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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.

Eden Shaveet graduated from MWCC’s Gateway to College program recently; receiving her high school and Associate’s degrees. Photo Courtesy Sentinel Enterprise)

On Friday, May 19 Eden Shaveet graduated with her high school degree and Associate’s degree after thinking just a few years earlier that she would never return to school.

Shaveet left traditional school at the age of 14 and never thought she was going to get her high school diploma let alone her Associate’s degree that she earned through the program. Shaveet reclaimed her education at the Gateways program and exceed all expectations, achieving recognition on the President’s List for maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout her entire college career and becoming an integral part of campus life as a Student Leader in Civic Engagement. She will be attending Elms College in the fall to pursue her baccalaureate degree.

During her speech, Shaveet highlighted the need for continued support for programs like Gateway to College:

“Hi. My name is Eden Shaveet. I’m 19 years old. I’m a Gateway student, I work at the college, and I love what I do.
That’s how I usually introduce myself to people. But today I thought I would introduce myself in a way I haven’t yet done before.

So Hi. My name is Eden Shaveet. I’m 19 years old. And I have attended 9 different schools throughout my lifetime. By the age of 12, I had been subjected daily to verbal and physical harassment by my peers to the point that I no longer wanted to attend school. At 13 I was shoved into a locker. At 14 I left school. By 15 I was purchasing and using substances I acquired from people in parking lots. At 16, I had adopted self-harm as my only means to cope. And at 17 I had lost all hope in myself.

Not as happy as the first intro, right?

But that’s the reality. And it’s a similar reality to those experienced by a lot of people, many of whom you may have never expected it from. And that makes us uncomfortable, right? So we don’t talk about it. And that creates a silence that often goes unacknowledged.

But it’s from that discomfort and from that silence that we are able to recognize the flaws in our perceptions that ultimately lead to the flaws in what we consider to be normal, appropriate, fair, and acceptable in our society.

Given my background as a former dropout and my current work in local public schools, I consider myself to be an advocate for education. And through this work, drawing from both personal experience and observation, something has made itself glaringly evident: As it currently stands, the education system in this country as a whole, inherently places certain populations of students at a significant disadvantage.

Eden Shaveet listens to her story being told by MWCC’s Commencement Speaker Attorney General Maura Healey at the college’s Commencement.

Populations such as students from low-income households, students who are first generation, students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, students who are disengaged from their communities, students who are bullied – all of these students are being underserved by a system intended to educate them equally and fairly, and it is the job of programs like Gateway to College, Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Gear Up to even the playing field and provide opportunity to these students that may not have been granted to them otherwise. Yet there are still people who believe that these programs lack meaning and value. There are still people who refuse to see any purpose in providing support to students in this capacity. In my everyday life, I have encountered people who have challenged me to defend the significance of the programs I have been a part of and worked for, with no intent to listen, and every intent to refute. Someone once even challenged me to defend Gateway to College as an alternative route to education, because they believed that as a student, I should have just been able to “stick it out” in my previous circumstances and to stop seeking assistance that wasn’t necessary. Well from a student’s perspective, I can tell you with the utmost amount of certainty that in the absence of such outreach programs I would not be where I am today and the fact that we have to fight to keep these programs functioning in our schools and communities is absurd.

According to a recent Gateway to College National Network study, the average GPA of students before they entered the Gateway program was a 1.62 on a 4.0 scale. By the end of their first term in the Gateway program, 83% of these same students earned a higher GPA than they had earned in high school, with over an entire grade-point improvement.

It is by unfortunate design that students of particular circumstances slip through the cracks in our education system, but it is contrary to such designs that programs like Gateway to College catch us before we fall, despite the barriers put in our way.

It’s no secret that barriers to opportunity emerge very early in life and that these barriers are highly indicative of a person’s likelihood to attain future success. Sometimes these barriers emerge in early childhood and sometimes they emerge even before a person exists, like a circumstance they were born into that they had no control over such as a lack of resources in an area they grew up in, that other areas or school systems did have access to. In our culture of desiring the “American Dream,” we’ve adopted this idea that if you want something badly enough, you can just work as hard as everyone else, and get it, right? But here’s the unpopular reality: Sometimes wanting it isn’t enough. Some people will never attain their aspirations due to the sheer fact that they lacked the support systems and opportunities that other people had readily available to them. The work of programs like Gateway to College and other outreach initiatives provide the resources we might not have otherwise received, and we are better off for it. We have to invest in our kids, invest in education, and support programs like Gateway to College, and so long as I’m around, so help me God, there will always be an advocate.

I’m eternally grateful to Gateway to College, and to Mount Wachusett for being a platform to offer this program to students like me who had nowhere else to turn. Thank you for opening your doors to me two years ago when any other school would have slammed them in my face.

I’m thankful for everyone who works in the division of Access and Transition, but especially to my resource specialist Sharmese Gunn for being my second mom whether I liked it or not.

Eden Shaveet stands with MWCC’s 2017 Commencement speaker Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey following commencement.

Because of you I am finally a high school graduate, a college graduate with my associate’s degree, and an accepted student on her way to a four year degree and beyond – a feat that could not have happened in the absence of these programs. None of this would have been possible without the tireless and often thankless work you have all dedicated your lives to. Thank you for giving me a chance, for seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, for always encouraging me to embrace my story rather than hide it, and to always question “the norm.”
If there is anything I have taken away from all of you, it is this sentiment that I will now pass on to any student in the audience who is unhappy with where they are in school, or feels like they’re seen as nothing more than a number: Do not be afraid to be the only voice willing to question common practice. Because in many cases, the practices we have accepted as common and “the norm” are in fact the obstacles they claim to be averting. Do not be afraid to stand up, even if you are standing alone. You are more than what this system has predetermined you to be. Take that, and run with it.

And run with this:

In a system where over 1 million students will drop out of high school next year, where over 3.2 million students will be the victim of bullying while in school, where 1 out of every 4 students will exhibit the symptoms of mental illness as the result of chronic stress, and where 32% of traditional high school graduates in 2011 chose to not pursue higher education, but 73% of Gateway to College graduates did, allow my story, and the story of every Gateway to College graduate in this theater, across this State, throughout this country, past, present, and future be a testament to the idea that maybe, the problem is not with the student.

Thank you all so much, and congratulations to the class of 2017.”

Parent Support President and Student Michel Cocuzza and PSG Club Advisor Ann Reynolds stand in front of tables of donations gathered in the North Café at Mount Wachusett Community College Monday.

Parent Support Group President and Student Michel Cocuzza and PSG member Angela Celley stand in front of tables of donations gathered in the North Café at Mount Wachusett Community College Monday.

The second annual Holiday Toy Drive organized by the Parent Support Group at Mount Wachusett Community College distributed presents to 52 families this week.

The toy drive was hosted by MWCC’s Parent Support Group that collected donations since Dec. 1 from faculty, staff, and students. According to PSG President and MWCC Student Michel Cocuzza, the donations came flying in and quickly filled two storage rooms. The gently used or new toys, books, games, and holiday decorations were then distributed on Dec. 19 and 20 to families within the MWCC community.

“I am so pleased to see students helping students, especially in the middle of finals and the holidays,” said MWCC President Dr. Daniel M. Asquino. “This is just one example of the generous spirit of support that students, faculty, and staff at Mount Wachusett Community College share every day.”

These donations can be a huge help during the holidays, according to Cocuzza, especially to student parents.

“Being a student parent is a difficult task. Most of us go to school full time and struggle financially,” Cocuzza said. “With the help of PSG and our advisor, we were able to assist 52 families.”

PSG Club Advisor Ann Reynolds said that it was the hard work of the PSG team that made the event possible.

“It would be remiss of me to not give a shout-out to Michel and all our dedicated PSG members for their hard work on making this event such a success,” Reynolds said. “We hope the Toy Drive will be a MWCC tradition.”

With a focus on the nature of work, Mount Wachusett Community College is kicking off its third year of Humanities Project programing with a Poetry Read-Aloud & Pizza Party on Thursday, October 20, from 6 – 8PM in the MWCC Library, Gardner Campus. This event is free and open to the public.

Attendees will have a chance to read their favorite poem from the selected work Kettle Bottom by award-winning author Diane Gilliam Fisher. This book of poems explores the West Virginia Mine Wars and coal mining life from the perspective of those who lived in coal camps, bringing a historical perspective to the theme of work.  Fisher’s poems draw upon her experiences as the child of parents who left the coal country of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Humanities Project strengthens the college’s humanities curriculum; supports collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching and research in the humanities; examines the intersection between the humanities and other academic disciplines; and engages MWCC and the greater community in dialogue of enduring themes from the world’s many cultures and traditions.

For more information and dates for upcoming events, visit mwcc.edu/humanitiesproject.

gardner-news-dan-asquino-legacy-sept-10-2016GARDNER It was quite a series of events that brought Mount Wa­chu­sett Community Col­­lege President Daniel M. Asquino to where he is now — 75 years old and retiring from a job he’s had for almost 30 years.

“Like everything else, it was kind of an accident,” he said.

He’ll wrap up his time at the Mount in January as the longest-tenured public higher education president in the state, serving since 1987.

But before all that stability, he was told by his high school guidance counselors he wasn’t “college material,” was a self-described “pretty rough kid,” and wanted to be a police officer but didn’t have good enough eyesight to pass the exam.

At the time that he was accepted into college to pursue his undergraduate degree, he was leaving the Navy after four years in 1965 and already had a family with two children, with a third child on the way.

Without much money and a broken-down old car, his family spent about a year living back home in New Bedford with his parents while he was attending college nearby.

After that, Asquino said, his family spent time living in subsidized housing and was on welfare and food stamps.

Ultimately, it was education that provided him a path forward from those growing pains of early adulthood.

A father of four and grandfather of nine, Asquino and his wife have a home in Bourne and also live in Cranston, Rhode Island, to take care of her elderly father. Asquino grew up in New Bedford with two brothers and a sister.

His father was a bricklayer and his mother a homemaker.

He said he had “great parents, but we were poor.”

He wasn’t always the best-behaved child, and he recalled that he would get into fights sometimes in high school while taking part in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a program of the armed forces.

He credits partaking in a local Boys Club — before the organization name changed to Boys & Girls Club — as being a positive outlet for him, learning physical activities such as judo, weightlifting and boxing.

Never being one that was interested in school, Asquino worked in construction for a few years before joining the Navy in 1961.

He was stationed at various posts in the U.S. over his four years in service, including Chicago, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia.

A main role of his was working as a court-martial reporter.

While in the Navy, he started taking college courses in general requirements such as English and mathematics.

Thanks to the GI Bill, he also had financial support for college thereafter.

“I didn’t think it was fun at the time, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Asquino said about his military service.

He would study political science, economics and philosophy during his time as an undergraduate at Southeastern Massachusetts University, now UMass Dartmouth.

After that, he attended graduate school at UMass Amherst and earned a doctorate degree in Public Administration and Political Science.

While he was working on his doctorate, he interned at the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges, saying, “Really, the rest is history.”

In 1971, he officially began his career working at the board as an assistant to the president, and subsequently moved on to positions at Bristol Community College and Cape Cod Community College.

He applied at Cape Cod to become president as well as at Mount Wachusett Community College, before he was offered and accepted the position as Mount Wachusett president in 1987, replacing Arthur Haley who had been with the college since its inception in 1963.

“That was 30 years ago. I had no intention of staying this long. But time goes by,” he said.

His time at the Mount has seen substantial expansion, with an enrollment of over 12,000 and the establishment of satellite campuses in Leominster, Fitchburg and Devens.

Connecting students to local employers and community service opportunities has been a major point of emphasis throughout.

With only about four months to go, Asquino said “I have no plans” for what he’ll do during retirement and indeed, that would seem to be the point of calling it quits — having the space to relax after a long history of work.

“I stayed because I love it. There’s always something to do. They are great communities,” he said. “I’ve been lucky. I’ve been fortunate.”

Story & photo by Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, Sept 16, 2016

Mount Wachusett Community College is launching its new public forum, the Tea Time Speaker Series, with a panel presentation exploring obstacles men of color face in today’s society, workforce and education system.

The first forum of the series, a Men of Color panel presentation and Black History Month luncheon, will take place Monday, Feb. 29 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. in the North Café of MWCC’s Gardner campus. Seating is limited and reservations are required.

Panelists include University of Massachusetts Medical School: Brian Lewis, Ph.D., associate dean for student diversity and associate professor in the Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology department at the University of Massachusetts Medical School; Jesse Edwards, director of diversity and equal opportunity at UMass Medical School; Train Wu, senior outreach specialist/career coach with MWCC’s Workforce Diversity Pipeline Program; and Eric Rodriguez, Lead Organizer at United Neighbors of Fitchburg.

The forum is sponsored by MWCC’s Diversity Consortium, Gateway to College program and the National Workforce Diversity Pipeline program, a new initiative between the college and the Fitchburg and Leominster public school districts funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health for students interested in healthcare careers.

To reserve a seat, contact Sharmese Gunn at 978-630-9493 or sgunn@mwcc.mass.edu.

The Tea Time Speakers Series will take place on the last Monday of the month throughout the spring semester.

President Asquino photoThe New Year began at Mount Wachusett Community College not with the customary noisemakers of bells and horns, but with drills, hammers and saws as construction continues on our Gardner campus.

The patience of our students, faculty, staff and visitors during the modernization of our 45-year-old facility is greatly appreciated. In the coming weeks and months, renovations to our Advising Center, Commons Area, Theatre at the Mount, and main entrance will be unveiled, followed later this year by the opening of our new science and technology building.

Less obvious than these outwards signs of growth and improvement, but equally impressive, is the transformation taking place inside the classroom walls. New student support services, new faculty and staff, new transfer agreements, and new civic engagement initiatives will enhance our existing resources to help students build up their academic and career skills in preparation for the workforce or a bachelor’s degree.

This spring semester provides opportunities to help students build up their résumés as well as increase understanding on national issues, including race, income inequality, and citizenship. Continuing programs through the office of Student Life include alternative spring break with Habitat for Humanity, the Leadership for Life workshop series, and events commemorating Black History Month and Women’s History Month.

Upcoming events include a not-to-miss presentation in March by Harvard political scientist and best-selling author Robert D. Putnam. This presentation comes to the Mount through our involvement with the national “Citizenship Under Siege” program sponsored by the American Association of Colleges & Universities and The Democracy Commitment, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

In February, the MWCC Humanities Project continues its second year of programming with “Myths, Monsters, and Modern Science: Frankenstein’s Legacy,” an in-depth look at Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and its relevance in today’s world. Free events will take place on the Gardner campus and in the community at public libraries and other venues, funded through a grant from the NEH to deepen and sustain quality humanities programming and curriculum throughout North Central Massachusetts.

The Division of Access and Transition is launching a Tea Time Speaker Series that will kick off on February 29 with a Men of Color panel presentation exploring the journey and obstacles of men of color in society, with an emphasis on those working in the field of healthcare.

Theatre at the Mount will reopen with a slate of new productions, we’re hosting a job fair for students and the public in March, and sooner than we realize, the season will conclude with our most joyous event of all, Commencement, on May 18.