MWCC in the News

President James Vander Hooven.

(Article courtesy the Telegram & Gazette) Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) is more than half a century old, yet the school has only had a few presidents – the newest is James L. Vander Hooven, 45, who officially took the post as MWCC’s third president on March 19.

His predecessor, former president Daniel M. Asquino, who retired March 17, held the post for 30 years and was the longest-serving public higher education president in the state. Mr. Asquino, appointed in 1987, succeeded the college’s first president, Arthur F. Haley.
On Dec. 15, the MWCC board of rrustees voted to appoint Mr. Vander Hooven and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved the appointment on Jan. 17.

Mr. Vander Hooven, who lives in Keene, N.H., was vice president of enrollment management at Landmark College in Putney, Vt. He previously served as president of Tohono O’odham Community College, a tribal college in Arizona; as vice president of student affairs and management at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, N.H.; and as regional dean of academic and student affairs at National American University in Denver. He holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Maine.

Mr. Asquino, who announced his retirement last year, remained at the college through a transition period with the new president.

At the end of Mr. Vander Hooven’s first week at the accredited, two-year public college that serves 29 cities and towns in North Central Massachusetts, he conducted interviews with the media.

He said he was humbled to be able to follow in Mr. Asquino’s footsteps and moving into the post solidified his return to New England a year ago.

He became aware of the opportunity during his “brief” time working at Landmark College, he said.

“I wasn’t actually looking for anything,” he said. “I think my wife signed up for automatic alerts through HigherEdJobs.com and it came to her, and she, at some point, said, ‘This is just down the road.’ Five months later, I’m talking to you. Otherwise, I would have stayed where I was. I was not on the market. It was an unexpected opportunity – one I could just never pass up trying for. I have a deep, longstanding passion for community college and coming back to this environment here is a real thrill and honor.”

He echoed the same sentiments about following in Mr. Asquino’s long-lasting footsteps.

“I’ve known his reputation for many years in the community college world, even on a national scale,” Mr. Vander Hooven said. “It is a real honor to help build upon the foundation he built at the college.”

Asked if he thought he would stay as long as Mr. Asqunio, he joked, “If I do, I think the college will be like 95-years-old and looking for its fourth president. But, I’d like to get through my first week as president before I commit to 30 years.”

Mr. Vander Hooven was chosen over four other candidates for the post. He didn’t apply to any other colleges, he said. MWCC’s commitment to civic engagement and the dedication of the faculty and staff attracted him, he said.

“I was attracted for two reasons: one is the passion the faculty and staff have for the students and for the North Central Massachusetts community and also there is a really heavy focus on civic engagement for students as well as our partnerships established over many years with different regional entities, businesses and industry.”

Mr. Vander Hooven said he plans to build and expand on those relationships.

He said he was also attracted to the 269-acre main campus with its innovative buildings and green technology including two wind turbines, calling it “groundbreaking in many areas.”

Working at one of the nation’s 37 tribal colleges was one of the “most fascinating experiences” of his life, he said, and gives him a unique perspective because of the fully-accredited school’s focus on culture and maintaining the tribes’ cultures, history and personality within an education system.

“I think it will help with my ability or desire to truly, constructively listen to the challenges that students have to be successful,” Mr. Vander Hooven said. “I once heard someone indicate that a lot of our students’ challenges are beyond our control as an institution. Are they? I really challenge that line of thinking.”

Supporting a diverse student population, he said, including some that are single parents, needs to be part of the culture and system to make sure MWCC can support those students.

MWCC’s five-year strategic plan is also coming to a close, as Mr. Vander Hooven takes the post. He said he plans to extend it a few months while he takes eight to 10 months to develop a new strategic plan, requesting input from the community and the college’s partners, as well as students. Expanding on partnerships that are already in place like MWCC’s many workforce development programs, is key, he said. Responsiveness to the needs of area employers in regards to what they are looking for in a skilled workforce is one of MWCC’s strengths, he said.

“Companies are saying they have jobs, but need trained people to hire,” he said. “They are looking for quick, in-depth training programs for certification. Community college, by definition, should be a higher education entity to do that. We can be more nimble than other colleges that are a little bit more entrenched with what they are doing, and we can be there on the spot.”

Mr. Vander Hooven and Jennie L. Vander Hooven, his wife of 12 years, have three children, daughter Josephine, 4, and sons Jonah, 6, and Jude, 9.