Student Stories

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From left, PTK advisor Fagan Forhan, assistant dean of K-12 partnerships and civic engagement, Stevie LaBelle, Lindsay Jamison, Thomas Berger, Jana Murphy, Lisa Barry, Kimberly Cook, John Bombach and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

MWCC’s Phi Delta Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society inducted 61 new members and presented donations to community organizations from funds raised through a variety of events this academic year.

During the May 5 induction ceremony, the chapter presented checks of $500 each to the Gardner Community Action Council, the Winchendon Community Action Council, and the student-run Students Serving Our Students (SOS) mentor program at MWCC. PTK officers also recognized MWCC staff member Gardner Wood for his volunteer support building creative, fanciful props for the PTK annual Character Breakfast.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, an MWCC alumnus and honorary PTK member, was the keynote speaker.

“Coming to the Mount was truly the best decision I ever made,” he said after confessing to being a “straight C” student in high school. “It gave me the direction I needed and showed me what hard work would help me achieve. My professors gave me encouragement and inspiration to carry on.”

After graduating from MWCC in 1994, Mayor Hawke went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMass, Amherst, and an MBA from Anna Maria College.

“If Mount Wachusett Community College had not been here, if Mount Wachusett Community College had not had the caring and professional professors and staff, I wouldn’t be here. And if I’m not here, just imagine what condition the city of Gardner would be in,” the five-term mayor quipped.

Chapter officers during the 2015-16 academic year were recognized for their service: President Jana Murphy; Vice President Thomas Berger; Secretary Stevie LaBelle; and Treasurer Lindsay Jamison. Officers installed for the upcoming academic year include Jana Murphy, for her second year as president; Lisa Barry, vice president; Kimberly Cook, secretary; and John Blombach, treasurer.

Founded in 1918, Phi Theta Kappa recognizes and encourages the academic achievement of two-year college students and provides opportunities for personal, academic and professional growth through participation in honors, leadership, service and fellowship programming.

The new inductees are: Donovan Aboal-Caceres, Kwadwo Acheampong, Terri Alden, Rebekah Amburgey, Linda Anderson, Sophia Andrews, Lisa Barry, Alexander Batutis, Sheila Boria, Amanda Boudreau, Romina Cabrera, Micaela Canessa Giorello, Matthew Casaubon, Karen Chapalonis, Sarah Chatigny, Kimberly Cook, Melanie Cranfill, Rhonda Cutler, Colleen Demboske, Simon Dufresne, Tara Dugan, Jaclyn Esparza, Amanda Favreau, Michelle Francisco Pimentel, Gregory Germagian, Samantha Goodale, Kristin Grantz, Zoe Hammond, Antonina Herbst, Michele Higginson, Nhat Hoang, Inna Kalfayan, Francis Koina, Rose LaFargue Joseph Leblanc, Christopher Lerew, Valerie Maloney, Yemni Mendez, Anne Nash, Matthew Niles, Hillary Nna, Cassandra Pateneaude, Lindsey Paul, Shannen Pimental, Marissa Pitisci, Dawn Marie Placentino-Olen, Crystal Pratt, Melissa Raggi, Kelsey Rayner, Brian Richard, Katelyn Schreiber, Rhonda Scoville, Benjamin Smith, Silvana Sosa, Michael Soto, Sarah Soto, Grace Stafford, Hollace Stevens, Casey Thoel, Rachel Vargeletis and Elizabeth Walsh.

 

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The state Department of Higher Education will recognize top students from across Massachusetts during the sixth annual “29 Who Shine” award ceremony on Monday, May 9 at noon at the Grand Staircase of the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The ceremony honors an outstanding graduating student from each of the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, as well as each award recipients’ faculty or staff mentor. The honorees, chosen because of their academic achievements and record of student leadership and community service, contribute greatly to the civic life and economic well-being of the state, whether furthering their education or entering careers in Massachusetts in fields as diverse as education, public policy, medicine, creative arts and engineering.

This year’s MWCC recipient is Bella Ballin, a Liberal Arts: Chemical Science major who is enrolled in the Pathways Early College Innovation School. Ballin began her academic studies two years ago at age 16 as a dual enrollment student.

While the Worcester resident enjoyed high school, she chose to tap into the opportunities available through MWCC’s unique Pathways Early College Innovation School, which has allowed her to simultaneously earn her high school diploma and an associate degree at no cost through school choice funding.

“I wanted to get ahead. Not for ambitious reasons, but because through experience, I learned that good health and time are not things that should be taken for granted,” said Ballin, who was diagnosed at age 15 with Multiple Sclerosis. “When I learned about the Mount’s Pathway’s Early College Innovation School, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

A member of the Commonwealth Honors Program, Ballin is a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s prestigious Christian A. Herter Memorial Scholarship. After earning her associate degree, she will transfer to a four-year school this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science.

At MWCC, she has been named to the President’s List every semester for maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and this year was named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. A mentor to her two younger brothers, she plans to build a career in science in Massachusetts, and at some point in her future, would like to become a teacher.

She enjoys helping peers as a math and chemistry tutor within MWCC’s Academic Support Center, serves as president of the student Math Club, and has volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. Additionally, she participated in MWCC’s Leadership Camp, Leadership Retreat, and Women in Leadership Forum.

She chose Natalie J. Mercier, Academic Counselor in MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, as her staff mentor.

“I can come to Natalie at any time with anything. I know I can always count on her.”

The 29 Who Shine honorees “represent our future citizenry and workforce and have already made substantial contributions to the Commonwealth,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education. “I am so proud of what they have achieved and look forward to seeing how they continue to put their talents to work on behalf of our local communities.”

MWCC students named to the 2016 edition of Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities were recognized during a student leadership celebration, held April 28 at the Gardner Museum.

MWCC students enrolled in a range of academic programs and involved in numerous activities have been selected as national outstanding campus leaders and will be included in the 2016 edition of Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities.

The 44 students were selected based on their academic achievement, service to the community, leadership in extracurricular activities and the potential for continued success. They join an elite group of students from more than 1,000 higher education institutions in the United State and several other countries. The tradition of recognizing noteworthy college students in a Who’s Who biographical volume began in 1934.

This year’s honorees are: Alyssa Adoretti, Thayna Aguiar, Joseph Almeida, Marcus Altman, Jasson Alvarado Gomez, Arturo Aponte-Cruz, Bella Ballin, Andrea Bartlett, Thomas Berger, Aleisha Berthiaume, Levi Bushnell, Aurea Carrion, Karen Chapalonis, Michel Cocuzza, Emanuel Corbeil, Elizabeth Cross, Kevin Figueroa, Nelida Figueroa Lopez, Jennifer Gariepy, Trevor Hansen, Thomas Hill Jr., Tatjana James, Alana Jones, Bethany Jones, Sara Khan, Stevie LaBelle, Julia McHugh, Kimberly Mertell, Nathan Morris, Jana Murphy, Hillary Nna, Camila Pereira, Marymar Perez Cruz, Shannen Pimental, Rebecca Pincott, Michael Racine, Christian Rossi, Ellen Smith, Benjamin Spurr, Jari Squire, Cathy Teague, Leah Trudeau, Ashlie Visco, and KellyWilliams.

 

 

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President Asquino, guest speaker Jim Bellina of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce joined students, staff and faculty for the 26th annual Alpha Beta Gamma induction ceremony.

President Daniel Asquino and Jim Bellina, president and CEO of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce joined MWCC business faculty and college officials to welcome 18 students into the Chi Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma international business honor society.

“Alpha Beta Gamma, the international business honor society. They key word is honor, and it’s an honor for me to be here this afternoon to honor your achievement,” President Asquino said.

The 26th annual induction ceremony was led by Professor Linda Bolduc, ABG advisor and business department chair, with outgoing ABG President Kathy Matson. The celebration included recognition of the chapter’s newly elected and newly inducted officers: Michel Cocuzza, president, Alana Jones, vice president, Bethany Jones, treasurer, and Kimberly Mertell, secretary.

Bellina congratulated the students on selecting MWCC for their academic studies, noting that many of the students are busy balancing work and family responsibilities and volunteering in the community and at the college while earning their degree.

“You will be the type of people that others lean on,” he said. “You are leaders and you have the background of being at Mount Wachusett Community College.”

In addition to the four officers, other inductees are: Donavan Aboal-Caceres, Alexander Batutis, Paula Brown, Angelique Chaput, Joel DeVelis, Katie Dupont, Michelle Francisco, Tammy Goodgion, Jessica Guyer, Sheila Hebert, Lindsay Jamieson, Kevin LeBlanc, Marissa Pitisci and Nicholas Traverna.

Alpha Beta Gamma was established in 1970 to recognize and encourage scholarship among students at two-year colleges, provide leadership training opportunities and career assistance to members. To be eligible for membership into the honor society, students must be enrolled in a business curriculum, have completed 15 academic credit hours in a specific degree program and demonstrate academic excellence by attaining a grade point average of 3.0 or above. At MWCC, the programs include business administration, paralegal studies, computer information systems, graphic & interactive design and medical assisting.

Jackie Belrose and Peter Russo of MassMEP

Vice President Jacqueline Belrose, pictured with Peter Russo of MassMEP, was among the speakers during the Worcester Business Journal’s Manufacturing Summit.

Mount Wachusett Community College served as the presenting sponsor of the Worcester Business Journal’s Manufacturing Summit and inaugural Manufacturing Excellence Awards ceremony on April 26 at Cyprian Keyes in Boylston.

President Daniel Asquino, Vice Presidents Jacqueline Belrose and Lea Ann Scales, and members of the college’s workforce development team were among the attendees. The event featured a keynote address by Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash and a panel presentation moderated by MassMEP Growth and Inovation Program Manager Peter Russo.

Secretary Ash praised the state’s community colleges for their leadership in creating innovative partnerships as well as their role in the Commonwealth economic development strategic plan, Making Massachusetts Great Everywhere, which was released by the Baker-Polito Administration in December.

“We’re very excited, espcially at the community college level, with the reaction that we have received,” he said.

The industry support and feedback has been a crucial component of MWCC’s design and creation of  advanced manufacturing training programs developed under President Asquino’s leadership, Belrose said during her welcoming remarks.

College initiatives include the creation of an academic certificate and associates degree program in Plastics Technology Manufacturing, offered over the past two decades at Nypro University in Clinton in partnership with Fitchburg State University; helping regional companies secure more than $6.5 million in state Workforce Training Fund grant; and working with MassMEP, the Workforce Investment Boards, state colleges and universities and other partners on state and federally-funded programs to provide unemployed and underemployed individuals with training to secure good jobs with benefits, she said.

“The key here is regional economic growth,” Belrose said. “All stakeholders in this region need to join forces to ensure we work together to supply a skilled advanced manufacturing workforce. We need to sustain, grow, and integrate efforts that Mount Wachusett and Quinsigamond Community Colleges, along with Mass MEP have been developing with the help of employer, state, and federal funding.  The approach must be integrated and scalable and will benefit from dialogues such as the one we are having today.”

TGN Tea Time April 2016 Group 1

Educators and students from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community spoke on understanding differences over sexual identity at Mount Wachusett Community College. From left, instructor Jennifer Stephens and student Eden Shaveet watch as student Anders Bigelbach speaks. News staff photos by Andrew Mansfield.

GARDNER – Equal respect and consideration for one another was the takeaway message at Mount Wachusett Community College on Monday, as the school held a panel discussion featuring members of the LGBTQ community.

The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans¬gender and Queer.

A group of six students and educators, a majority from the Mount, talked to a public audience about their experiences being someone who is not heterosexual, or does not identify with the gender they were born as.

Each panel member touched upon encountering people during their lives who were unaccepting or at least not familiarized with what it means to be LGBTQ – being outside the traditional social norms surrounding sexuality and gender identification.

“A lot of times I get (from other people), ‘I just don’t believe in it.’

I’m not Santa Claus, so whether you believe it or not, it exists. …

If you don’t want me to get married in your church, I respect that.

But I deserve the same civil rights and liberties,” said Catherine Zabierek, a Mount student studying biological sciences who is lesbian.

The other panel members included: Adam Edgerton, an English teacher who has worked in China and is gay; Eden Shaveet, a Mount student who is bisexual; Charlie MacCall, a University of New Hampshire grad working in online marketing who is a transgender gay man; Anders Bigelbach, a Mount student who is bisexual; and Jennifer Stephens, a Mount instructor in the Advanced Manufacturing program who is a transgender woman.

Tea Time April 2016 Group 2

Mount student Catherine Zabierek listens as University of New Hampshire grad Charlie MacCall speaks.

While the politics of LGBTQ rights was touched upon – including the recent North Carolina “bathroom law” requiring people to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate – the conversation was mostly personal, being affecting in its sincerity. Shaveet is studying psychology in the Mount’s Gateway to College program, which offers dual-enrollment to high-school students, allowing her to achieve college credit prior to graduating high school.

Growing up as bisexual, she spoke about the insulated feeling that comes with not being accepted by peers.

She told the audience about how she switched schools in the seventh grade after being bullied in the hopes she would be treated better at a new school.

“But by the third week I was put into a locker. …The bullying and aggression really took a toll on me,” she said, adding that the environment at the Mount, though, has been accepting.

Bigelbach, also bisexual, is pursuing creative writing in the Mount’s Gateway to College program.

He fielded a question about the notion that being different is a conscious choice as opposed to simply being how one naturally feels.

He said he asks people who believe sexuality is a choice if they chose to be straight.

“You don’t make that choice. It’s not like (choosing) I’m going to have juice instead of water today,” he said.

The panel also took the time to go over some of the positive moments in their lives that have come through their experiences being in the LGBTQ community, particularly the power they’ve found in coming out as who they are and the relationships they’ve formed.

Stephens said she used to be known as a “guy’s guy” before coming out publicly as a transgender woman at the school she used to teach at, leading a transgender student to subsequently come up to her and say “for the first time in my life I have a role model.”

Being open about her gender identity was a huge step forward for Stephens personally.

She didn’t do so until she was in her fifties after watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show called “Born in the Wrong Body.”

“I actually didn’t like myself. I thought I was an awful person who wanted to dress in women’s clothes,” she said.

The role of parents in the process of coming out and living as one’s true self was also touched upon by the panel, with some good and some bad family reactions being mentioned.

Edgerton shared a fairly new anecdote regarding his mother and North Carolina’s “bathroom law,” which has come under heavy criticism from the LGBTQ community and its supporters.

He is originally from North Carolina and his mother still lives in the state.

He said she hasn’t normally been a political protester over the course of her life, but she joined a protest demonstration of North Carolina residents recently in the state’s capital of Raleigh.

He said when they spoke over the phone about it, she explained herself by saying, “Well, you’re my son and they (the state) hurt my son, and that’s why I’m out here.”

He compared Massachusetts – which he described as being more open-minded – and his home state that he said is “not a very good place to be a gay man.”

He also spoke about how he notices attitudes toward LGBTQ people have improved overall during his lifetime, but there is still progress that can be made.

That theme of continuing progress through open dialogue and further understanding was the overarching theme of the panel, the idea that a common humanity should trump divisiveness over personal differences.

Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, April 26, 2016

Commonwealth Commitment Pres Asquino and Sec Peyser

MWCC President Asquino and Education Secretary James Peyser shake hands during the signing ceremony of the Department of Higher Education’s new transfer agreement, the Commonwealth Commitment.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito joined public higher education leaders on April 21 to announce the Commonwealth Commitment, an innovative college affordability and completion plan to help more students achieve the dream of a college degree.

The Commonwealth Commitment commits every public campus to providing 10% rebates at the end of each successfully completed semester to qualifying undergraduate students, in addition to the standard MassTransfer tuition waiver received upon entering a four-year institution from a community college. Students who meet the program requirements will, depending on the transfer pathway they choose, be able to realize an average savings of $5,090 off the cost of a baccalaureate degree.

This plan is the first agreement of its kind in the nation and was signed by University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan, Worcester State University President Barry Maloney and Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, representing the three segments of the public higher education system, at a ceremony held Thursday morning at Middlesex Community College in Lowell.

The statewide agreement was inspired by the $30K Commitment adopted last year by the four Worcester County public higher education institutions: Mount Wachusett Community College, Quinsigamond Community College, Fitchburg State University and Worcester State University. Qualifying students are guaranteed their associate and bachelor’s degrees in high demand programs for $30,000 or less in four years.

“The biggest thing we can do is make college more affordable,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. Collaborative agreements such as the Commonwealth Commitment and the $30K Commitment create opportunities while controlling costs and adressing crucial areas such as college completion, economic development, innovation and college readiness,” he said.

As part of the Commonwealth Commitment’s goal to increase cost savings and predictability, tuition and mandatory fees will be frozen for program participants as of the date they enter the program.  Students will begin their studies at one of the state’s 15 community colleges, enrolling in one of 24 Commonwealth Commitment/Mass Transfer Pathways programs that will roll out in fall 2016 (14 programs) and fall 2017 (10 additional programs). They must attend full-time, and must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0. After earning an associate’s degree in two and a half years or less, students will transfer to a state university or UMass campus to earn a baccalaureate degree.

“This program was designed to decrease the cost of a college degree and accelerate on-time completion for students across the Commonwealth, creating more opportunities and helping more people get into the workforce with the skills they need,” Governor Baker said. “The Commonwealth Commitment will make it even easier for students to go to school full-time and begin their careers with less debt and we are pleased that our higher education officials have worked collaboratively to make this program a reality.”

“The Commonwealth Commitment is a win-win for students, employers, and our public higher education campuses,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Our hope is that through programs like the Commonwealth Commitment, not only will students get the benefit of a lower cost degree, but also be able to fill more of the high-demand job of the future, including in STEM.”

“The Commonwealth Commitment is an important plan which we believe will help move the needle on our administration’s two overarching education objectives: to close the achievement gap and strengthen the global competitiveness of Massachusetts’ workforce and economy,” said Education Secretary Jim Peyser. “I thank the leaders of the Department of Higher Education, UMass, and state colleges and universities for their hard work in reaching this agreement and for their commitment to putting students first.”

Higher Education Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago said the agreement “represents a new day for our state system of public colleges and universities.”

“It was not easy or simple to hammer out an agreement among 28 undergraduate institutions with different missions and programs, but I was extremely proud to see how presidents, provosts, faculty and staff worked together with a sense of common purpose to get this done. What unites us is a dedication to students and to the Commonwealth, a realization that when it comes to preparing the state’s future citizenry and workforce, our public institutions need to lead.”

“Community college students seeking pathways to an affordable, high-quality, four-year degree will now be able to look to the Commonwealth Commitment for critical support – and UMass is proud to be part of this innovative effort,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “This program advances public higher education’s core beliefs and will help to transform lives and strengthen our future. We look forward to welcoming the students who take advantage of this creative initiative to our campuses.”

“When we talk about a ‘best value’ college experience, it doesn’t get any better than this,” said Worcester State University President Barry Maloney. “Those who transfer into state universities under this program will see small classes taught largely by full-time, Ph.D. faculty members who put their students first. The state university degree prepares them well, either for careers or graduate school.”

Under the Commonwealth Commitment, at the end of every successfully completed semester, students will earn a 10% rebate on tuition and fees, payable in the form of a check, or may opt to receive a voucher to use for books or other education-related expenses. The program does not discount room and board, although students may choose to use their Commonwealth Commitment savings or other resources to offset some of those costs. Students’ rebates or vouchers will be calculated based on the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees at the institutions they choose to attend. Additionally, students who enroll in free or reduced cost dual enrollment programs, taking college courses while still in high school, may be able to apply the credits they earn toward their Commonwealth Commitment degrees, thus reducing costs even further.

More information is available at www.mass.edu/MAComCom

 

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President Asquino and Mahar Superintendent Tari Thomas recently signed off on the 10th year dual enrollment agreement between the two schools during a campus visit from Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, front, left. Also pictured, from left, Executive Vice President Ann McDonald, Senior Director of Dual Enrollment Craig Elkins, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement Fagan Forhan, Mahar Co-Principal Eric Dion, Mahar Director of Finance Daniel Haynes, and Mahar guidance counselor and liaison Sara Storm, and Lea Ann Scales MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships.

MWCC is marking the 10th anniversary of its dual enrollment partnership programs for teenagers and young adults.

The Pathways Early College Innovation School and the Gateway to College program, run in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, allow students to complete requirements for their high school diploma while also earning credits toward a college degree. School choice funding covers the cost of tuition and fees of both programs.

Information sessions for each program will take place this spring and summer for fall 2016 enrollment.

“The partnership is so impactful for students whether they are in the Pathways program or Gateway program.” said Mahar Superintendent Tari Thomas, who recently joined MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino in signing the memorandum of understanding between the two schools for the upcoming academic year. “Many are first generation college students. For them to be so embraced by this community college, to work with them to grow and achieve, I’m so grateful. And it’s not just for Mahar kids, but for kids all over the state. The way these academic programs meet individuals needs is profound.”

One of the first two innovation schools created in Massachusetts, the Pathways Early College Innovation School provides motivated high school juniors and home schooled students the opportunity to accelerate the pace of their academic careers by simultaneously earning an associate degree and their high school diploma.

To be eligible for Pathways, students must live in Massachusetts, possess a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0, be at least 16 years old and entering grade 11 by the start of the fall semester, and be recommended by the sending school.

Students must attend a Pathways information session and have current Accuplacer scores in order to apply. Upcoming information sessions for the Pathways school will take place on May 10 and 12; June 14 and 16; and July 12 and 14. The first day of each session provides the information about the school, and the second day of each session includes the Accuplacer test.

MWCC’s Gateway to College program, established in 2005 as the first Gateway site in New England, provides a second chance for students ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. Students simultaneously earn their high school diploma as well as college credits toward an academic degree or certificate. The majority of the graduates continue their education at MWCC or at another college or university.

Gateway applicants must attend a two-day information session to be considered for the program. Upcoming Gateway information sessions will take place on May 11 and 13; June 15 and 17; July 20 and 22; Aug 3 and 5; and August 10 and 12.

To register for an upcoming information session in either program, contact MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition at 978-630-9248. Visit mwcc.edu/access for more details about the programs.

Week of the Young Child Art Show 2016

Students and family members involved with the 10th anniversary art exhibit include Graphic and Interactive Design major Tom Hill, and education majors Terri Evan, with son Alden, Kelly Williams, with daughter Ashley, Kendyll Knight and Samantha Goodale.

Mix paintings, sculptures and other assorted artwork created by dozens of children, add cupcakes, some glitter, and heaping scoops of commitment and enthusiasm from MWCC’s Early Childhood Education faculty, students and community partners, and what do you get?

The 10th anniversary celebration of the Week of the Young Child Art Exhibit at MWCC’s Garrison Center for Early Childhood Education. This year, the event was also paired with an information session about MWCC’s early childhood education and elementary education academic programs for prospective teachers, sponsored by the Admissions Office.

 

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Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago met with Mount Wachusett Community College students during his tour of the college.

Continuing his mission to spend a full day at each of the state’s public colleges and universities, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago took a whirlwind tour of Mount Wachusett Community College on Thursday, April 14.

The day began at MWCC’s satellite campus in Devens – which rekindled fond memories for the commissioner, who spent several years there as a child when his father was stationed at Fort Devens – and ended at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner with a meeting with the Board of Trustees.

In between, he met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, K-12 partners and business and community leaders, exchanging thoughts and ideas on a wide range of topics including an enhanced K-16 approach toward education, college accessibility, transfer pathways to four-year schools, industry partnerships, MWCC’s new science and technology building under construction and student support services. By late afternoon, he had this to say to college leaders:

“You’re innovative. You are getting it right here,” he told the trustees. “Now we’ve got to learn from your success and scale it up. I need this campus to spread the word about the work you are doing here.”

Under the leadership of President Daniel Asquino, MWCC’s ground-breaking work in dual enrollment, civic engagement, unique K-12 and industry partnerships and wrap-around services have grown into model programs, Dr. Santiago said.

“The campus is well positioned on a number of fronts, he said. “The support services that are provided to students on this campus are superb. The students feel well-served by everyone.”

Earlier in the day, the commissioner met with Mahar Regional School Superintendent Tari Thomas and Mahar administrators for a discussion on the continued success of the Gateway to College program for at-risk students, now in its 10th year, and the Pathways Early College Innovation School, now in its sixth year.

He also met with Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche, members of MWCC’s Access & Transition team and math faculty for a detailed discussion on college-readiness programs, including MWCC’s Math Modeling program, now offered in several area high schools to help reduce students’ need for math remediation in college.

At lunchtime, the commissioner dined on sandwiches, fruit and potato chips with a group of students that included teenagers in dual enrollment programs, career changers, student leaders and parents juggling family responsibilities, work and academic studies. He listened intently as they shared stories about unique challenges, as well as their career aspirations, and how the college is helping them reach their goals.

“No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, you really find your place here,” said student leader Stevie LaBelle.

During his session with business leaders, the commissioner discussed the significant role community colleges, like Mount Wachusett, play in the state’s economic and civic landscape. Two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s public institutions, and 90 percent remain in the state after graduating.

“The future of the Commonwealth really is going to rest on campuses like this.”