Joe LeBlanc went through MWCC’s STEM Starter Academy and is set to attend WPI this fall.

Four Mount Wachusett Community College students are set to continue their studies this fall at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Joe LeBlanc, Jonathan Chernoch, Zachary Bergquist and Faith Kurtz have been accepted to WPI for the fall semester.

Joe came to the school through the STEM Starter Academy that launches students into college the summer before their first full year with two free classes and a $1,000 stipend to allow them to focus on their studies. Joe built not only his knowledge, but his confidence at MWCC.

“If I went to WPI straight out of high school I think I would have felt overwhelmed at first. Going here first allowed me to get over that,” he said. “And when they came here I thought all their projects were really interesting and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Jonathan said he feels ready for the next step as well.

“I feel very prepared with the material that I have learned here,” said Jonathan who plans to go on to get his Ph. D. in Physics. “You can definitely transition pretty seamlessly to what they are doing there.”

Jonathan Chernoch is set to attend WPI this fall.

The two students were deeply involved with a budding partnership between MWCC and WPI that has been ushered in by WPI Alumnus and MWCC Assistant Professor of Math and Physics Peter Olszak. Over the past three years, he has been working to connect MWCC students with the Worcester school, bringing current WPI students in for presentations and instilling in MWCC students that their education at the college prepares them to go anywhere.

Joe, of Westminster, took part in one of those labs and said that seeing the culture of WPI up close was as helpful as realizing that he could handle the technical aspects of what the students at WPI were tackling.

“Seeing what I would be doing there first hand allowed me to finalize my decision,” said Joe who volunteered in a lab at WPI. “I began to feel like I was a part of WPI and that really helped me finalize my decision.”

Zachary Bergquist is set to attend WPI this fall after getting his high school diploma and Associate’s degree through MWCC’s Pathways program.

The two other students set to transfer to WPI, Zachary Bergquist (from Athol) and Faith Kurtz (from Holden), will be graduating this week not only with their Associate’s Degree but also their high school diploma through the Pathways Early College Innovation School that is operated out of MWCC’s Gardner campus. This program gives students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and an Associate degree while completing their junior and senior year taking courses at MWCC.

Zachary said that this program has allowed him to get an immersive college experience while completing high school. He said that the fast pace of Pathways at MWCC, which included accelerated classes that met very frequently but for a short period of time, has prepared him for the kind of studying he expects to encounter during his time at WPI, which has seven week course lengths.

“I would rather have that fast pace without a lot of courses together so that you can focus on getting the most quality work you can,” said Zachary who wants to launch an innovative hardware company after he graduates. “I think there is a way to make it a lot more accessible and economical to get technology out to working people earlier.”

Faith Kurtz plans to put the engineering knowledge she will get from WPI to work helping others.

Also a Pathways student, Faith has been accepted to attend WPI this fall to study Electrical Engineering. As part of her application, she created an original dual-action hand pump design that was reviewed and refined with an engineer at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Upon coming to MWCC, Faith threw herself into the community and logged over 200 volunteer hours in her first six months; embracing the motto that you won’t start succeeding until you start doing. She hopes to continue giving back to her community through engineering after finishing her studies at WPI.

“With a career in engineering, my goal would not only be to support myself, but to improve as many people’s lives as possible along the way. I hope to use creative problem solving to meet the needs of my community and approach projects with compassion so that the solutions they create serve those who need them most,” Faith said. “My dream job is to design inventions which will improve the lives of others.”

All four students will be participating in MWCC’s Commencement Wednesday where 751 degrees and certificates will be awarded to 717 students. In addition to their degrees, these students will receive words of wisdom and encouragement from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who will be the college’s Commencement Speaker this year.


Charles “CJ” Husselbee, a first-generation college student, simultaneously earned his high school diploma and an academic certificate in accounting through MWCC’s Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation Career Tech Scholarship. He went on to earn an associate degree in Business Administration in 2014 a year ahead of schedule, and is now pursuing a bachelor’s in accounting at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Mount Wachusett Community College’s dual enrollment programs are showcased as innovative models in the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy’s second annual report, the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth. The report, released January 22 by the Cambridge-based research institute, examines areas of success and areas for continued improvement in student outcomes across the education pipeline, from birth to college and career success.

The report notes MWCC’s record of success and its potential to serve as a model for other communities across  Massachusetts, citing as examples the Gateway to College program for students at risk of dropping out, the Pathways Early College Innovation School, and the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation Career Tech Scholarship.

The second annual report includes a set of 25 data indicators representing critical student outcomes and, for the first time this year, an action guide that focuses on three areas where data indicate the need for further reform: setting a strong foundation in early childhood, attending to the whole child with comprehensive supports, and preparing college-ready students through innovative high school designs.

The action guide focuses on existing programs that could, if brought to scale, lead to substantial progress in educational outcomes for students. Mount Wachusett Community College was showcased as a model for policymakers and practitioners.

“The Condition of Education project offers a platform for constructive dialogue among stakeholders about the most effective strategies to promote student success,” said the center’s Executive Director Chad d’Entremont. “Through this report, the Rennie Center brings together thought leaders to develop a shared understanding, grounded in evidence, of the state of our educational system. We are excited to shine a light on the great work that Mount Wachusett is doing to contribute to positive outcomes for Massachusetts students.”

“Dual enrollment programs expand academic opportunities and open doors to higher education for teenagers,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “Our programs cover a wide spectrum – including programs that restore excitement in learning for students who feel disengaged from the traditional high school experience, to those that help students accelerate the pace of their studies to get an early start on their career goals. We are delighted to partner with the Rennie Center to share our best practices with communities across the commonwealth.”

The report was released during a forum on Jan. 22 in Boston. Speakers included Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, Dr. Andrew Hargreaves of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and author of The Fourth Way: the Inspiring Future for Educational Change.

Building upon its successful Gateway to College program, MWCC partnered with the Mahar Regional School District to launch the Pathways Early College Innovation High School in. Students with a GPA of 3.0 enroll during their junior year and earn a high school diploma and an associate degree simultaneously. The program focuses on high-achieving students, and recruits a largely low-income, first-generation population that might not attend college without this opportunity. The Pathways school draws on a variety of public and private funds, including district school-choice funds, to remain sustainable.

In partnership with Winchendon Public Schools, high school students can opt into a one-year, full-time dual enrollment program that features career-oriented options, such as health care, information technology, accounting or computer science. Funded by the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation, this program lets students earn their high school diploma and an academic certificate simultaneously, which can be applied toward an associate degree. The Rennie Center report notes that these are popular choices for students who are eager to complete a two-year degree or a work-based certification and enter the workforce quickly. Students are provided with private foundation scholarships from the Robinson-Broadhurst Foundation to cover the costs associated with coursework.

MWCC has also expanded on its college transition offerings in other ways as well, the report notes. As a solution to remediation, the college administers the Accuplacer math and English placement tests to all juniors in nine partner high schools. In addition, MWCC faculty collaborate with high school faculty to develop rigorous and targeted 12th grade math courses to prepare all students to enter directly into credit-bearing coursework upon graduation. Fitchburg High School, Leominster High School, Leominster High’s Center for Technical Education Innovation and Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School participate in this Math Modeling initiative, with a planned expansion to an additional two to three high schools in the 2015-16 school year.

The Rennie Center was launched in 2002 by then-Secretary of Education Paul Reville as a division of the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC). In 2005, the Rennie Center became an independent non-profit organization committed to addressing the critical challenges of reforming education in Massachusetts. For more information and to view the report, visit


Brother and sister Thomas and Claudia Elbourn of Gardner were valedictorians from the Pathways Early College Innovation School in 2012 and 2013. Mount Wachusett Community College is accepting applications for 20 new students to enroll in the innovative dual enrollment program this fall.

Motivated teens interested in paring two years of time and expenses off their college education should check out the Pathways Early College Innovation School at Mount Wachusett Community College. Praised by state education officials, parents and participating students, the two-year, dual enrollment program allows high school juniors to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and a transferable associate degree in the academic program of their choice.One of the first two innovation schools created in Massachusetts in 2010 under Governor Deval Patrick’s education reform bill and the state’s first early college innovation school, Pathways provides high school juniors and home schooled students the opportunity to accelerate the pace of their academic careers using school choice funds to cover tuition and fees.

Twenty new students will be accepted into the Pathways innovation school for the semester beginning Sept. 4. To be eligible, students must live in Massachusetts, possess a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0, be at least 16 years old and entering grade 11 by the start of the fall semester, and be recommended by the sending school.

The Pathways innovation school is a partnership between MWCC and the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District. Students are enrolled in college courses and integrated into campus life, and receive personalized advising from MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition throughout their studies. More than 30 students have graduated to date and 19 are on target to graduate in 2014.

“Pathways students are motivated and mature,” said Natalie Mercier, director and principal of the innovation school. “They chose to leave the traditional high school environment so that they can step into a college education and complete a two-year degree before they even officially graduate from high school. These students are not just passing classes at MWCC they are thriving,” she said.

Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, former Secretary Paul Reville, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester and Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland have been among the officials to visit the Pathways school and praise it as an innovative, successful model.

Many members of the first graduating class, including 2012 valedictorian Thomas Elbourn of Gardner, are entering their senior year this fall at a four-year institution.

“After being home schooled, I expected the transition to a public college to be difficult,” Elbourn said. “Instead, it was so natural-feeling, and I felt the program was too good to be true. This program allowed me to propel my undergraduate education by two years.” After graduating from Assumption College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology this coming spring, he plans to begin pursuing his master’s degree.

His sister, Claudia, was this year’s Pathways valedictorian and is transferring to Gordon College in the fall to pursue a degree in English.

“This was the most wonderful two years of my life because I built the foundation of people that I know, that I love, and that I can turn to as role models for my future self,” she said.

The siblings said they enjoyed the caliber of education and guidance they received, though agree the rigorous program may not be an ideal pace for everyone.

“It was perfect for them – they loved everything about it,” said their mother, Joanie Elbourn. “They loved the professors, they loved the courses. I can’t say enough about it.”

An information session for prospective applicants will take place Tuesday, July 23 from 6 to 7 p.m. in room W11 at MWCC’s Gardner campus, 444 Green Street. Appointments and information also may be arranged by contacting Pathways Director/Principal Natalie Mercier or 978-630-9248.

Gateways and Pathways Graduating Class 2013

Information sessions for the Pathways Early College Innovation School and the Gateway to College program will take place this summer at MWCC’s Gardner campus.

School choice funding covers the cost of tuition and fees of both programs.Twenty new students will be accepted into the two-year, year-round Pathways school this fall. One of the first two innovation schools created in Massachusetts as part of Governor Deval Patrick’s education reform bill and the first early college innovation school, Pathways provides motivated high school juniors and home schooled students the opportunity to accelerate the pace of their academic careers by simultaneously earning an associate degree and their high school diploma.

To be eligible for Pathways, students must live in Massachusetts, possess a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0, be at least 16 years old and entering grade 11 by the start of the fall semester, and be recommended by the sending school. Upcoming information sessions about the Pathways school will take place on June 11, 18 and 25 and July 9 from 6 to 7 p.m.

The Gateway to College program, established in 2005 as the first Gateway site in New England, provides a second chance for students ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. Students simultaneously earn their high school diploma as well as college credits toward an academic degree or certificate in the field of their choice. Approximately 100 students from throughout the area are enrolled in the Gateway program each year. The majority of the graduates continue their education at MWCC or at another college or university.

Gateway applicants must attend a three-day session to be considered for the program. Upcoming Gateway information sessions will take place on June 18, 19 and 20; July 9, 10 and 11; Aug 6, 7 and 8; August 20, 21 and 22.

To register for an upcoming information session in either program, contact MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition at 978-630-9248.