Student Stories

Job Fair 2016Thirty five companies and organizations participated in Job Fair 2016, held at MWCC’s Gardner campus on March 30 and sponsored by the Career Services/Experiential and Service Learning Department. The event provided students with an opportunity to explore career options and learn about job openings in a diverse range of fields.

Coordinator of Career Planning and Placement Patricia Brewerton said she was delighted with the employer support as well as the number of students who benefited from the fair. More than 250 students and visitors attended.

“The job fair provides an optimistic job outlook for students and it attracts a wide range of companies offering job openings for our students. Some students report having interviews already scheduled for next week. I’ve also heard encouraging and optimistic feedback from employers that our students are enthusiastic, dressed for success, well prepared, and have the courage to approach the tables and introduce themselves,” she said.

There were full-time, part-time, temporary and summer positions available from a variety of employers including ARC of Opportunity, Athol Savings Bank, Barton Associates, Bemis Worldwide, Cumulus Media, the Fitchburg Police Department, GAAMHA, GFA Federal Credit Union, Great Wolf, Home Depot, LUK, Mass Life Sciences, Masy Bioservices, Mutual of Omaha, Nouria Energy, Perkins School, Remedy Staffing, Seven Hills, the Bridge and the Worcester County District Attorney’s office.



Gather a panel of successful, healthcare professionals to share how they got where they are today, put them in front of high school students aspiring to similar careers, and something wonderful happens. Synergy.

Six women – three nurses, a doctor, a medical interpreter and a radiographer – captured the attention of nearly 30 freshmen and sophomores during a “Diverse Women in Healthcare” presentation sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College’s new Project Healthcare program. The speakers were equally enthused to share words of encouragement and advice to a group of young women, and a handful of young men, as they begin to discern their own career interests.

The March 29 event for Leominster High School and Leominster Center for Technical Innovation Education students capped off Women’s History Month by showcasing the varied academic, professional and personal paths each woman followed, whether locally or globally.

Panelists included Dr. Maria Del Carmen Al-Homsi, an internal medicine doctor at UMass Medical Group; Cecilia Phelan Stiles, senior manager of HR Communication Systems for Cape Cod Healthcare and president of the Forum on the Coordination of Interpreter Services, a statewide organization; Leominster High and MWCC alumna Elizabeth Warpula, a radiographer at Massachusetts General Hospital; Leominster High alumna and pediatric nurse ZaShanah Copeland, a school nurse at Seven Hills Charter Public School in Worcester; Geri Tusalem, senior director of perioperative services at HealthAlliance Hospital; and Mary Fortunato-Habib, Chief Nursing Officer at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Hospital.

Over the course of an hour, each woman shared what inspired them to enter the healthcare field and the challenges and triumphs they encountered along the way.

Copeland, for instance, was drawn to nursing while in middle school after watching nurses care for her mother following a traumatic accident. As a child, Fortunato-Habib dreamed of becoming an astronaut, until she realized the skills she developed while taking care of younger cousins were pointing toward a career as an RN.

Warpula confessed she had “no intention of going to college after graduating high school. “And now I work at one of the best hospitals in the country.” Dr Del Carmen Al-Homsi and Phelan-Stiles spoke of the challenge of overcoming language barriers, only to find their fluency in multiple languages a major advantage in their careers.

“Be open to your circumstances because you never know where you will land,” Copeland advised. “Finish what you start and keep your eyes on your goal.”

The new Project Healthcare program aims to help students do just that. Last fall, MWCC was awarded a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to create the program in partnership with the Fitchburg and Leominster school districts.

The program aligns with federal initiatives to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities while providing a high school-to-college pipeline for students who plan to enter the healthcare field.

Over the next five years, 120 students will receive academic counseling, coaching, field trips, guest lectures and dual enrollment college courses.

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships, and program Director Melissa Bourque Silva, welcomed the students and role models to the presentation, held at Leominster High School.

Students, like aspiring pediatric oncologist Hellen Muma, said they found the event “inspiring” and “amazing.” Elizabeth O’Neil, a sophomore in the health occupations program, felt encouraged by the forum’s theme of encouraging students to forge their own paths one step at a time.

“I thought it was really great because I’m questioning what I want to do in healthcare. It’s comforting to know that I’m going to find what I want to do and help people in the future.”

Bourque-Silva encouraged the students to take advantage of opportunities as they appear. “Time and time again, we all think it’s a straight line from A to B. Everyone has their own path. I hope you all realize what power and promise you have to make a difference in the world, and I also hope you leave here feeling empowered and confident in yourselves, who you are, and who you can become.”



Participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series event on immigration include from left, MWCC student Mili Silva, Dean of Students Jason Zelesky, Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, and MWCC Diversity Coalition co-chair Maria Gariepy.

Whether their relatives relocated to the U.S. generations ago or arrived just recently, participants in Mount Wachusett Community College’s dialogue on immigration realized their family histories share a common theme: Their parents, grandparents, ancestors or even they themselves emigrated for the hope of a better life and greater opportunity.

More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out to discuss “Immigration and the Undocumented Student.” The March 28 Tea Time Speaker Series event was sponsored by the college’s Diversity Consortium and Gateway to College program, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

The forum was moderated by MWCC Senior Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, who developed the Tea Time series as a way to create a dialogue around diverse issues that engages the college community and members of the greater community.

MWCC Trustee Joana Dos Santos, executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg/Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, opened the discussion on a personal note, describing her experience moving from Uruguay to Fitchburg at age 14 when the U.S. had a waiver agreement with Uruguay. While in high school, she realized how expensive college would be as an undocumented student.

Through scholarships, community service programs and support through MWCC, she earned her associate degree. Her immigration status was resolved while she was in college when her green card was granted, and she continued on for a bachelor’s degree at Fitchburg State University.

Realizing the process for others can take decades and entail even greater struggles and obstacles, she has become a strong advocate for immigration reform. Her 40-minute presentation included an overview of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following her presentation, participants broke out into small group discussions, sharing a bit of their family history and their thoughts on the national debate on immigration reform. MWCC student Mili Silva, who was involved with planning the event, stood to thank the crowd for attending and asked for their support on this issue.

“I just hope the outcome of this event helps people become well informed on the issue.”

MWCC alumna Joan Mellanson of Gardner was among the community members attending. She shared in her group discussion that although she speaks with an accent, she was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a U.S. citizen. More than four decades after moving to Massachusetts as a young teenager, she said she still encounters judgment.

“I still feel like an alien at times.”




Mentors recognized by MWCC students during this year’s Women’s HerStory Project include, from left: Michelle Contey, Amy LaBarge, Sue Blain, Joyce Kulig, Maryann Kane, Sara Williams, Eveliz Rivera-White, Susan Guartafierro, Emily Carr, Denise Whitney and Lea Ann Scales. Missing from photo: Melissa Manzi and Donna Tully.

Faculty and staff members who play an instrumental role in the lives of MWCC students were recognized on March 24 during the college’s annual Women’s Appreciation Day. The celebration capped a month-long of activities and events in celebration of Women’s History Month.

For the eighth year, students in Professor Susan Goldstein’s Journalism I class have interviewed and written feature articles on women who are making a difference in the lives of others. The mentors recognized through the Women’s HerStory Project are nominated by MWCC students.

This year’s honorees are: Sue Blain, Advisor; Emily Carr, Adjunct Professor, Graphic & Interactive Design; Michelle Contey, Academic Counselor; Susan Guartafierro, Admissions Office Clerk; Maryann Kane, Early Childhood Education Professor; Joyce Kulig, Retention Specialist with the Visions Program; Amy LaBarge, Academic/Disabilities Counselor; Melissa Manzi, Mental Health Counselor; Eveliz Rivera-White, Financial Aid Advisor; Lea Ann Scales, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications & K-12 Partnerships; Donna Tully, Associate Professor of Nursing; Denise Whitney, Administrative Assistant in the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development; Sara Williams, Management Assistant with the Visions and Rx programs.

Their photographs and inspiring stories are on display in the South Café throughout the month.





nu-sealMount Wachusett Community College and Northeastern University have established a new transfer agreement that allows eligible MWCC graduates to seamlessly transfer associate degree credits into Northeastern University College of Professional Studies to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Northeastern University College of Professional Studies offers bachelor’s degree completion programs in fast-growing fields such as information technology, health management, biotechnology, and management, with robust academic, student, and career support resources to promote student success. Students will participate in experiential learning activities and projects throughout their studies. Details of specific transfer paths are being developed this spring between the two institutions for fall 2016 enrollment.

To be considered for this transfer, MWCC students must complete an associate degree with a strong academic record.

“We are delighted to partner with one of the country’s top universities to expand transfer options for our graduates,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This new partnership will open doors for our students, while demonstrating our shared commitment to making quality education accessible and affordable.”

“We look forward to welcoming students from Mount Wachusett Community College into a community of enterprising students focused on completing their studies and advancing in their careers”, said John LaBrie, Dean, College of Professional Studies. “And we’re pleased that this partnership reflects our shared goals of student-focused academic excellence.”

Northeastern University College of Professional Studies is one of nine colleges that form the university. Northeastern is renowned for experiential education, and the College of Professional Studies incorporates this strength in career-focused professional education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Degrees reflect business needs, the reality of the present economy, and areas of professional growth and demand.

Over the past half-century, Mount Wachusett Community College has built a tradition of providing innovative undergraduate education, workforce development, personal enrichment, and community service to North Central Massachusetts and beyond. MWCC offers more than 70 academic degree and certificate options and serves approximately 12,000 credit and noncredit students each year at its 269-acre main campus in Gardner and satellite campuses in Devens, Leominster and Fitchburg. An award-winning, national leader in the area of renewable energy and sustainability, MWCC is also nationally recognized for its veterans’ services, civic engagement and K-12 partnerships.


Alternative Spring Break 2016 MWCCA group of MWCC students and staff members spent part of spring break as home builders with Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts to benefit a family in Ayer.

The day-long volunteer effort on March 16 marked MWCC’s 9th annual Alternative Spring Break, organized by the office of Student Life and the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

The service project provides an amazing opportunity for students to learn new skills while giving back to others, said Associate Dean of Students Greg Clement, who initiated the college’s Alternative Spring Break in 2008.

In addition to Clement, Shelley Errington Nicholson, Director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, and Sarah Savoie, Student Services clerk and certifying official participated, along with students  Jana Murphy, Priscilla DePaula, Kate Zebierek and Kevin Figueroa.


Leominster High School students joined peers from throughout the region at MWCC's annual Juniors Symposium.

Leominster High School students joined peers from throughout the region at MWCC’s annual Juniors Symposium.

Nearly 200 area high school juniors were welcomed to Mount Wachusett Community College’s annual Juniors Symposium this week to gain insight into applying to colleges and universities, seeking financial aid and scholarships, and related topics to help them succeed.

Over 90 juniors from Fitchburg, Athol, Murdock and Gardner high schools attended the half-day symposium on March 15, while another 90 students from Fitchburg, Leominster and Sizer high schools participated on March 17.

Pep rallies, led by MWCC Dean of Students Jason Zelesky and Stephanie Marchetti, student support specialist/academic counselor, served to inspire students with positive, relevant messages about the importance of education and pursuing one’s dreams. The students also attended a series of workshops.

The annual event is offered through MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition, which serves approximately 4,000 middle and high school students in the region.

“This was the most useful seminar I’ve ever been too,” said Leominster High School student Yasmin Yusif.

Visions Ms Manners 3 Ifra Chelsea Jillian

Ifra Hassan, Chelsea Garrity and Jillian Manty were among the MWCC students participating in a business dining etiquette luncheon, hosted by the Visions and Rx programs.

In today’s job market, it is becoming more common for employers to seek ideal candidates through a series of interviews. One of these interviews could be over lunch or dinner with one or more members of the search committee. This type of environment can be extremely stressful for a candidate who is trying to put his or her best foot forward.

To provide MWCC students with tips on which fork to use, where to place their bread plate, and reminders to keep their elbows – and their smart phones – off the table, the college’s Visions and Rx programs recently hosted an Etiquette Luncheon for Rising Professionals.

Carol McGuiggan (aka Ms. Manners), a professional in business protocol and dining etiquette, provided instruction on proper interview dining to a group of students and staff. Business faculty Linda Bolduc and Elmer Eubanks- Archbold also attended.

Students learned how to properly shake hands, seat themselves at a table, engage in appropriate table conversation and comport themselves in other table manners.

The federally-funded TRIO programs provide academic and personal support to first generation and low-income students as well as students with documented disabilities. Students who meet at least one of these criteria are eligible to apply to the programs.

The Etiquette Luncheon is just one of the many activities and events which introduce students to new experiences and life lessons.



MWCC student Rafaela Lopes, who created the social venture Go Make a Difference, is the recipient of the inaugural United Way Youth Venture Bob Chauvin Leadership Award.

Homelessness. Poverty. Hunger. Illness. Mental health. The environment. Finding solutions to these and other social issues are confounding to even the most experienced adults.

Fortunately, area teens and adolescents are stepping up to become part of the solution, as demonstrated in the first United Way Youth Venture community expo. The event, held March 9 at the Great Wolf Lodge, showcased the wide-ranging, inspiring social ventures of North Central Massachusetts youth.

Business and community leaders turned out to see how teams of young social entrepreneurs are leveraging their passion and skills to generate unique solutions to school and community challenges, including homelessness, autism awareness, support for foster children, environmental conservation, animal welfare and many others.

Over the past decade, the program has grown from 150 students to 6,500 student participants this year and is the largest UWYV program in the world.

UWYV was established in 2002 when the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Mount Wachusett Community College and Ashoka’s Youth Venture partnered to help area schools integrate youth-based social ventures into their curriculum, afterschool activities and special events. More than a dozen schools in the region participate, with many others expressing interest in starting a program.

“You are really making a difference. You are inspiring people,” UWYV Assistant Director Lauren Mountain announced to the gathering of enthusiastic participants, who were joined by family and friends.

Lea Ann Scales, MWCC vice president of external affairs, communications and K-12 partnerships commended the young social entrepreneurs for their dedication, passion for addressing some of society’s most pressing problems, and rising leadership roles in the community.

“The work of these venture teams shows me that we have nothing to be worried about when we talk about our future.”

The winner of the first UWYV Bob Chauvin Leadership Award, Rafaela Lopes, 18, of Leominster, was presented with a $1,500 scholarship. The award is named in honor of Chauvin, the recently retired president and CEO of SimplexGrinnell, for his support of UWYV locally and nationally.

A dual enrollment student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, Lopes created the social venture Go Make a Difference when she was 15. Over the past three years, she has led her team in fulfilling its mission to help the community locally by providing regular birthday celebrations for homeless children, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts, and most recently, a service trip in February to an impoverished village in Haiti.

Three $1,000 UWYV scholarships were presented to Leominster High School students Maggie Mbengue (The Children’s Education Fund); Morgan Tait (Go Make a Difference);  and Hannah Dike (Friends of Rachel’s Challenge).

“The things I do to help are not difficult – anyone can brighten a day or lighten a stressful load,” said Lopes. She was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others by creating a youth-run social venture that would help young people experiencing or close to homelessness, as she had experienced as a child in Brazil before moving to Massachusetts seven years ago.

“I look for ways wherever possible to help others, but often feel frustrated because so much help is needed in the world, and I want to do more.”


Congresswoman Niki Tsongas visit to Vet CenterMWCC student veterans, college officals and community leaders had the undivided attention of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who stopped by to visit the college’s Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success and our neighboring partner, the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center, owned and operated by Veteran Homestead.

The Congresswoman, who serves on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and Natural Resources Committee, said she was impressed with MWCC’s innovation and leadership in these and other areas.

She lauded the partnership between MWCC and the NVTRC, which provides housing and support services to veterans and their families.

“This is a great partenrship because it really does help veterans and their families move on. It provides  the families with access to education, homes and extended support. It’s unique. Community colleges are rooted in the community and are always looking for ways to solve problems. the Mount is certainly an example of that.”

Read more about her visit in the article below, published in the March 9 issue of the Sentinel & Enterprise, or click here to visit the newspaper’s website for more great photos and video clips.

‘Doing right by the veterans’

U.S. Rep. Tsongas impressed with work done at Veteran Homestead in Gardner (Sentinel and Enterprise, March 9, 2016)

By Jordan Tillery

GARDNER – Retired Army Sgt. Jason Wing and his wife, Kristi, welcomed U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas into the living room of their Gardner condo Tuesday morning. Tsongas listened as Wing shared his journey since he was medically discharged after 15 years of service.

“When we exited, we were homeless with no jobs,” he told Tsongas. “I was at a bad point in my life.”

Today, the couple live with their children in one of the condos within the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center run by Veteran Homestead. The homes, just a short walk from Mount Wachusett Community College, are dedicated to rehabilitating veterans and reintegrating them into the community.

Tsongas, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, spent the morning speaking with the veterans who live in the community, as well as those who take advantage of the Veterans Student Success Center at Mount Wachusett Community College.

As an advocate for the GI Bill and a member of the Armed Services Committee in Washington, Tsongas came to Gardner to witness the services in action.

“We want to make sure we’re doing right by the veterans and their families,” she said. “It isn’t until you get out that you see what’s working and what isn’t.”

She was impressed by the work being done by the college and its partnership with Veteran Homestead.

When she spoke with some of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, they all thanked the program for helping them improve their situations regardless of whether it was through education or mental and/or physical rehabilitation.

“I can’t say enough good things about the program,” Jason Wing said.

He was able to receive his bachelor’s degree in natural-resource conservation, and works seasonally for the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Wing said he and his wife are actively looking for a new home to “open up” an available slot in the maxed-capacity center.

“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up,” said Ronda White, chief operating officer of Veteran Homestead.

There are currently 20 families and 17 children living on the site. A large facility on the premises has space for counseling, a room dedicated to physical rehabilitation, a current pool and a pool table — not only used for fun, but also to encourage hand-eye coordination, CEO and President Leslie Lightwood said.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship between Mount Wachusett and Veterans Homestead,” MWCC President Daniel Asquino said. “We owe it to our veterans.”

Bob Mayer, veterans’ services director at the college, said 232 veterans are enrolled at the school, a number that has increased slightly since he began working there nearly two years ago.

In the hallway next to the Veterans Success Center, there’s a world map littered with pushpins marking where students have served.

“The support system here’s great,” said Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas DePaula of Leominster after finding his pin struck in Albuquerque, N.M. “I’ve been in touch with other veterans here. I’m very grateful.”

He plans to graduate in May and continue his education to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Matthew Casaubon, who attends MWCC and lives at the Veterans Homestead, plans to graduate and continue working toward becoming a social worker, something Tsongas said veterans need more of.

“I hear it all the time — veterans want to be counseled by other veterans,” she said.

Tsongas said the shortage of mental-health counseling for veterans is the largest issue she has seen during her time in Congress, and stressed the importance of programs like the Veterans Homestead.

Photographs hang on the wall in Lightfoot’s office, an homage to the men and women who have successfully graduated from the program and have since moved on.

“This must be very satisfying,” Tsongas said as she looked at the images.

“Yes, but there is always more work to be done,” Lightfoot replied.