will continue to be involved on the local level,” said Errington Nicholson.

The MWCC Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement plans to continue these global service learning trips annually and is in the workings for a trip to Peru in 2018.

MWCC’s Otaku United club members Rebekah Cohen, Jonathan Cohen, Andrea Bartlett, and Cassandra Cohen stand with preschool, kindergarten and first grade students at the Waterford Street School with Principal Dan Hill after handing out books.

For the third year, hundreds of kindergarten and first grade students in Gardner will end the school year with fun summertime reading to take home, thanks to a donation of over 1,300 books from a group of Mount Wachusett Community College students.

Otaku United, a club that celebrates Asian culture, donated over 1,300 books to Waterford Street School, Coleman Street School, Elm Street School, and the Garrison Center. The books were purchased with nearly $2,000 that was raised in April through a silent auction of a wide range of gift cards and items donated to the club to support the cause.

The age-appropriate books were purchased through the Scholastic Reading Club. Each kindergarten and first grade student at Waterford received two books to take home.

This is an incredibly important time to encourage reading, said Waterford Street School Principal Dan Hill, explaining that it’s important to maintain reading momentum through the summer. The donated books will augment the district’s summer reading challenge program, Hill said.

“Reading is very important,” said Hill. “The kids are very excited. We are very much pushing early literacy.”

MWCC Early Childhood Education major Andrea Bartlett who was also the auction coordinator, said the club appreciated the support it received from MWCC faculty, staff and students during the auction that took place on campus.

“It’s very important for children to have access to books and have them in the home,” said Bartlett, adding that she had high hopes for next year’s book drive.

The mural being painted by current and former MWCC students is set to be complete later this summer.

(This story was written by Andrew Mansfield and appeared in The Gardner News) People will soon be able to take a trip across the whole city simply by walking along the West Street Parking Lot.

Past and present Mount Wachusett Community College students have been working on a mural on the rear wall of the parking lot for the past month or so.
Along the wall, the mural transitions from paintings of several different city scenes, such as the downtown skyline, Dunn Pond and City Hall.

Several local artists, led by Ben Mikels, went back to work for another session of painting on Friday.

“Every time I come and see more stuff done, I get excited,” he said. “The Mount loves getting involved with the city.”

The West Street Parking Lot is located across the street from the Gardner Ale House on Parker Street. Joining Mikels to work on the project Friday were artists Camilo Almarales, Kayla Rameau and Corinne Goodrich.

They have all been art students at the college. Mikels, Goodrich and Rameau have graduated and Almarales is still attending.

Other past or present students have been working on the project when they can as well. Mikels indicated work on the mural has taken place for about a month now.
The project also includes painting the electric boxes that service traffic lights at intersections throughout the city.

The weather and availability of the painters are factors in the timeline for when the overall work will conclude, but it is slated to wrap up over the summer.

The city and Mount Wachu­sett Community College have partnered on public art projects over the last several years. One recent example is the mural at Jackson Playground.

Community Development and Planning Assistant Director Joshua Cormier has been coordinating the projects on the city side.

“The reasons we’re doing this is we have all these blank canvases, so to speak, just sitting there,” he said. “It’s to give visitors and residents an uplifting view.”
With the West Street Parking Lot mural, he said the idea is that each image of the city is like a large-scale postcard.

Residents or visitors can take photos standing in front of the mural.

Cormier said the mural will also include some symbols of local businesses. In addition to the creative look and beautification the mural provides, it helps market what the city has to offer.

Cormier explained the city provides funding for the supplies needed, indicating this project is costing the city a few thousand dollars.

“We’re investing a little bit of money and they’re investing a lot of time,” he said.
The student artists gave credit to Mount Wachusett Community College Professor Thomas Matsuda, the chairman of the Art Department, for his role in organizing these projects with the city.

“He pretty consistently pushes kids to do stuff in the community,” Rameau said.
The projects have provided students with a chance to have their artwork become a permanent fixture in the local scene, an opportunity the students at West Street Parking Lot on Friday seemed happy to partake in.