James Vander Hooven was officially inaugurated as the third president of Mount Wachusett Community College on Wednesday in front of a crowd of family, friends, community members, students, faculty and staff.
The inauguration took place at 2 p.m. on March 28 at MWCC’s theater at the Gardner campus just over a year after Vander Hooven took over as president of the college, which was founded in 1963 and has only had two previous presidents. Speakers at the inauguration praised the sense of community and collaboration that Vander Hooven has already emphasized in his time at the Mount.
“The level of respect and compassion that Dr. Vander Hooven shows students, faculty and staff on a daily basis creates a supportive environment that is truly special,” said Student Government Association President Samantha Stiles.
True to his daily emphasis on collaboration and support of the school’s staff, much of Vander Hooven’s speech focused on the ongoing efforts of faculty, staff and students at the Mount. From the school’s strong support of veterans, a pilot program saving students money on textbooks, the college’s prison education programs, the creation of a student food pantry, to ongoing grant-funded child support for students, Vander Hooven praised the daily effort that it takes to create a supportive environment for education.
“At a time of wall building and individuals being told they are not welcome, the Leominster campus, indeed all of our campuses, have been, and will remain, the destination for access to opportunity and personal transformation,” said Vander Hooven.
He emphasized the importance of these efforts as he explained that the college’s students often walk through the school’s doors with challenges that can include food and housing insecurity, financial strains, mental health challenges, and transportation issues.
“We should be prepared and we should have the resources necessary to provide an environment for success. We must stand up for those in our community who are on the short end of social justice or are facing difficult job prospects,” said Vander Hooven.
Vander Hooven also laid out his vision for the future of the school. This includes reconfiguring the admissions and advising model at the Mount through a $600,000 anonymous donation. This College and Career Alignment Project will streamline the enrollment process while integrating career advising earlier on, expanding internship opportunities and creating stronger connections with the region’s businesses. Other focuses will include expanding agricultural programming at the school, reinforcing the college’s role as a leader in the Greater-Gardner community and reimagining programs while working closely with students to help them define their career goals. The school must push the boundaries of how educational opportunities are delivered in order to meet the demands of our changing world.
“This is the moment to find ourselves invigorated by our mission to serve our students and community,” said Vander Hooven. “This is the moment that we stand up for our students.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception and showcase hosted by the MWCC Foundation. The school’s students and programs were highlighted at 23 stations placed around the campus, with everything from theater, to manufacturing and the Mount’s new Veterinary Technician program having hands-on displays.
The official portrait of President Vander Hooven was also revealed during the reception. The portrait was donated to the college by Worcester-based portrait artist Michael Stone. It will join the formal portraits of the college’s two former presidents Arthur Haley and Dr. Daniel M. Asquino.