Student Stories

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MWCC Honors Program students Phil Stan and Stevie LaBelle led a panel discussion on suicide awareness, which was attended by approximately 100 students. Pictured, from left, Honors Program Coordinator Sheila Murphy; Michael Ellis, project coordinator of the Men’s Suicide Prevention Program at Heywood Hospital; MWCC student Carrie DeCosta, Stan, former State Senator Robert Antonioni, and LaBelle.

Mount Wachusett Community College Honors Program students Phil Stan and Stevie LaBelle led a poignant panel discussion to promote suicide awareness and discussion and encourage their peers to think past the stigma attached to mental illness.

The three-person panel included former State Senator Robert Antonioni; Michael Ellis, project coordinator of the Men’s Suicide Prevention Program at Heywood Hospital; and MWCC student Carrie DeCosta. Representing three different perspectives on suicide and mental illness, the panelists shared their individual accounts with approximately 100 MWCC students in the college’s North Café.

“Suicide and depression do not discriminate,” said Stan, while introducing the Dec. 2 event. He lamented that suicide represents the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24, yet is still regarded as a “social taboo.”

“Elected officials look for issues to champion. That issue found me in 1999,” said Antonioni, referring to the year he lost his brother to suicide.

“Suicide is seen as a stigma to avoid, but it shouldn’t be. It should be on the forefront of everyone’s minds, and we should look to intervene and help,” he said.

“The way to get around this stigma and provide opportunity for discussion is to have forums” throughout the community, said Ellis. He encouraged students to seek education on suicide and mental illnesses, respond proactively to clear risk factors, participate in prevention training and learn to be accepting and tolerant of mental health issues. “Every single one of us has a role to play.”

“It’s important to share my story because you wouldn’t think by looking at me that I struggled with mental illnesses,” said DeCosta. “I was determined not to be a statistic and beat my illness.”

LaBelle and Stan, MWCC’s Student Trustee, organized the event as an extension of their abnormal psychology course and as a service learning project in the Honors Program.

“The fact that this many people showed up means the conversation has started,” LaBelle said.

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Students representing the world’s poorest shared meager bowls of rice and water, while a much smaller group, representing the world’s wealthiest, dined on a full meal. This exercise took place throughout the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement’s hunger banquet, which raised awareness about poverty and income inequality.

A hunger banquet hosted by the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement raised awareness of world poverty and affirmed Mount Wachusett Community College’s status as a lead institution in an American Association of State Colleges and Universities initiative. MWCC and Keene State College announced Nov. 18 that they will co-lead 31 participating institutions in a three-year initiative on economic inequality.

The initiative calls for institutions to develop curricula and hands-on learning opportunities that will encourage students to confront the complex causes of economic inequality. MWCC’s hunger banquet mirrored those run by Oxfam International and provided students varying meals and levels of service, based on the distribution of income and on chance – very often the sole determinant of one’s economic standing.

“This is a small glimpse of some of the economic inequality worldwide,” said Shelley Errington Nicholson, director of community learning in the Center, while introducing the Nov. 20 event. Nicholson also described hunger as “a problem rooted in injustice,” and one that is solvable, though doing so is no easy task.

MWCC participants representing the 20 percent of high-income individuals were served a pasta entre with vegetables and rolls, though much of the food went uneaten. Middle-income participants, who comprise 30 percent of the population, served themselves rice and beans. Finally, students portraying the 50 percent of low-income individuals sat on the floor and received one ladle of rice, no silverware and a cup of water.

While students ate, faculty and staff speakers highlighted a range of statistics on world poverty and hunger, as well as avenues toward the suppression of both epidemics, including Oxfam and Feeding America. An estimated 2.5 billion people live in poverty, while 870 million suffer from chronic hunger.

Each ticket contained a persona of an individual helped by Oxfam, and several participants read their descriptions to the group. The Center donated all funds to the Students Supporting our Students (SOS) Office to assist MWCC students in need.

Students also engaged in a philosophical discussion on hunger led by Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Center Chair Daniel Soucy.

“We hope not to leave you in a state of despair, but to empower you by showing what we all can do,” said Associate Professor of Psychology and Sociology Julia Capozzi, who showed two clips from The Hunger Games to emphasize the growing power of the top one percent of income earners. “We try to pretend we’re all in the middle class and that poverty isn’t a problem, but [this situation] is not just a recession.”

Following the banquet, students from each income group reflected on the experience.

“I felt bad for the lower class because I had more food than them,” said Ruth Robertson, a dental hygiene major and a member of the high-income group. “I wanted to give them my food. That’s why I didn’t eat much of it.”

“I was happy with the middle class, and I would have felt guilty if I got in the higher class,” said Rebekkah Dietz, a liberal arts major, who said she was happy to receive a sufficient amount of food without wasting any.

“You feel like a leper, really,” said Stephanie Needle, a human services major and a member of the low-income group. “This is a fair depiction of how we treat people living in poverty in this country and why not a lot of people want to admit where they’re at.”

- Cameron Woodcock

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DClogoThe American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is spearheading a national effort to engage students in the topic of economic inequality and its impact on democracy through a three-year initiative. Leading the 31 participating institutions in this effort are Mount Wachusett Community College and Keene State College. All participants are members of AASCU’s American Democracy Project (ADP) or The Democracy Commitment (TDC).

Participating institutions will invite students and community members to confront the complex causes of economic inequality through the development of curriculum that will be applied to many areas of study and hands-on learning opportunities. Specifically, students will study the relationship between public policy, economic inequality, economic opportunity, and social mobility. These strategies, including the introduction of a course in economic inequality for students at two- and four-year schools, will be designed for further adoption by campuses across the country.

“AASCU is excited to assemble this group of two- and four-year institutions that together will examine and address the growing economic inequality in this county, a trend that poses a serious threat to our democracy,” remarked George Mehaffy, AASCU’s vice president of academic leadership and change.

MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement and The American Democracy Project at Keene State College will spearhead national efforts, which also promote community outreach, civic pathways for student success, and prepare undergraduates for lives of informed civic engagement. Most activities will take place on participating campuses, with the two lead institutions providing support and networking by hosting national conference calls and webinars.

“We are proud to partner with AASCU, Keene State College, and colleges and universities across the country on this timely initiative,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “More than ever before, our students are graduating into a global society that is stratified across lines of economic class and political ideologies as much as they always have been across issues of gender, culture and religion. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that our students have the opportunity to think critically and creatively about these issues—and discover their own abilities to initiate change in areas of public policy, economic opportunity and inequality, and social mobility,” he said.

MWCC faculty participating in the initiative include Julie Capozzi, Elmer Eubanks, Shane Martin, Yvonne Noyes-Stevens, Maureen Provost, Tom Montagno, Kate Smith, Dan Soucy and Michelle Valois. They will join Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement staff members Fagan Forhan and Shelley Errington Nicholson.

“I am thrilled that Keene State College and MWCC are partnering with AASCU to involve students in discussions and experiences that demonstrate the ways that economic inequality affects our society—this issue is urgent and relevant to every state in our nation. The approach we are taking on this topic leverages critical thinking, community engagement, and academic preparation, which will make a real impact on our students now and in the years to come after graduation,” said Keene State College President, Dr. Anne Huot.

National Network of Participating Schools

In addition to Keene State College, four-year institutions include Buffalo State (SUNY); California State University, Chico; California State University, Monterey Bay; Cleveland State University; Dalton State College (Ga.); Ferris State University (Mich.); Indiana University Northwest; Missouri State University; Northeastern Illinois University; Northern Kentucky University; Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; Salisbury University (Md.); Slippery Rock University (Penn.); St. Cloud State University (Minn.); SUNY Cortland; Texas A&M University-Central Texas; University of Houston Downtown; Weber State University (Utah); Western Carolina University (N.C.); and Wright State University (Ohio).

In addition to MWCC, participating two-year institutions include Allegany College of Maryland; De Anza College (Calif.); Kirkwood Community College (Iowa); Lone Star College, Kingwood (Texas); Manchester Community College (Conn.); Monroe Community College (N.Y.); Moraine Valley Community College (Ill.); Santa Fe College (Fla.); and Tarrant County College, Southeast Campus (Texas).

ADP and TDC, representing four- and two-year schools, respectively, create a variety of civic-engagement and academic-enrichment initiatives that encourage graduates to become informed, engaged participants in our democracy. TDC is modeled after ADP, and both organizations are sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

 

Associate Professor of Nursing Collene Thaxton briefs practical nursing students following the completion of disaster training at MWCC's Devens campus.

Associate Professor of Nursing Collene Thaxton briefs practical nursing students following the completion of disaster training at MWCC’s Devens campus. The mannequin was one of five requiring treatment in a tornado simulation that also included two participating MWCC professors.

After months of preparation, teams of Mount Wachusett Community College practical nursing students tended to hospital “patients” further injured as a result of a simulated tornado.

The Nov. 7 disaster simulation at MWCC’s Devens campus included five lifelike mannequins and two professors with varying afflictions, debris strewn across the floor, and tornado sound effects. Impending graduates applied skills gained through nearly two years of nursing coursework, as well as a lecture on emergency response and public health issues by Judy O’Donnell of Wachusett Medical Corps.

“We need to get students ready for disaster situations. This is the culmination of what has gone on since January,” said Associate Professor of Nursing Collene Thaxton, who led two separate simulations, each consisting of a rescue and triage team. “We really stress the importance of communication in disasters because you never know what to expect.”

With 15 minutes to complete the simulation, student rescue teams diagnosed and provided preliminary treatment to patients based on the severity of their injuries. Rescue teams then transported patients by stretcher to nearby triage teams for further treatment, including CPR, blood work and the dressing of wounds.

“I was nervous at first, but once I started, I got into nursing mode,” said Ari-Ann Ashley, a member of the first rescue team. “I feel that now I have an idea of what to do if something like this actually happened in the real world.”

“My mind was racing, but I tried to keep it together and figure out who to triage first,” said Isabelle Mascary, a member of the second triage team. “I think this helps students because it puts us in a situation we haven’t been in before, and we can figure out what went wrong and what we can do better.”

Additional nursing students participated in disaster simulations on Nov. 14.

- Cameron Woodcock

To promote conscientious discussion on the topic of suicide, Mount Wachusett Community College’s Honors Program is inviting the public to a student-led panel discussion that will also feature area leaders in mental health. One-Day-At-A-Time-Logo

Titled “One Day at a Time,” the free event will take place Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m. in the North Café at the Gardner campus. MWCC students Phil Stan and Stevie LaBelle organized the event as an extension of their abnormal psychology course and a service-learning project to meet Honors Program requirements.

“We want to de-stigmatize suicide and demonstrate that it’s okay to talk about it,” said Stan, who will co-moderate the forum with LaBelle. “Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death, but unless we open up lines of communication, we can’t offer the help that these people need.”

Acknowledging the sensitivity of the topic, Stan said organizers will create a secure environment in which participants can freely express their concerns, speak to MWCC guidance counselors and obtain information on area support services.

The panel will include former State Senator Bob Antonioni, whose advocacy for mental health stems from experiences in his personal life; Michael Ellis, project coordinator of the Men’s Suicide Prevention Program at Heywood Hospital; and MWCC student Carrie DeCosta, who will recount her personal triumphs.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, according to The Trevor Project. The Center for Disease Control reports that the year 2012 saw 40,600 reported suicides in the US, including one every 12.9 minutes.

“Often, simply asking if someone is okay can make a huge difference,” said Stan.

Three Murdock High School seniors are earning MWCC academic certificates through the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program. Pictured, from left, Andrew Phelps, Amber Dignan, Melanie Cranfill, andCVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips.

Three Murdock High School seniors are earning MWCC academic certificates through the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program. Pictured, from left, Andrew Phelps, Amber Dignan, Melanie Cranfill, andCVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips.

For the third consecutive year, Murdock High School seniors in the Robinson-Broadhurst Career Tech Scholarship program are earning academic certificates at Mount Wachusett Community College while simultaneously finishing their diplomas.

Through a generous grant from the Winchendon-based Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation, Amber Dignan and Melanie Cranfill are pursing MWCC certificates in allied health, and Andrew Phelps is working toward a certificate in computer information systems. Participants also earn certificates in automotive technology and accounting.

Created as a pathway to higher education, the one-year, dual-enrollment program provides full scholarships for Murdock High School students to earn workplace credentials and first-year credits toward corresponding associate-degree programs at MWCC.

“I chose to participate in this program because I wanted a change in my learning environment and wanted to get a head start in college,” said Cranfill.

“The program is an amazing opportunity to further my education at virtually no cost,” said Phelps. “I have learned that programs like this are wonderful things to try and work hard for because not everyone gets to have a year of college for free.”

Overseeing the program are Assistant Dean of Transitions Programming Deb Bibeau, MWCC Foundation Director Carla Zottoli, CVTE Transition Counselor and student advisor Shaunti Phillips, and Murdock High School guidance counselors Anne Marie Borsky and Rachel Weinhold.

The Murdock guidance counselors credit the Robinson-Broadhurst program with providing an opportunity to enhance offerings at the high school and give students a jumpstart on their college and career plans.

All five members of last year’s cohort earned a certificate in allied health. Three of these students are now enrolled in the Department of Higher Education’s STEM Starter Academy at MWCC.

“Being in the Robinson-Broadhurst dual-enrollment program and the STEM Starter Academy was seriously a life-changing experience,” said Dakota Wood, a 2014 graduate who is now pursuing a degree in health care. “I was exposed to what college was like while I could still participate in senior events. Plus, I graduated high school with a free year of college under my belt.”

CJ Husselbee, a first-generation college student and an initial participant in the Robinson-Broadhurst program, earned an associate degree in Business Administration from MWCC and transferred this fall to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

“Before this, I didn’t know if I could afford college. The Robinson-Broadhurst program was really the difference between me going to college and not going.”

A 2014 study by the American Institutes for Research explored the correlation between access to early college and advancement in secondary and higher education. These students are five-percent more likely to graduate high school, 20-percent more likely to earn their college degrees simultaneously, 21-percent more likely to enroll in a two-year school and four-percent more likely to enroll in a four-year school.

- Cameron Woodcock

Mount Wachusett Community College, long recognized nationally for its comprehensive veteran services, has again been named to Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year colleges in the Military Times' Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year colleges in the Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings.

Released alongside Veterans Day, the independent news project evaluates organizations based on their support systems and campus cultures to provide a reference point for service members, military veterans and their families. In order be considered for the rankings, MWCC and other colleges meticulously documented these services through a survey with over 100 questions.

MWCC was ranked seventh nationally among two-year schools in a list that includes a total of 140 four-year, two-year, online and nontraditional schools. The list will be published in issues of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, Marine Corps Times and Military Times EDGE magazine, as well as online at MilitaryTimes.com, ArmyTimes.com, NavyTimes.com, AirForceTimes.com and MarineCorpsTimes.com.

“Given this award’s proximity to Veterans Day, we express our collective gratitude to veterans throughout this country, including those we are fortunate to call MWCC students,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “These students strengthen our campus community, and we are proud to provide the services that help them flourish.”

“This is a school whose faculty and staff are genuinely good people who sincerely care about our veteran population,” said Veterans Services Director Robert Mayer. “I can’t express how good it makes me feel to know that, wherever they go on campus, our veterans will be taken care of.”

MWCC launched the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success in 2010 to address the unique academic, financial, social and physical needs of veterans, military personnel and military families transitioning to college life. Student veterans are also active members of the campus community, participating in such clubs and organizations as the Veterans Group and Student Government Association.

In August 2013, MWCC became one of the first 250 higher-education institutions to implement President Obama’s “8 Keys to Success” initiative to help boost academic opportunities and improvement employment outcomes for veterans.

MWCC also maintains community partnerships with the Montachusett Veteran Outreach Center, the Northeast Veteran Training & Rehabilitation Center operated by Veteran Homestead, Inc., the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services’ SAVE program, and local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

The residential and educational partnership between MWCC and the NVTRC, run on a portion of campus property, served as the focus of a recent segment on WGBY in Springfield.

American Legion donation Nov 2014

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

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

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

The scholarship was established to assist student veterans and ensure that their service and sacrifices will not be forgotten. Scholarship funds are awarded to new or returning full-time students who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, or are currently serving in the Reserves or National Guard.

 

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

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

We strive to continue to be that haven for our veteran students. These students bring great leadership skills to our campus and ultimately to our workforce. They are a tremendous asset to our communities. I am proud that Mount Wachusett Community College has been named for the fifth consecutive year, as a “Top Military School” and is also a designated Yellow Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, USA Today has named MWCC as one of its “Best Colleges for Vets” in 2014. Most recently, WGBY in Springfield filmed a segment spotlighting our residential and educational partnership with the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center, run on a portion of campus property by the Fitchburg-based nonprofit Veterans Homestead, Inc. To view this inspiring video, go to http://ow.ly/DOW4r.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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