Gateway to College

2014 Gateway and Pathways graduates

2014 Gateway and Pathways graduates

From the age-old wisdom of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to the reflections of teenagers wise beyond years, the May 27 graduation ceremony honoring 48 dual enrollment students at Mount Wachusett Community College offered a blend of insight and inspiration.

Students enrolled in the Gateway to College program and the Pathways Early College Innovation School, offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, were lauded for their accomplishments by educators, family members and friends gathered in the college’s Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center theatre. As dual enrollment students, the graduates all completed the requirements for their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits or an associate degree.

“As I reflect on your accomplishments, one thing comes to mind and that is that you are going to be successful, for a variety of reasons, but one in particular. You have taken a different path to graduation. You decided to be nontraditional, you decided to think outside the box and be creative. All of these skills are going to be beneficial to you,” MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino told the graduates.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it,” he said, quoting van Goethe. Determining one’s calling, the president continued, can be difficult in the face of many changes, compromises, demands of time and the constant interruptions of living in a fast-paced world. “So dream,” he said. “Set aside some time for deep reflection and insight.”

Mahar Superintendent of Schools Tari N. Thomas praised the graduates for their strength and tenacity, otherwise known as grit.

“Grit is defined as sticking with things over the long term until you master them,” she said. “Research shows when it comes to achievement, grit is determined to be as essential as intellect. Research is now showing our grittiest students, the ones who are working hard with the greatest amount of determination, are the ones realizing the greatest success and even the greatest GPAs. All of you are unique and strong. You’ve demonstrated the grit necessary for high achievement, scholarly success and more. You’re hard working, tenacious and diligent and it will pay off.”

Gateway valedictorian Zoe Greim shared her personal story of adversity and triumph. Diagnosed in high school with Multiple Sclerosis, she viewed the news as a “wake-up call” to take charge of her life and not waste a minute of time. Disenchanted with the high schools she attended, she enrolled in the Gateway to College program at the advice of a guidance counselor and was named to the dean’s list or president’s list during all three semesters at the college. This fall, she will transfer to a university in Florida to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“We need to see life is too short to sit around and wait for good or bad things to come to us. We need to go out and make things happen. I know we can all do that, since we all made the decision to come here. We need to strive to be the best we can be. If you want something, go get it and don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way,” Greim told her fellow graduates.

Pathways valedictorian Erin Leamy reflected on the diverse paths each student took to reach their graduation day, as well as the common traits they all share.

“We all had something in common that inspired us to leave high school early and get a jump start on college. For some, it was simply time to move on. We no longer felt academically challenged. For others, high school had become stale, and we were looking for a fresh start. I can’t help but wonder how many diverse paths each of our lives will take – how many ways we’ll be challenged, and how each of us will respond to those challenges.”

Joseph Benavidez , who graduated in 2009 from the Gateway program and earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts from MWCC in 2010, was the keynote speaker. After graduating from MWCC, he transferred to Salem State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2013 and is now working as a journalist.

“Tonight, you are all warriors after a battle. You’ve earned your high school diploma. Some of you have already received college degrees as well. It took sweat and hardship to get here and that deserves a round of applause.”

Deborah Bibeau, assistant dean of transitions programming at MWCC, praised the partnership between the college and the school district. “As a testament to the long-term collaboration with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, this summer we’ll be preparing for the new Pathways students entering the program’s fifth year of operation, and new Gateway students entering the program’s ninth year of operation.”

Gateway to College honoree Joseph Almeida, pictured with Gateway Resource Specialist Sharmese Gunn, proudly displays his Gateway Achievers Certificate and John and Abigail Adams Scholarship letter.

Joseph Almeida hated school for a long time.  By age 16, he had been expelled from high school and was on a path to an uncertain future.  Fast forward to present day, the 18-year-old Fitchburg native now likes school and is a successful student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, a full-time dual enrollment experience on the college campus.

Along with 28 of his peers, Almeida was recognized Monday, Feb. 24 for superior academic performance during the fall semester, where he earned 10 college credits in Sociology, Algebra and English Composition.  Along with the academic accolades, Almeida was also recognized with the John and Abigail Adams scholarship for high achievement on MCAS tests.

“Being on a college campus and in Gateway, gives me the freedom and independence that made me realize what is important. Being on a college campus made me more mature, and winning the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship gave me a second chance. It was a really big deal, not just for me, but for my family too. It means a lot more now!”

Sixteen-year-old Cynthia Lauricella of Gardner came to Gateway for different reasons.  As a member of a military family, a recent move and transferring high school credits actually put her behind schedule at her new high school.  Through her enrollment in Gateway, she is able to stay on track toward graduation while taking additional courses toward her high school diploma and Associate degree.

“When high school wasn’t working out for me, the opportunity to complete my diploma through Gateway to College came along, and now I’m also completing credits towards a college education.  I am very thankful for what the program has offered me,” she said.

The Gateway Achievers event, held across the nation at all 43 Gateway to College locations, is sponsored by the Gateway to College National Network in Portland, OR, and recognizes students for their academic achievement on the respective campuses.  The 29 students recognized last night all achieved at least a 3.0 MWCC grade point average, in addition to seven students receiving the Adams scholarship for stellar MCAS scores.  The Gateway Achievers program inspires students to work hard and persist in their education while helping them develop a better understanding of their experience as part of a national movement.

According to Deb Bibeau, Assistant Dean of Transitions Programming, “Gateway to College provides a fresh opportunity and clean slate for high school age students to re-engage with their education within the supportive environment of the college campus.  Students like Joey who struggled within the traditional high school setting have really blossomed on campus, re-writing their own educational stories by taking ownership of past mistakes and fully embracing the opportunities provided through the Gateway program.”

Added Lea Ann Scales, Vice President of the Access, Transition and Development Division, “I get the most positive feedback from meeting the students and their parents and adult supporters. They are so grateful for the opportunity and are so very proud of their success at Mount Wachusett Community College.”

Gateway to College is hosted at Mount Wachusett Community College in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District.  On March 25, MWCC will host one of several information sessions for prospective Gateway students interested in enrolling for the fall semester.  For more information, call 978-630-9248or go to

-          Deb Bibeau 

MWCC’s Gateway to College 2013 graduating class.

More than 40 representatives of Gateway to College programs across the Commonwealth attended the first statewide convening of Gateway professionals, hosted on January 14 at Mount Wachusett Community College.

According to Prentice Davis, Senior Manager of Training and Partner Support for the Gateway to College National, Massachusetts is the first state in the U.S. to launch a statewide Gateway effort. ”People across the country are calling us asking how they can do what Massachusetts is doing. The program at MWCC is often recognized for its early leadership in launching and growing Gateway in Massachusetts,” Davis said.

The daylong meeting brought together the six Gateway programs based at Massachusetts community colleges, including Mount Wachusett, Quinsigamond, Bristol, Massasoit, Holyoke and Springfield Technical.  The event was a joint venture between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Gateway to College National Network, and provided Gateway professionals with the opportunity to share common challenges and best practices.

“The chance to bring our teams together under one roof generated a healthy dialogue on how we can best serve our students,” said Deb Bibeau, Assistant Dean of Transitions Programming in MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition.

Gateway to College serves students at risk of not completing high school or who have already left high school without a diploma. Through a holistic campus experience, students are able to rewrite their personal educational journeys into success stories by earning their high school diplomas on a college campus, while simultaneously earning college credits. The program is open to Massachusetts residents age 16 to 21. Individual district residency restrictions may apply depending on program location. For more information, visit

When Ketheny Dutka was 11 years old and living in Brazil, she could not imagine what it would be like to live in the U.S. Now, she cannot envision being anywhere else.

“I’m here and I love it,” said Dutka, 18, a business administration major at Mount Wachusett Community College, who will be competing this month in the Miss Massachusetts Teen USA pageant.

Since moving to Leominster in 2007 and becoming a U.S. citizen, Dutka has overcome several significant challenges and achieved a number of accomplishments along the way. First, she arrived knowing no English, but quickly picked up the language while attending Samoset Middle School, and is now fluent in two languages.

After that, she tackled high school and college courses as a dual enrolled student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program. When she earned her high school diploma earlier this year, she was named valedictorian of the Gateway class of 2013 and had already completed one-third of her college degree. Next May, she’ll earn an associate degree and then plans to continue on for a bachelor’s degree.

“The Gateway program was an opportunity that I had been looking for,” she said. “The students all came from different communities and backgrounds, yet we all bonded together, which helped a lot. The program allowed me to skip a grade and start my college education early.”

Dutka, who works two part-time jobs, is not one to shy away from challenges. While visiting family and friends in Brazil in 2012, she had the opportunity to meet Miss Teen Brazil through a mutual friend. Unfamiliar with pageants, she returned home to Leominster and researched opportunities similar in the U.S.

“I love modeling and when I researched pageants like Miss Teen USA, I discovered they focus on community service and charitable work. It seemed to combine many of my interests, so I decided to try.”

Earlier this fall, she applied to compete in the Miss Massachusetts Teen USA competition, and was accepted as a contestant. She’ll join dozens of other teens vying for the crown Nov. 22 through Nov. 24 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

“I see it as opening new opportunities. I’m always striving for a goal that will benefit me in the future. It’s hard work, but it’s fun and a great experience. I’m enjoying every minute of it. I feel very confident. Even if I don’t win, I feel like I’ve already won because of all the hard work I’ve put into it,” she said.

“We’re proud of Ketheny,” said Deb Bibeau, Assistant Dean of Transitions Programming for MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition. “She did an amazing job in the Gateway program at MWCC, both as a student and as a role model for her peers. Her work ethic and perseverance demonstrate how young folks like her can overcome the odds to achieve great things.”


The Gateway to College program at MWCC is accepting applications for the spring semester and has scheduled information sessions for prospective students. The program is for Massachusetts residents ages 16 to 21 who have left high school or at risk of leaving high school without a diploma. Home schooled students are also eligible to apply. Gateway to College is funded through school choice funds from the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District and is administered by Mount Wachusett Community College. The program covers the cost of college courses and textbooks, and the courses count toward high school and college credits. Applicants must attend a three-day information session to be considered for the program. The information sessions will take place on the following dates at MWCC’s Gardner campus: Dec. 11, 12 and 13; Dec. 18, 19 and 20; and Jan. 8, 9 and 10. To register for an upcoming information session, call 978-630-9248.

Gateway valedictorian Megan Reiser and Pathways valedictorians Thomas Elbourn.

Whether they came to MWCC to accelerate the pace of their education or to get back on track after a problematic high school experience, the 44 graduates of the Pathways Early College Innovation School and the Gateway to College program have this in common: this spring they each reached a milestone.

Students enrolled in the two programs, which are offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, were recognized during a May 23 graduation ceremony in the college’s Raymond M. LaFontaine Fine Arts Center theatre. As dual-enrolled students, the graduates all completed the requirements for their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits or a degree.

Thomas E. Elbourn, the Pathways innovation school valedictorian who is transferring to Assumption College to continue his studies in psychology and counseling, shared that his faith and experiences inspired him to speak on the most important truth he’s learned in his young life.

“I firmly believe that the purpose of life, its deepest fulfillment, lies in that basic love and care and kindness to one’s fellow man. We live in a world of endless pursuits, infinite beauty, unbelievable experiences and 7 billion characters to play along with – don’t waste this chance, this life, on the mundane. Don’t waste it on the trivial. Don’t waste it by getting hung up on anger and sorrow and selfishness. Waste it on love,” he said.

“Whether this love is shown by living with the poor in Africa, the poor in New York or the poor in spirit next door, whether it is shown by the kind, encouraging word spoken to your friend or to your enemy, whether that love is shown by forgiveness and healing, whether that love is toward family, friends, a significant other or a stranger, or as Emerson stated, a little garden patch that you nurture, I urge you to love extravagantly.”

Elbourn thanked the college, the Mahar district and his classmates “for an unforgettable and unbelievable” two years. “We all became adults together, and I think that was – and is – something marvelous.”

Gateway valedictorian Megan Reiser said the program and its staff and faculty were instrumental in helping the graduates overcome adversity to achieve their goal.

“The education we have received here has helped us open doors full of new and exciting opportunities. We have all had our ups and our downs. However, we have reached one goal today receive a high school diploma. That is something that no one can take away from us, we have each earned it. There is no doubt that more struggles may come our way at times, but I leave you with this quote by Ralph C. Mahar to help you persevere throughout your lives:

“May you always have faith in yourselves whatever hardships may develop in the years ahead. May you be the individuals in the sense that you make up your minds, that you think straight and that you stand on your own two feet. May you have a sense of social conscience which shows concern for your fellow man, and yet, may I urge you to beware of the philosophy of those who advocate something for nothing.”