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Student-Led Virtual Legislative Town Hall Demonstrates the Positive Impact of Community College

October, 2020
  • QCC alumnus and new Foundation Director Jorgo Gushi presents his census video at the virtual Legislative Town Hall.
    QCC alumnus and new Foundation Director Jorgo Gushi presents his census video at the virtual Legislative Town Hall
  • Each week volunteers from the QCC Food Pantry pick up 2,000 lbs. of food to distribute to students in need.
    Each week volunteers from the QCC Food Pantry pick up 2,000 lbs. of food to distribute to students in need.

Quinsigamond Community College student Tabitha Leber defined the past six months during the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of resiliency. Ms. Leber was one of a group of current and former students and college administrators who took to the virtual airways recently for a Legislative Town Hall to discuss the pandemic, remote learning and what it means to be a student at QCC. Ms. Leber said she and her fellow classmates have learned to be prepared and resilient, thanks to the skills they were taught at the college.

Attending the event were Senator Michael Moore, Senator Anne Gobi, Representative James O’Day; Representative Natalie Higgins, Representative Hannah Kane; Melissa Olesen, regional director of Central & Western Massachusetts for Senator Edward Markey; Yael Langer, legislative director for Senator Anne Gobi; and Emily Johnson, on behalf of Representative Paul Frost.

Moderating the event was Mason Wheaton, a first-generation college student who kicked off the event with her inspirational parody song, “We Can Fight the Virus.” Ms. Wheaton described her time at QCC as transformative.

“I am so grateful to have come here. Every day I have more experiences than I could have ever imagined. Without QCC I would have never attended college and life would have looked a lot different,” she said. “So many students like me came here to have a better life.”

The college recently announced it was going remote for its spring semester, and the students who participated in the event gave praise to the proactive way in which the college has supported its students.

Ms. Leber presented statistics on the needs of QCC students during the pandemic and told of the positive impact the QCC Foundation’s Student Emergency Fund has made on their immediate, basic life needs.

“​All QCC students qualified for the Student Emergency Fund: associate degree seeking students, certificate and workforce development students, adult students’ programs, undocumented, international, part-time, full-time,” Ms. Leber said, noting that the CARES Act Fund stipulations excluded many students.

The Student Emergency Fund has currently assisted 526 students. In a study of those who received this aid, 81% were women, 66% were parents or had other dependents, 63% were students of color​ and 43% were foreign born.

“I myself, as a single mother and a full-time student, am represented in this data,” Ms. Leber said, telling of her own experiences coming to QCC as a single mother after a catastrophic injury. Today she is a dual major and working on a third degree in the current remote learning environment, while also helping her daughter with her own remote schooling.

She went on to explain that the emergency aid was critical for students to stay in college and complete the spring 2020 semester (93% of those who received aid did not withdraw during the spring semester). However, with a minimum aid award of $100, and a maximum of $250, the aid was not enough.​

“It’s heartbreaking how many of our students have been impacted by the pandemic,” President Dr. Luis Pedraja said. “Many of the students we serve are living on the margins and the pandemic has put them in survival mode. You cannot think about education when you are in survival mode. My fear is this population, which benefits greatly from education, is being affected the most by the pandemic and further increasing the equity gap.”

“We need to continue to raise funds to provide emergency aid to our students during the COVID-19 pandemic.​ QCC is trying to make our lives and the lives of our families better,” Ms. Leber said.

Board Chair Sue Mailman reminded legislators that community colleges receive only 25% of the state’s education funding, while UMass universities receive 50% of funding and state universities receive the other 25% of the state funding.

“If there was ever a time to rethink that formula it’s now,” Ms. Mailman said. “This school matters in this region for our students and for employers.”

Recent 2020 graduate Jorgo Gushi, an electrical and computer engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, addressed QCC’s continued commitment to its students and their success, in addition to its strong community engagement, such as in its recent census and voting campaigns.

“I was recently elected as a member of the QCC’s College Foundation’s Board of Directors. I am also serving as the Chair of the Student Advisory Council to the Board of Higher Education and sitting on this board in a non-voting advisory capacity. Some of you might be surprised by the level of engagement I have in student leadership, advocacy and community service; however, this is common for QCC students,” he said. “We enter QCC with a goal, a dream, and along the way we acquire skills needed to be successful in the workforce, and in life. We are taught confidence, communication, teamwork, humanity and awareness of our community.”

QCC student Veronica Morson and alumna Nelly Medina are also active in the college community and beyond. They both introduced their voting campaign videos and discussed the importance of voting, as well as being engaged members of the community.

“QCC is not a college in Worcester; QCC is Worcester’s college. QCC is our community’s college and it strives day after day to make it better for its students and the community’s residents,” Mr. Gushi said.

“QCC supports all of their students because we are a community,” Ms. Leber added.

Representative Kane, whose district includes Shrewsbury and Westborough, commended the work the college has done transitioning to remote learning.

“I really like the Worcester college comment,” she said during the event. “I certainly believe QCC is our community college as well and take great pride in all that you are doing.”