Robert A. Barton, as chairman of Bedford’s Board of Selectmen, cut the ribbon to officially open Middlesex Community College in Bedford on September 24, 1970. The 570 students were accommodated in two rented buildings at the VA Hospital on Springs Road.
What a half-century it has been.
On Thursday the college marks its 50-year anniversary, with an overall enrollment of 10,957, comprising secondary school and traditional college-age students, adult learners, and senior citizens.
MCC offers more than 80 degree and certificate programs – with 11 degree programs and six certificates fully online – and hundreds of courses for credit and non-credit purposes. The class of 2020 graduated 1,073 students between the ages of 17 and 58 whose families were from 51 countries of origin. Over five decades there have been some 26,000 matriculated MCC students,
Despite the pandemic postponing in-person events, the college plans to celebrate its 50th throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. Visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/50for50 for more information.
Barton, a retired Superior Court judge, was an MCC trustee for 10 years and now serves on the board of the college foundation, which is launching a fundraising campaign supporting a variety of student and college needs.
“What they’ve done up there is magnificent,” he declared. “Nobody ever dreamt it would expand as it has. I really got to know the inner workings of the place and I’m really impressed with the whole idea of community colleges.”
Indeed, he recalled that the fledgling college, part of the teeming hospital campus, didn’t seem particularly significant to town officials at the time. “It didn’t affect the town; there was no traffic problem,” said Barton, adding that Lexington Selectman Robert Cataldo was instrumental in the establishment of Middlesex — the 13th in the 15-school network to open — and locating it in Bedford.
Now the college is a point of pride for Bedford, “no question about it,” he said. “It’s teaching a lot of skills to a lot of people, to a cross-section of society.”
Over that half-century, the most dramatic local improvement was relocating to a permanent campus about a mile and a half north on Springs Road at the site of a former Marist preparatory seminary. Middlesex began using existing Marist buildings in 1978, but the new structures didn’t open for another 12 years.
The college also added a campus in Lowell, centered in the former Wang Laboratories training building off Kearney Square.
There are other data points being celebrated this year:
- More than 40 student organizations and clubs, in-person and online, and eight athletic programs.
- Several service-learning opportunities, internships, conferences, and competitions both locally and nationally for students. For the past decade, the college has also offered a Commonwealth Honors Program.
- International Education Fellowships for students to visit a country and study its history and culture, offered since 1992. Countries include Belize, China, Costa Rica, Europe, Greece, Ireland, Peru, Russia and Spain.
- Hundreds of partnerships with local businesses and organizations, helping to strengthen the Massachusetts workforce and economy. Thus far, MCC’s economic impact has been $146 million in the commonwealth.
- Cumulatively, MCC’s economic impact has been $146 million in the Commonwealth.
MCC’s 20 years of experience with online education has positioned the college well to begin the fall 2020 semester completely online, to safeguard against Covid-19 contagion. Middlesex actually offers some online programs across the country.
“Throughout its 50 years, Middlesex has striven to guide students on their paths, to give them opportunities they might not have gotten elsewhere, and to mark the college as a leader throughout the community,” said Dr. James Mabry of Bedford, the college’s fourth and current president.
“As a community college, Middlesex is in a unique position to support a diverse population of students,” he continued. “The personal back-stories of the students are inspirational, heartwarming, and uplifting. The support of this family network provides the backdrop for so many Middlesex success stories.”
One prominent graduate marking the milestone is Joe Orfant of Boston, a member of the first graduating class in 1972. He subsequently earned a degree in architecture at Yale University and spent 35years as a professional focusing on planning and environmental
issues. Most recently he headed the Bureau of Planning, Design, and Resource Protection for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“Today’s students are faced with an almost unimaginable global challenge and their Middlesex experience will be different but uniquely their own. The perspective of half a century tells me so,” Orfant commented. “Each generation confronts new challenges and gets to build it anew.”
“Student success is the main mission of Middlesex and this includes building a sense of community on campus,” Dr. Mabry declared, adding, “MCC is an extended family, from the nurturing roles of mentors and teachers that each of the college’s faculty members play, to the advisors, support staffers, and administrators who help provide the services needed to guide each student to achieve their personal successes.
The college is looking for testimony from graduates and former students. To join MCC’s free alumni association, contact Amy Lee, director of annual giving and alumni relations, at email@example.com or 978-656-3028, or visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/alumni/
A spokesman for the college acknowledged that “the college celebrates its achievement at a time when many are suffering worldwide, including within the MCC family. Since the spring 2020 semester, the pandemic has created an unprecedented obstacle that MCC students, faculty, staff, and administrators continue to face together. Much innovation, hard work, and dedication went into these past few months – reminiscent of how Middlesex has endured throughout the college’s storied history.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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