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aking the transition from living
with the constant dangers of a
military combat operation to
worrying about grades and
parking spaces as a student at MCC can be
a surreal experience for veterans who
make the switch from war zone to college
Iraq War veteran Joe Assenza, 26,
exchanged one set of stresses for another
when he left the U.S. Marine Corps and
began his academic career at Middlesex.
"In the war, I was told what to do every
day and knew what was expected of me,
and I just did it," he said. "School is not as
difficult on a physical level, but mentally,
it's almost just as hard."
Assenza credits MCC's Tutoring Services
with easing his way from the military into
academics, and providing him with the
help he needed to get through his struggles
with coursework. "All of us (veterans)
have our own issues when we come back,
and those come into play, as well," he said.
"It's easy to get frustrated, and it takes
discipline not to give up." Assenza plans
on pursuing a career as a civil engineer,
and intends to transfer to an engineering
program after he graduates from MCC
next spring.
His experiences in Iraq gave Assenza a
maturity, and a sense of purpose and drive,
that is often beyond that of his classroom
peers. He deplores the distraction of fellow
students who aren't interested in learning,
and sit through class texting or scrolling
through Facebook. "I relate much better to
the older students," he said, "because they
are there for the same reasons I am -- to
pay attention and do well."
MCC's Veterans Resource Center and its
Coordinator Rick Reppucci have provided
Assenza with an invaluable source of
support and guidance about his
educational benefits. "The VA
[Department of Veterans Affairs] is not
always the easiest organization to work
with," said Assenza, "but Rick always
points me in the right direction."
Originally from Sandown, N.H., Assenza
now lives in Lowell. He also has come to
realize just how rich the academic and
extracurricular offerings are at Middlesex.
"I have friends from the Marine Corps
who are in community colleges and four-
year schools all across the U.S.," he said.
"When I tell them how many things my
school has, and what I've done here, they
can't believe I am at a community college.
Their schools don't offer the programs that
Middlesex does."
Assenza has certainly taken advantage of
as many opportunities as possible to
expand his involvement at the college. In
addition to his full course load, he works
part-time in the Lowell Campus Student
Lounge, and has a paid internship at
Lowell City Hall in the Engineering
Division. He also serves as this year's
Student Trustee on the MCC Board of
Trustees. "I love to make a difference," he
said, "and this is a position where I can
have the most positive influence and get
out the student voice."
Assenza's enthusiasm for broadening his
studies has led him to insightful cultural
experiences beyond the campus borders.
As a recipient of two MCC International
Education Fellowships, he traveled to
China in 2010, and then to Belize this
past summer to study coral reef ecology.
"When I was in the Marine Corps,
communism was the enemy," he said. "But,
the people in communist China were
surprisingly friendly, and would help you
just because you were an American."
For the Belize experience, Assenza drew
from his training as a diver in the Marines
to study the health of two separate spots
on the coral reef. He and other students
surveyed the status of the organisms
there, then reported their findings to, an international group
dedicated to the conservation of reef
"My time at Middlesex has been just as
influential as my time in the Marine
Corps," said Assenza. "The Marines made
a man out of me, and now MCC is making
a professional out of me, fine-tuning my
leadership and people skills."
Amy Magin Wong
MCC Collaborates with the Home Base Program
to Assist Wounded Veterans
Middlesex continues to improve its special services to veterans and their families by
collaborating with the Boston Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital's
Home Base Program, which provides support and opportunities for wounded veterans.
Founded in 2009, Home Base is a partnership program designed to help local veterans
deployed in support of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who live with combat- or
deployment-related stress and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The program provides clinical care to veterans, as well as support for their families. It offers
educational courses and materials for health care providers and the public. Home Base also
supports medical research in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TBI and stress-
related disorders.
Middlesex will assist the Home Base program by providing educational services to returning
veterans and their families. In exchange, Home Base provides training to MCC faculty and
staff about how to best address special issues student veterans may face, including health
issues such as stress-related disorders and/or TBI.
For more information about MCC and the Home Base Program, contact Dennis Malvers,
Dean of College Advancement, at or 781-280-3514.