The OCC Foundation is proud to announce that a record 30 scholarships were awarded to students enrolled in classes this past summer. With limited financial aid available during the summer session, the need for summer funding is an important one. To support this important initiative, National Grid provided OCC with generous funding and Kevin & Kathleen LaGrow, owners and operators of Learn As You Grow Child Care Centers, established a new summer scholarship endowment. Kathleen LaGrow is a 1979 graduate of OCC. These generous contributions have made an immediate impact on our students, and we cannot thank National Grid and the LaGrow’s enough for their incredible, ongoing support. Our students are equally grateful:
“I am very thankful to National Grid for providing my summer scholarship. With your support I was able to take summer classes and plan to graduate in 2015.”-Ngun Lian, National Grid Summer Scholarship recipient
“The National Grid summer scholarship has lightened my financial burden. I hope to help students achieve their goals just as you have helped me. Thank you!”-Tam Nguyen, National Grid Summer Scholarship recipient
“I want to thank you for the scholarship you provided me for my summer classes. Without it, I would not have had enough funds to attend. As an immigrant student who is still learning the language, I am working hard to overcome these challenges and secure my future. Once again thank you for your help!”-Ghan Timsina, Learn as You Grow Summer Scholarship recipient
“I am grateful for everyone involved with the OCC Foundation and the Learn as You Grow scholarship. The funding has enabled me to take time off from work this summer to focus on school and other resume- building activities. It has taken a large amount of stress out of my life!”-Kiirsten Amisano, Learn as You Grow Summer Scholarship recipient
If you would like to help ensure summer scholarships are available for future students, please visit here or contact the OCC Foundation at (315) 498-6060.
Patricia DeSantis-Lightner and Herbert Lightner are Onondaga Community College’s first couple – literally. The Lightners met at Onondaga the year the school opened, were members of the College’s first graduating class in 1964, married three years later, and are now celebrating 47 years of marriage. “We have great memories of our time at OCC. It’s where everything began for us,” said DeSantis-Lightner.
The Lightner’s returned to OCC in July 2014 for a 50th reunion of that first graduating class, and they came to a much different college than they one they left. When the Lightner’s began taking classes in 1962 OCC was located at Midtown Plaza in downtown Syracuse. Today the College’s home is 280 acres on Onondaga Hill. The reunion gave the Lightner’s an opportunity to see their alma mater for the first time since graduating. “It’s gorgeous! It’s well planned and well maintained,” said DeSantis-Lightner. “I had heard it was nice but had no idea it was this nice,” added Lightner. “It’s amazing to think that the place where we started has become this!”
The Lightners grew up just three miles apart from each other but didn’t meet until their first semester; DeSantis-Lightner was from the north side of Syracuse, Lightner from Liverpool. DeSantis-Lightner majored in Math, Lightner in Science. Both wanted to be teachers. After graduating they went on to earn their B.A. and B.S. degrees at SUNY Oswego and their M.S. degrees at Western Connecticut State University. They were married in 1967.
Both got teaching jobs downstate. DeSantis-Lightner taught Math for 34 years at Mildred Strang Middle School in Yorktown Heights, NY. Lightner taught Biology for 32 years at John Jay High School in Katonah, NY. They lived in Somers, NY which is equidistant from both school districts. Both are now retired and still live in the same home.
The 50th reunion provided the Lightners a wonderful opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. “We really loved our time here,” said Lightner. “We made real lasting friendships,” said DeSantis-Lightner. “These are 50-year friends here. We’ve stayed in touch and treasured their friendships our whole lives.”
OCC students experienced an unprecedented level of success while competing against fellow college students in regional and national events during the spring semester.
A group of students from OCC, SUNY ESF, and Syracuse University earned first place honors in the the U.S. Department of Energy’s Challenge Home Student Design Competition April 26 and 27 in Denver, Colorado. Student teams were required to create and present designs for a cost-effective, zero energy ready home for mainstream builders. Onondaga students Jacek Bartczak (Klucze, Poland), Andrew Kenneally (West Genesee), Krystal Tyrrell (Faith Heritage) and David Wallace (Fulton) were members of the winning team. They won first place in the category of Detached Single Family Homes. SUNY ESF student Brent Crump (Sandy Creek), who graduated from Onondaga in 2009, was also a member of the winning team.
Dewayne Garner Jr. (Cicero-North Syracuse) took first place honors in the Emerging Researchers National Conference in February in Washington, D.C. Garner was honored for his presentation on the Immunomodulation of Cystic Fibrosis in the category of Microbiology, Immunology, and Virology. Both of Garner’s parents, Dewayne Sr. and Kionna, are Onondaga alumni.
Onondaga was well represented at NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars program in Huntsville, Alabama in February. Only six students in all of New York State were invited to participate, and four of them came from Onondaga: Joshua Manrow (Jordan-Elbridge), Bryan Morris (Fair Haven), Elijah Tillman (Syracuse), and Shaquille Young (Brooklyn). To be selected, students needed to put together a presentation which would send a lunar rover to Mars. Their plan needed to include objectives and goals, a strategically selected landing site, a carefully planned budget, and a design of their rover. While in Huntsville students took part in meetings and briefings conducted by NASA engineers and scientists, and they were part of an exploration team project directed by NASA engineers.
Onondaga’s Hospitality Management team won the first ever Culinary Beef Tour and Competition April 10 and 11 in Canandaigua, New York. Students Anthony Pernisi (West Genesee), Tom Hooker (East Syracuse Minoa), and Jullen Merrill (East Syracuse Minoa), along with Chef Eric Rose, defeated teams from Paul Smith’s College, SUNY Cobleskill, Finger Lakes Community College, and two teams from Niagara Culinary Institute. Each Onondaga student earned a $500 scholarship for their efforts. The competition required each team to turn a beef ribeye into an appetizer and an entree within a two hour period. Students were asked to create one beauty plate and five tasting plates for the judges, along with 12 servings of each recipe to divide and shared with fellow contestants. Each team also had to learn the marketing side of hospitality management, name their recipes, print them out for customers, and utilize Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to post their “special of the week.” The competition was sponsored by the New York Beef Council.
Zachary Field (Onondaga Central) was the recipient of the New York State Community College Grand Prize in the 2014 David A. Garfinkel Essay Contest, sponsored by the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York. His essay was titled, “Balancing National Security and Freedom of the Press.” Zachary was presented his award at the Law Day 2014 Ceremony April 30 at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, New York.
One of Central New York’s most prominent families has come forward to help our community once again. Candace and John Marsellus have created an award for Onondaga Community College graduates who are continuing their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). Each year two OCC graduates will receive a generous stipend from the Marsellus Family OCC to ESF Fund to support their educational expenses. “We realize the value of a strong education which we were fortunate to experience. We have a desire to help others have similar opportunities,” said Candace and John Marsellus.
2014 graduates Asante Holder and John Spencer were thrilled to benefit from the Marsellus family’s generosity this past spring. Holder is a Syracuse native who came to OCC from Bishop Ludden High School. He earned a degree in Mathematics and Science. Holder is majoring in Environmental Engineering at SUNY-ESF. “I’m honored to be chosen for this stipend,” said Holder. “The money will be very useful as I pursue my degree. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Marsellus!”
Spencer is a graduate of Mexico High School. He also majored in Mathematics and Science at OCC, and is majoring in Bioprocess Engineering at SUNY-ESF. His goal is to acquire a doctorate and perform his own research in bio-fuels. “Thank you very much Mr. and Mrs. Marsellus for making this award possible,” said Spencer. “It will help me greatly as I pay for my education. I will continue to work hard so I can achieve my goals and begin my research as soon as possible.”
The Marsellus family has a long history of supporting the Central New York community. Since establishing their first named scholarship at Onondaga Community College in 2002, their passion for helping students at Onondaga has continued through the Marsellus Family Community Scholars Scholarship established in 2011, and most recently, the Marsellus Family OCC to ESF fund. “Five generations of our families have lived and worked in Onondaga County. We are committed to helping the hard-working students in our community achieve their goals. Scholarships for education can be life-changing. It can help financially disadvantaged students focus less on financial concerns and more on their higher education.”
The Marsellus family’s decision to assist OCC graduates pursuing bachelor’s degrees is in response to the ongoing success they have seen at the College, and they are proud to support OCC’s continued focus on partnerships with four-year institutions. “The growth in enrollment, faculty and facilities at OCC during the past 20 years is impressive. A new level of academic excellence has been achieved. The collective accomplishments of students, faculty, administration and Onondaga County leadership are worthy of our support,” said Candace and John Marsellus.
Onondaga’s “College For Kids” summer camp continues to be a great way for children to learn and have fun during the summer. More than 750 children between the ages of 8 and 14 took part in three weekly sessions at Mulroy Hall. College For Kids, which celebrated its 30th year, offers a wide-range of educational courses including website building, introduction to creative photography, science adventures, the College For Kids newspaper, LEGO robotics, and computer aided drafting in which students draft and assemble electric cars.
“College For Kids gets bigger and better every year. We had record enrollment this summer and are expecting great turnout again next year. We’ve already begun planning new courses for 2015,” said Barb Dennehy, camp director.
College For Kids is administered by Onondaga’s Office of Lifelong Learning. The office can be contacted at (315) 498-6600 and email@example.com.
Years ago when Doug Whittaker and Bill Elderbroom worked side-by-side in the Syracuse Fire Department, they often discussed their mutual vision. It involved the Syracuse Fire Department and Onondaga Community College working together to educate current and future firefighters. “We always talked about the value of sharing resources and hoped one day we’d be in positions to make it happen,” Elderbroom said. Their vision has become reality with Elderbroom in charge of the Syracuse Fire Department’s Training Center and Whittaker serving as coordinator of OCC’s Fire Protection Technology program.
Thanks to an agreement between the College and the Syracuse Fire Department, OCC students in the Fire Protection Technology major now train at the Syracuse Fire Department’s state-of-the-art training facility. In exchange Onondaga puts Syracuse Fire Department officers through a first-line supervisor’s training program. Firefighters who successfully complete the training process become officers and earn college credits. “Working together like this is a dream come true,” said Whittaker. “Future firefighters, current firefighters, and the citizens and property they risk their lives to protect all benefit.”
The Syracuse Fire Department’s Training Center presents OCC’s Fire Protection Technology students with several different scenarios all in one location. During their live fire protocol students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Scenarios they encounter include:
A two-story house which fills with heavy smoke. Students practice working together and searching for people.
A “burn building” where students practice rescues while a real fire is burning.
A roof simulator where students learn how to cut roof panels out of a stable structure rather than practicing on a vacant building which may not be safe.
All of the exercises are done under the watchful eyes of seasoned instructors and firefighters from surrounding departments including North Syracuse, Liverpool, Moyers Corners, and Taunton.
“To have this facility and work with the College is a win-win for both of us,” said Elderbroom. “We use this facility for our career firefighters and those we recruit. It’s great for students to be able to learn here.” Onondaga freshman Brian Burkle Jr. (Vernon Center, NY) agrees. “Training here is an invaluable experience. This facility presents us with every possible scenario we could face.”
The alliance with the Syracuse Fire Department provides Onondaga one more way in which it stands out from other Fire Protection Technology programs. In the classroom the instructors are all current or former firefighters or emergency personnel. “The professors here are great. They have experience they pass down to us which is invaluable,” said Onondaga student Robert Petit (Hartford, NY).
The practical exercises students participate in are coordinated by Steve Wisely, former Commissioner of Onondaga County’s Emergency 911 Center. Every spring semester Wisely oversees an exercise in which students learn how to respond to car accidents and rescue people from their vehicles. The exercise is held on a gravel parking lot on the OCC campus. Four disabled vehicles are set up in separate stations, each providing students with different scenarios:
Roll over with vehicle on its side
Student learn how to stabilize a rolled over vehicle. They use various types of equipment as they work to rescue accident victims.
Extrication with small tools
Students cut into a heavily damaged car using small tools and learn how to open doors using basic equipment rather than tools with hydraulics.
Jaws of Life
Students learn how to cut doors off and move dashboards up and out of the way while using hydraulic tools, including the infamous “Jaws of Life.”
Students learn ways to stabilize a damaged vehicle and strategically remove injured victims. They’re introduced to the latest technology, including a saw made specifically to cut through glass and a metal saw which won’t send sparks flying in a potentially flammable situation.
Overseeing each scenario is an instructor who is a leader in an area fire department and has responded to hundreds of similar emergency calls. “A lot of times you’ll see exercises like this where 30 people are standing around one vehicle. Here we have three or four firefighters at a time spending an hour and 15 minutes at each station before moving to the next one. It’s intense, hands-on training,” said Wisely.
OCC Fire Protection Technology students also have the option of participating in a bunk-in program. Students live in fire departments free of charge in exchange for responding to emergency calls side-by-side with professional firefighters. While bunking-in with the Moyers Corners Fire Department, Petit responded to hundreds of calls. “My experience here was invaluable. Between being a bunk-in, the classroom instructors, and the hands-on training, I’m ready to be a professional firefighter.” The Burlington, Vermont Fire Department agreed. It hired Petit and he will work with his brother Steve, who is also a Burlington firefighter.
Another bunk-in student, Nick Fletcher (Sherrill, NY), is well on his way to a distinguished career. Fletcher bunked-in with the Liverpool Fire Department. “The bunk-in program added a technical aspect no other college in the area could match. It combined hands-on training with a technical education and classroom work.” He was so impressive that shortly before graduating in May 2014, Fletcher was hired by Onondaga County as a fire investigator, trying to figure out the cause and origins of fires. “I enjoy helping families, letting them know how a fire started and giving them closure. A fire can be a very traumatic event.”
While at OCC Fletcher took advantage of an exclusive certification the College offers. Onondaga is the only institution in New York State that certifies to international law, the highest level of certification you can get in the world. It’s called International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, and it is the only certification the U.S. Department of Defense will accept. “The requirements were extremely challenging, but it definitely makes you more prepared when you finish the program.” At the end of the 2013-14 academic year Fletcher was selected as the top student in OCC’s Fire Protection Technology program.
Students like Fletcher, Petit, and Burkle are shining examples of how partnerships can benefit all. “OCC’s Fire Protection Technology program and the students, firefighters, and community who benefit from it are proof of the value of working together,” said Whittaker. “Together we can accomplish anything.”
OCC’s student honor society, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), was honored as one the top 100 chapters out of 1,200 chapters both nationally and internationally. Phi Theta Kappa is the largest honor society in American higher education with more than 1.5 million members. Its co-curricular programs focus upon the Society’s Hallmarks of Scholarship, Leadership, Service and Fellowship.
Onondaga’s PTK chapter, Alpha Zigma Zeta, was singled out because of its students’ efforts in action projects. Its “Chopped” event was a cooking competition and raffle that raised $700 for the Central New York Food Bank, as well as raising awareness about food scarcity.
The members of Alpha Zigma Zeta also showed an outstanding commitment to volunteerism:
Organized “Paige’s Pajamarama,” an on-campus fundraiser for pediatric cancer. Students wore pajamas around campus for a week in exchange for pledge money from generous donors. Students raised nearly $700. The money was donated to the cancer ward at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Assisted at the American Heart Association’s Heart Run on the OCC campus.
Helped with Special Olympics, making posters and cheering on athletes.
Volunteered at the annual National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Walk, a fundraiser for community members battling eating disorders.
Helped set up, run, and clean up the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Walk fundraiser. The event was organized by Walk MS which helps nearly 13,000 people in our community living with MS.
“The dedication and spirit of volunteerism our students showed was remarkable. They can truly say they made our community a better place to live,” said Annie Tuttle, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Chapter Advisor for PTK at OCC.
Greg Guevara, a General Studies major from Weedsport, will start the 2014-15 academic year as president of OCC’s PTK chapter. He has high goals for himself and his fellow members. “We want to continue our momentum and show the community it can depend on us to help with volunteerism and fundraising. We want organizations to automatically think of us when they are looking for assistance.”
Kari and Erik Lutters’ story reads like a fairy tale. They met in OCC’s Music Department, fell in love, got married, and today teach music in the same school district.
Both are from Central New York – Erik is a 2005 graduate of East Syracuse Minoa High School, and Kari graduated from Solvay High School in 2006. They met when Erik was a freshman at Onondaga and Kari a high school senior. She was studying privately with Department Chair Rob Bridge, D.M.A., and joined OCC’s indoor drum line and Latin Band while still in high school. Both fondly recall their time at the College. “All of us in the percussion studio were very close-knit,” said Kari. “We would always practice and talk together, and today we all stay in touch.”
After OCC both continued college in the Rochester area, Erik at the Eastman School of Music and Kari at Nazareth College. In a sign of things to come, both student-taught at the same time in the suburban Victor School District.
On their wedding day in June 2012, they received an unexpected phone call. The Huevelton School District in St. Lawrence County asked both to come in to interview for music teacher positions. “We cancelled our honeymoon to go to our job interviews,” said Erik. Kari added, “But we knew the possibility of getting jobs together was a good enough wedding present. We were worried about getting jobs in the same state, let alone the same school district.”
Today they teach in Huevelton, a one-building school district in which the Lutters’ are its music department. Kari teaches general music and chorus, Erik teaches general music and band. They also direct marching band, jazz band, select chorus, and school musicals.
In early 2014 the Lutters’ visited OCC’s Academic II building which is anchored by the Music Department. They took the Recital Hall stage for a reunion of the Percussion Suite. “Playing in the new building was amazing,” said Erik. “It’s well deserved for the Music Department because they work so hard,” said Kari.
Music has always played a significant role in Dinyar Vania’s life, but the opera singer didn’t realize his greatest gift until he became a student at OCC.
Vania grew up surrounded by music. He started playing the piano at age four, his sister enjoyed the flute, and his brother favored the clarinet. Each of them also learned to play other instruments. The Vania children followed in the footsteps of their parents who had also played instruments at young ages. “My parents were very culturally conscious. They took us to the Syracuse Symphony a lot. Whenever they went to Broadway plays they would buy the soundtrack. There was always a lot of music in our house,” said Vania.
Vania attended Marcellus High School in the mid 1990s and was very active musically outside of school. He was a percussionist both in a rock band and with the Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestra. Vania wanted to pursue music in college but struggled to find the right school. “I auditioned at several upstate music schools but none of them impressed me. My mom suggested I visit OCC, and that’s when everything fell into place.”
It didn’t take long for Vania to stand out in OCC’s Music program, but it wasn’t in percussion. Retired Professor Richard D. McCullough saw something in Vania right away. “From his first moments in the voice studio, I could tell there was something special about his voice. Back in the mid 90s, Dinyar sang as a ‘baby baritone.’ As time went on, he began to open up and blossom. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh! I think there is a hidden tenor in there,’” said McCullough.
With the encouragement of McCullough and other Music professors Vania flourished. “Everyone was extremely supportive which meant a lot. There were many positive influences, and that really went a long way in my development and growth.”
Vania graduated from OCC in May of 1999 with a degree in Music and a specialization in Voice. “I received the best education of my life at OCC. Everybody from the Music department to my Astronomy professors to my History professors to my Liberal Arts professors – the education was by far the best anywhere I’ve ever been.”
Vania moved to New York City and began to pursue his dream. He worked as a semi-professional chorister, singing in ensembles with choral artists for the New York Philharmonic, the American Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and anywhere else he could. “I was getting great opportunities. I learned a lot about how those at the top of their profession work and conduct themselves.”
To make ends meet Vania also worked at Tower Records in Lincoln Center and as a full-time baby sitter. While dividing his time between multiple jobs Vania continued to grow professionally. He was invited to audition with the New York City Opera Chorus and did well enough to become an associate chorister. After one year Vania was promoted to understudying principal roles, then went to singing main stage principal roles.
During the summer of 2014 Vania returned to upstate New York and worked at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown. He performed the lead role of Pinkerton in “Madame Butterfly.” One of his shows was attended by several members of his Onondaga family including McCullough, retired Music Professor Donald Miller, and Music Professor David Abrams. Abrams wrote a review for CNY Cafe Momus, a website dedicated to classical music, opera, and theater.
Vania lives his life on stage and on the road where he spends eight to nine months out of the year. After Cooperstown it’s on to Nebraska for Opera Omaha, where he will be singing The Duke in the Italian Opera “Rigoletto.” When he gets to Omaha he’ll be reunited with his fiance, Rachele Gilmore. She’s a soprano who will also be performing in “Rigoletto.” Gilmore is an Atlanta native who met Vania when they worked together in Knoxville, Tennessee. “This is the life we’ve chosen,” said Vania. “We both love what we do and understand we won’t always be able to be together.”
As Vania moves from city to city his former professors will continue to follow his work with great interest. “Teaching Dinyar and having had some small level of influence with his career development was more than just professional pleasure. He is not only an accomplished singer, Dinyar is sincerely a fine individual with a huge heart full on kindness. I so look forward to following his career and further vocal development,” said McCullough.
When you support Onondaga Community College, you are making a statement that you believe in the importance of quality affordable education for everyone. You are creating new opportunities and new beginnings for students and our greater community.