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White Mountains Community College marks golden anniversary this month

Union Leader Correspondent

October 23. 2016 9:14PM
A sign outside White Mountains Community College on Tuesday points out that 2016 is a special year for the college, which opened 50 years ago this month as the New Hampshire Vocational Institute, Berlin. (John Koziol/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

BERLIN — Opened 50 years ago this month, White Mountains Community College has sent more than 6,000 graduates. As it celebrates its golden anniversary, the college aims to remain true to its founding mission: preparing North Country residents to be skilled workers who meet the needs of the state.

Originally known as the “New Hampshire Vocational Institute, Berlin” the forerunner of WMCC was dedicated on Oct. 17, 1966, when Director Edward C. Oleson welcomed 104 students who got to choose from seven areas of study: automotive, culinary, electrical, electronics, mechanical drafting, machine shop, and mechanical maintenance.

Five expansions of the main campus on Riverside Drive — as well as five names changes later — WMCC now offers more than 50 associate’s degree programs as well as almost as many certificate programs.

The college, which has satellite facilities in North Conway and Littleton, sent 178 graduates into the world in 2016 and cumulatively has 6,459 alumni.

The extended WMCC family will reflect on the past half century with a gala on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods.

The event, which runs from 6 to 11 p.m., includes a social hour, dinner, a silent auction, a performance by comedian Juston McKinney and a slide show depicting the WMCC’s history. All proceeds will benefit WMCC’s Presidential Fund, which supports student scholarships and enrollment and retention efforts. Tickets to the event are $100 are are available by clicking the “news and events” link at

“For 50 years and under many different names, this college has continually played an essential role by providing educational and workforce training services to those living in New Hampshire’s North Country,” WMCC President Matthew Wood said in a prepared statement. “We have helped make a difference in the lives of many thousands of people and plan to continue to do so for many years.”

Among the people whose lives have been positively affected by WMCC are Kirstin Goulet and Dan Lavertue.

A medical assistant at Androscoggin Valley Hospital Surgical Associates, Goulet most recently is a 2016 alumna of WMCC, where she earned an associate’s degree in the medical assistant program. In her four years at WMCC, Goulet also earned an associate’s degree in health and wellness and a certificate in phlebotomy.

She plans to enroll at WMCC in 2017 to earn a third associate’s degree, this one in nursing, and to eventually seek a bachelor’s degree in the same at a university.

“I’ve had a great experience at WMCC. I’ve had the best instructors, and I feel like I got everything I needed out of my courses,” Goulet said.

Lavertue, who won’t make the 50th anniversary bash because he’s down in North Carolina visiting his grandchildren, was a member of WMCC’s second graduating class, that of 1969.

A native of Milan, Lavertue on Thursday recalled that he and his automotive technology classmates at Berlin High School were bowled over when they toured the then newly-opened community college.

When he later enrolled at the New Hampshire Vocational Institute, Berlin, it was an extremely proud moment in his family, said Lavertue, who was the first of eight siblings to pursue an education past high school.

Inspired by his instructors and also by what he learned at the NHVI-Berlin, Lavertue went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in vocational trades education at the University of Southern Maine.

In 1972, Lavertue returned to his alma mater in Berlin and taught full-time until 2009, before retiring for good in 2011.

“I feel that the college has had an impact on a lot of lives over the years, people from the North Country as well as from all around the U.S.,” Lavertue said. “It’s been a very critical element in the community for a lot of people and without it, I’m not sure what a lot of people would have done.”

Not having a community college in Berlin, especially one that has an industry-accredited program in Diesel Heavy Equipment Technology, would change the way that at least one company — Londonderry-based Milton CAT: Caterpillar Heavy Equipment and Power Systems — does business.

Milton CAT is one of 63 dealers in the U.S. and 220 in the world that sell and service Caterpillar equipment. Through a dozen locations, Milton CAT serves clients throughout New England, except Connecticut, and in upstate New York.

Each year, Milton CAT offers scholarships and cooperative-education opportunities to WMCC students; it hires several graduates annually and has been doing so for nearly a decade.

Diesel technicians who work at Milton CAT make a starting salary of about $50 per hour with benefits, said Ronald Barton, who is Milton CAT’s corporate technician recruitment and development manager, on Friday, and they can earn “into the six figures” with overtime.

Barton said WMCC is unique in New England because graduates of its diesel program grads — whose curriculum has been certified by the Associated Equipment Distributors, an international trade association based in Schaumburg, Ill. — have exactly the skills Milford CAT wants.

“It’s extremely important to know that when a student comes out of a program that they have the foundation development that we’re looking for, and when we deal with other schools that are not AED certified, we don’t know where to start at,” Barton said. “It takes a long time to gauge.”

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