Stories of Inspiration – Laurie Halse Anderson, ’81

CROPPED Laurie Halse Anderson AACC SpeechApril 21, 2015 was Laurie Halse Anderson’s special day. The OCC alumna and best-selling author received the Outstanding Alumni Award at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. She was one of only seven honorees nationwide. When Anderson received her award her remarks were brief and powerful. You can watch video of her story being shared with those in attendance and see her acceptance speech here.

Anderson’s novels have become required reading for young adults, providing them with an outlet as they undergo transformations in their lives. But her own story is as remarkable as any she has written. The best-selling author says she owes her success to her time spent at OCC. “It’s fun to think back on the very confused and very tired woman I was when I first showed up on campus a long time ago. I know looking back I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t started at OCC. There’s no question in my mind.”

Anderson was born in Potsdam, NY. She grew up poor and her family moved regularly. Her happy place was deep inside the books she read. “I found refuge from the real world in fantasy. I was always hauling around The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Anything that was science fiction or fantasy I read. I didn’t want to read about real life because my real life was much too painful. I found that magical transport into another world so inspiring.”

Anderson’s family wound up settling in the Syracuse area and she attended Fayetteville-Manlius High School. By her own admission she wasn’t a very good student. “I spent my senior year in Denmark as an American Field Service exchange student. I had no intention of going to college. I was tired of school and sick of it.”

After graduating Anderson changed her mind, decided she needed college and took a chance on OCC. She was a full-time student who was also working full time. “My days started early on a dairy farm in Marcellus. I’d milk cows and clean out the barn, then go to OCC. After classes I would go back to the farm for the afternoon milking.”

As she powered through life Anderson began to experience something in class that was new to her. “There were a couple of papers I got from English professors that had smiley faces on them. They wrote things like, ‘nice idea’ and they were very encouraging about the work I was trying to do. I had not seen that before.“

The positive reinforcement motivated her. In a short amount of time she went from the high school student who didn’t care to the college student invested in her success. “OCC is where I found my mind. I needed to grow up and get disciplined. The quality of the professors made a huge difference in my life. There was something about the attention I got from them that has never left me. It meant a great deal toward guiding me on the path to more education and more self-discovery.”

Anderson graduated from OCC in 1981 with a degree in Humanities. She transferred to Georgetown University where her transition to a four-year college went smoothly. “I didn’t have any trouble. I took a pretty heavy course load and kept working while I was in school. I came out fine.”

After graduating Anderson got married and started a family. They were living in Philadelphia and making ends meet was difficult. Her husband worked during the day and she worked at night because they couldn’t afford child care. She became a journalist covering news and writing for local newspapers but eventually realized her true calling. “After several years freelancing I began to think, ‘I have these kids in my house. I could probably write books for them.’ That’s where writing books started.”

Ndito RunsIn 1996 Anderson’s first children’s book was published. Ndito Runs was based on Kenyan Olympic marathon runners who ran to and from school each day. Her breakthrough novel would come three years later. Speak portrayed a high school freshman who was raped by an upper classman during a summer party. It chronicled her descent into isolation and depression before eventually finding her voice and strength on her way to vindication. The book became a New York Times best seller, was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award and was adapted into a film.

speakSpeak also became a fixture in school libraries across the country, where young adults found the book helped them with their own struggles. It also brought Anderson’s story full circle. “I had some very confused years as a teenager and I know how important books were for me back then. To think I could even have a little bit of an impact on the life of one person is remarkable.”

the impossible knife of memoryAnderson’s latest work is The Impossible Knife of Memory. It was inspired by her father’s struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since writing the book she has become an advocate for veterans suffering from PTSD, calling for more attention to the backlog of the hundreds of thousands of disability benefits distributed the Office of Veterans Affair’s that prevent military families from getting the treatment they need.

Larrabee (left) and Anderson (right) as children hunting for Easter eggs in Pulaski.
Larrabee (left) and Anderson (right) as children hunting for Easter eggs in Pulaski.

Just as her professional life has flourished so too has her personal life. After Anderson’s first marriage ended she reconnected with a childhood friend, Scot Larrabee. During a time when Anderson was living in Pulaski, her parents and Larrabee’s parents were best friends, and the families would regularly go camping together.

Larrabee and Anderson at a National Book Award event.
Larrabee and Anderson at a National Book Award event.

Today she and Larrabee are married. Their blended family includes four children. They live in a very rural area outside the Oswego County village of Mexico. Anderson says it’s the perfect place for her to work on her craft. “I love living where we do. I don’t think I could write if there were people living close to me.”

Anderson has published 28 books for young readers. She’s sold more than two million books and her titles have been translated into 27 languages. Her success as an author has made her a regular at schools speaking with students.

Anderson's writing cottage is where she turns her thoughts and ideas into best-selling books.
Anderson’s writing cottage is where she turns her thoughts and ideas into best-selling books.

She loves talking about her books and her educational background. “I’ve spoken to over a million high students in the last 15 years. I always make a point of telling them how important going to a community college has been for my life. I really encourage it. You look at the number of kids who get pressured into going to a four-year school right out of high school and it’s not the right time for them. If I can be a part of any type of movement to get more kids to consider everything community colleges have to offer I’m very proud to do that.”

"Winter is my favorite season and I'm definitely in the right part of the country for that," Anderson said. "Nothing makes me quite as happy as winter."
“Winter is my favorite season and I’m definitely in the right part of the country for that,” Anderson said. “Nothing makes me quite as happy as winter.”

In 2006 OCC honored Anderson by naming her one of the College’s distinguished Alumni Faces. Nine years later she was recognized nationally by the American Association of Community Colleges with their Outstanding Alumni Award. “It is an incredible honor. I’m a very typical example of a young person who was seeking my sense of direction. I never thought of myself as a really good student. There’s no way I would have ever predicted this. I was just trying to get by day to day and not be trampled on by bulls. That was a big priority of my existence back then. The fact I got published and people actually enjoy my books is an unanticipated thrill for me. I’m a pretty lucky girl.”

Envisioning A Career – Tony Melfi, ’89

Tony Melfi, '89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.
Tony Melfi, ’89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.

Tony Melfi came to OCC with out-of-this-world dreams.  “When I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to be an astronomer and the first professional still photographer on the moon.” Melfi never made it to the moon, but his experience at OCC helped him climb to the top of his profession as a videographer.

Melfi graduated from Syracuse’s Henninger High School in 1987 and enrolled at OCC. He started taking astronomy courses but figured out quickly his childhood dream was never going to happen. “About the same time I realized I wasn’t good at math I heard about a major where I could be a photographer shooting video.”

Melfi switched to the Radio and TV major and was impressed with how quickly the hands-on learning started. “I remember day one at OCC we were turning on cameras and shooting in the studio. Day two we were editing reel-to-reel voiceovers we had done ourselves. Day three we were editing video. At a lot of four-year schools you aren’t doing any of that before your junior year.”

As time went on Melfi noticed a unique sense of camaraderie within the Radio and TV major. “It never mattered what grade you were in. We all had the same professors and were always working on the same things, just on different levels. We all worked together, helped each other and had a great time.”

Outside class Melfi was getting real-world experience helping cover Syracuse University sports for the cable television organization “SUper Sports.” He was doing a little bit of everything: shooting and editing video, keeping statistics during games and even some on-air work.

Melfi’s excellence inside and outside of class earned him high honors when he graduated in 1989. He was awarded the Radio and TV department’s Curriculum Honors Award.

Melfi transferred to SUNY Fredonia where he would earn a degree in Broadcast Journalism two years later. After graduating he worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and gain valuable experience. He continued working for “SUper Sports,” interned with a sports talk show at WHEN Radio, interned at WIXT TV (Channel 9) where he shot and edited video of high school sports events and wrote scripts to match the video, and also had a job at the old Community General Hospital so he could have health insurance coverage.

Melfi got his first big break when he was hired to be a news videographer with WUTR TV in Utica. It’s also when he started to see the true value of his OCC education. “Our professors, people like Tony Vadala and Vinny Spadafora, had worked in the business. When I got to WUTR I found out everything our professors told us was true because they had done it. Maybe the technology had changed, but the fundamentals of doing things was the same. Everything went as they said they would go.”

Melfi also learned his OCC education gave him a distinct advantage over his co-workers. “I worked with a lot of kids from other colleges and their learning seemed to be much more theory based. They were very lost compared to OCC graduates. What we learned carried right over into the workplace automatically.”

Six months after starting at WUTR he received an offer for a similar position at WTVH TV in Syracuse that was too good to pass up. “I remember walking through the newsroom for my interview and seeing (longtime news anchor) Ron Curtis and so many other faces I had watched growing up. I was very nervous.” Melfi aced the interview, had a resume tape which showed he had the ability, was offered a job and accepted it.

Melfi flourished at WTVH. “There were so many people of all different levels of experience there who really cared about the product and helped each other. It was a great environment.” Melfi learned from everyone he worked with including a fellow newcomer he was often paired with, a young reporter named David Muir. Today Muir is the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

Melfi spent four-and-a-half years working at WTVH. His strong work ethic coupled with his growing skills earned him a videographer position at ESPN. “When I left WTVH I thanked everyone there who I worked with. I told them that without this station and these people I never would have gotten to ESPN.”

RESIZED Tony Melfi in PolandWhen Melfi arrived at ESPN in 1997 he hit the ground running and never stopped. “I spent 20 days on the road covering the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals. I thought, ‘Wow… this is pretty cool!’” Melfi was a road warrior, spending about 180 days a year living out of his suitcase. He covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals and NCAA Basketball Final Fours. “My favorite was baseball spring training. For many years I went to Florida every year and traveled everywhere working with legendary baseball reporter Peter Gammons. I also spent several spring trainings in Arizona working with Tim Kurkjian. Both were great to work with. They both love baseball and it would really come through in the work they did.”

Melfi spent nine years at ESPN. In his later years he got married and had a son. He knew starting a family meant he couldn’t spend as much time on the road anymore. Melfi and a co-worker at ESPN, a producer named Evan Hathaway, made the decision to go out on their own and start a production  company, “13 Productions.” They are freelancers who produce commercials and shoot sports features. “We do everything we did before but now we work together and for each other. I shoot video. We both edit and package everything up for the client.”

Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.
Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left, wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.

“13 Productions” is now in its tenth year. Melfi has cut his travel back to about 60 days a year. When he’s not at work his life is non-stop at home. Melfi and his wife Regina have three children: 10-year-old Luca, 8-year-old Ronan, and 4-year-old Nina.

Melfi’s professional excellence has earned him two Sports Emmy Awards. During his more than 20 years in the business he’s worked with people of all ages and all levels of ability. Along the way he’s gathered valuable advice for today’s students:

  • Just because you graduate with a degree doesn’t guarantee you anything. You have to knock on doors. You have to ask people to give you a chance. When you get that chance you have to nail it.
  • Behind you there are probably a thousand people who can do what you do and half of them can do it better. You need to push your way in and show what you can do right away. Show you are willing to learn. Prove you can do it day after day after day.
  • You have to be able to communicate with people. You have to bring ideas and execute them as promised. Technology changes but those things stay the same. They are as important today as when I was starting out in the business.

“I tell my sons I barely remember my 20s and it’s true. I spent the whole decade working. In the end I wouldn’t change anything. I’m pleased with how everything turned out. I’m glad I went to OCC. It’s where I figured out what I wanted to do. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

Let’s Make A Deal! – Jesse Wilson, ’12

Jesse Wilson has been in business as long as he can remember, starting at a very young age in his Camillus home. “When I was seven or eight years old I would have ‘Jesse’s Movie Theater’ at my house. I’d invite my friends over and charge them each a quarter to watch a movie.”

For his 11th birthday he decided he wanted a bass guitar but couldn’t afford one on his own, so he cut a deal with his parents. He paid half and they paid half. With his bass in hand Wilson started playing in bands and looking for more business opportunities.

When Media Play went out of business in Shoppingtown Mall Wilson bought more bass guitars at a huge discount. He played them for a while then sold them for a sizeable profit. “I took the money I made, bought more guitars and kept going.”

On couch with guitar

By the time Wilson was 15 he had nearly a dozen bass guitars. He sold them and bought himself a car, a Porsche 944, even though he wasn’t old enough to drive. He kept the car for a year, then sold it for more than he paid for it. He used the money to buy four guitars and start an online guitar business.

In between wheeling and dealing Wilson was a student at West Genesee High School looking for a way to earn his diploma on his own timetable. At age 15 he started taking night classes at OCC. “I knew I wanted to graduate high school as quickly as possible, move on to college and open my own business. OCC helped me do that.”

Wilson graduated from high school in 2010, a year ahead of schedule. With high school behind him he dove into the Business Technology major at OCC. “My experience there was amazing. It was unbelievable how much I didn’t know then and how much I do know now because I went to OCC. The facilities were fantastic. The professors were fantastic. I got everything I needed in two years. I have buddies who went to four-year schools and I got more out of college than they did.”

Wilson earned his degree from OCC in 2012 at the age of 18. His love of music and business kept him buying and selling guitars. In December 2014 his business went from online to bricks and mortar. He opened a storefront in Syracuse’s Armory Square at the corner of South Franklin and West Jefferson Streets across from Starbucks and the Museum of Science and Technology.

Guitars on the wallWilson’s named his business “Ish Guitars,” paying homage to his grandfather who nicknamed him “Ish Kabibble” after the 1940s era comedian. Ish Guitars has huge windows, high ceilings and dozens of top-of-the-line guitars and other musical instruments. His guitars are mounted on particle board. “The guitars are works of art. I didn’t want them to get lost in the background when customers were looking at them.”

info cards
Wilson’s mounted information cards tell customers everything they need to know about a guitars specifications.

Wilson’s visits to Syracuse’s Everson Museum gave him a unique idea. He saw cards with information next to each piece of art and decided to create something similar in his store. He’s created descriptive cards to place alongside each guitar for sale. “I’ve been in guitar stores where the people working can’t answer the most basic questions. These cards have all of the answers and they are right there for our customers to see.”

Ish Guitars opened a week before Christmas and Wilson is constantly tweaking and adding things. At the top of the list is a soundproof room he’s going to build so people can play guitars and find out if they have the sound and feel they’re looking for. His website is also a work in progress. He’s adding multiple, large photos of each guitar along with lengthy descriptions. “As an online shopper I’ve noticed how many details other businesses don’t give. I want to make sure we answer customer’s questions before they ask them.”

Wilson’s Armory Square storefront is just the beginning. “I’d like to have more locations in small to medium size cities, even a bigger city like Baltimore which could really use a good, independently owned guitar store.”

Wilson is holding a "Warrick Buzzard" bass guitar designed by legendary Who bass player John Entwistle. It's one of only a handful in existence. Wilson bought it when he was 15, sold it, then bought it again before his store opened.
Wilson holds a “Warwrick Buzzard” bass guitar designed by John Entwistle, legendary bass player of The Who. It’s one of only a handful in existence. Wilson bought it when he was 15, sold it, then bought it again before his store opened.

At age 21 Wilson is now on his fourth Porsche, a 911 model and his favorite to date. But whether the topic is cars or guitars, everything is a commodity. “I try not to get attached to specific items because a lot of time there is something better out there. Selling the first Porsche I owned enabled me to buy other ones and work my way up to the one I’m driving now.”

Wilson has simple advice for future entrepreneurs:

  • Have a mentor, someone you can go to advice
  • Start your business small
  • Never quit
  • Do what you love

As his business grows his appreciation for OCC and what it represents grows too. “I think everyone should go to a two-year school and get their degree so they have something. If you decide you want more you can go get your four-year degree. When I was in high school I would hear people say, ‘Why go to OCC?’ I say, ‘Why not go to OCC.’”

Spadafora Scholarship Check Presentation

The legacy of OCC alumnus and professsor Vinny Spadafora will forever be a part of the College and its Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major.

Vincent Spadafora, '73
Vincent Spadafora, ’73

The establishment of the Vincent Spadafora Jr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment was celebrated during a check presentation ceremony February 13 in the television studio where EMC students come together to learn and develop their skills everyday.

Spadafora was a 1974 graduate of OCC who dedicated more than 40 years to the College and EMC program (formerly known as Radio & TV) as Assistant Professor, Department Chair, and adjunct professor upon his retirement. Spadafora passed away March 15, 2013 at the age of 65. One year after his passing the OCC Foundation announced a special fundraising initiative in memory of Spadafora. A $25,000 scholarship endowment would be formed with Ed Levine, President and CEO of Galaxy Communications, providing a dollar-for-dollar match for every gift contributed to the endowment.

Ed Levine
Ed Levine

During the February 13 ceremony Levine presented the OCC Foundation a check for $15,618 and reflected on his relationship with Spadafora. “OCC became a major force in developing young students in broadcasting because of Vinny Spadafora. Because of his personal credibility, I brought in OCC students to my radio stations as interns. When they walked in the door 90% would be great from the start. For the few who weren’t I would call Vinny, he would talk to that student and his or her performance would improve immediately.”

Tony Vadala
Tony Vadala

EMC co-chair Tony Vadala spoke at the ceremony and talked about Spadafora’s impact on him. Vadala came to OCC in 1981 and took a class with Spadafora his first semester on campus. “Never before had I had a teacher whose irreverent humor was coupled with the most sincere passion for teaching and caring for his students. Vinny never took himself seriously but he took what he did very seriously. I am most fortunate to have called Vinny my teacher, my colleague and my friend.”

Current EMC students took part in the ceremony by reading comments from alumni who donated to the scholarship endowment:

  • “Vinny used to push me to be the best. I remember him being honest and straight forward with me, because there were times when I got lazy and became disengaged. He never gave up on me! Never!!”
  • “He was “one of us”, not just a teacher who gave lectures and issued book reading assignments. He was truly a “boots on the ground” member of the R/TV department.”
  • “It was a very sad day when I read of the passing of “Vinny”. During my time at OCC he was always an inspiration to me. He always had time to chat, and his insights to the business were priceless.”
  • “Vinny was one of a kind, and I am so happy to have met him along life’s journey, and share in his joy and passion of radio and television, and his genuine friendship.”
Dr. Casey Crabill
Dr. Casey Crabill

OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill spoke after the students. She asked them to understand the importance of continuing the high standards established by Spadafora. “Those alumni you read comments from are the people whose shoulders you are standing on today. It’s up to you to pay that forward, to cement relationships in a professional way and to be a leader in your field. It’s clear the legacy Vinny built here, that he has left to us and that we pass on to today’s students and the ones who will stand on your shoulders in the future.”

The check presentation ceremony was also attended by Spadafora’s widow, Elaine and other family members. The first recipient of the Vincent Spadafora Memorial Scholarship Endowment will be selected in time for the fall 2015 semester.

2013 – 2014 Donor List

Through increased support from our generous donors and friends, the OCC Foundation provided more than $850,000 in scholarship and academic support for OCC students in 2013-14.  Thank you donors for helping to achieve record-setting numbers in support of our students! Complete donor list 

Dollars Raised

  • 2002-2003: $476K
  • 2013-2014: $3.3 Million

OCC Foundation Endowment

  • 2002-2003: $3.4M
  • 2013-2014: $9.8 M 

Scholarships for Students*

  • 2002-2003: $50K
  • 2013-2014: $280K

*OCC Foundation board approved scholarship support

The Illustrator – London Ladd, ’95

London Ladd brings words to life. He’s an illustrator who creates the visuals that help tell the stories of some our nation’s most historic figures. Ladd credits Onondaga Community College with putting him on the path to success. “The decision to go to OCC was basically the turning point in my life. Once I got into OCC and applied myself it built up my confidence and laid my foundation.”

Ladd grew up in Syracuse and fell in love with art at a young age. “I was fascinated with comic books, cartoons and some animated movies. I would try to draw the covers of Marvel comic books.” Despite his fascination with art Ladd only took one art class while attending Corcoran High School.

When it was time to start thinking about college a guidance counselor recommended he go to OCC. Ladd took his advice and entered as a computer science major. “Computers were really growing in popularity in the early 1990s. I thought I could get into it early, ride the wave and have financial security.”

Ladd’s logic was sound but it didn’t work out for him. “In my computer science classes I loved the math but really struggled with the science part of it.” At the same time Ladd was also taking art classes and eventually realized it was his passion.

Ladd switched majors and received tremendous support from the art faculty. “Professor Tim Rodrigo was very honest, blunt and fair with me. He didn’t sugar coat anything. Professor Jen Griffin gave me the confidence I needed. I was surrounded by students who started much earlier in life taking art classes. She always gave me the boost I needed. Without Professors Rodrigo and Griffin I wouldn’t have survived.”

Four years after becoming the first member of his family to go to college Ladd earned his art degree from OCC in 1995. He transferred to Syracuse University and continued to develop his skills. Ladd got his first professional break when his art work was displayed in New York City along with the work of all graduating SU students. Someone with Scholastic publishing left a comment about Ladd’s which read, “I really love your work.”

Several months later Ladd received a phone call. Scholastic publishing had a project for him but he would have a short time to complete it.London Ladd flashdrive 01.09.15 009 Illustrations were needed for the picture book, “March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World.” The book was written by Christine King Farris, sister of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ladd drew the illustrations and the book won an Andrew Carnegie Medal, a Parents’ Choice Approved Award in Historical Fiction, and was a 2009 Teachers’ Choices book list selection.

London Ladd flashdrive 01.09.15 007Ladd’s big break resulted in more projects coming his way. He did illustrations for “Under the Freedom Tree,” written by Susan Vanhecke. The book is set in Virginia in the early 1860s. Three escaped slaves made their way from the Confederate line to a Union-held fort where they were declared “contraband of war” and granted protection. As news of their escape traveled, thousands of runaway slaves poured into the fort seeking their freedom. These “contrabands” made a home for themselves, building the first African-American community in the country. In 1863, they bore witness to one of the first readings of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South beneath the sheltering branches of the tree now known as Emancipation Oak.

During the process of creating the illustrations Ladd went to Virginia for three days. He took in the surroundings, learned the history of what had happened and found great inspiration. “When I get a manuscript I go through it and really need to understand it and feel it. I need to find a connection which translates into my illustrations.”

32146ct12-13.tifLadd found a similar process worked for him while creating illustrations for “Lend a Hand,” a book about children helping other people. He went around Syracuse and found scenes that inspired him. One of his illustrations came from a scene the DestiNY USA shopping mall. “I saw two girls in a salon and asked if I could take pictures of them for a story about a girl donating her hair for “Locks of Love.” They agreed and while I was taking pictures one of them shared a story about her sister who had been battling leukemia. Suddenly I had a connection and it inspired me.”32146ct10-11.tif Another illustration Ladd created for the book was of children cleaning a park. His inspiration came from Elmwood Park, located near Corcoran where he attended high school. “I went there a lot when I was younger and it’s still one of my favorite places to go.”

Near the end of 2014 Ladd completed work on his most extensive and exhausting project to date. He created illustrations for a book titled “Frederick’s Journey,” which will be out in 2015. The subject of the book is Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became a leader of the abolitionist movement.

“Frederick’s Journey” is part of the Big Words series by Disney and Hyperion publishers. Other books in the series profile Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. among others. “To be a part of this series you have to be beyond your best. If you want something excellent you need to go the extra mile. That’s what I did.”

Ladd grew out his hair so he would look like Douglass, went to his grave in Rochester and spent three days in the Washington, DC and Virginia area while visiting Douglass’ home.London Ladd flashdrive 01.09.15 003London Ladd flashdrive 01.09.15 005 “I looked so much like Douglass that when I was walking out of his home people were complimenting me. They thought I was a re-enactor!” On the left is a photo of Douglass. On the right is a photo of Ladd.

“During this project I connected on a spiritual level. It was unlike any of my previous work.” His hard work paid off. As part of the illustration process artists submit their work then wait for a list of recommended revisions. Ladd didn’t receive any requests for revisions, only compliments. “I was very surprised. I knew the work I had done was really good but something like this never happens.”

In between his illustration projects Ladd is very active in the community. He works with children at Syracuse’s McKinley-Brighton Elementary School as part of the Say Yes to Education after-school program. Ladd focuses on art but also shares his life story. “I let them know I was a bi-racial kid with no father. I want them to know they have the opportunity to accomplish what I have accomplished.”

Wherever Ladd goes he also talks about OCC. “I want everyone, especially kids, to know my journey. If you have trust and believe you can get there too. I credit OCC with everything personal and professional because that’s where I met my wife. We’ve been married for 20 years and have a 19-year-old daughter. When I started there I was just a kid and I had to become an adult.”

Ladd hopes to one day open an art center where families can come and create and develop their own art. In the meantime he has “dream jobs” for himself: to get a stamp commissioned, to work for National Geographic, and to create and illustrate graphic novels and children’s books.

Native American Scholarships

Brine Rice (blue jersey) is a freshman lacrosse player at OCC and recipient of a Native American Education Foundation scholarship.
Brine Rice (blue jersey) is a freshman lacrosse player at OCC and recipient of a Native American Education Foundation scholarship.

Student members of OCC’s Native American community have received an unprecedented level of support from the Native American Education Foundation (NAEF). The NAEF has generously given the College a $26,000 grant to be used on scholarships for Native American students. This is the third year the NAEF has provided funding to OCC students, and the amount of its support has increased each year.

In the first two years 33 students have received scholarships covering approximately half of their tuition costs for that academic year. One of this year’s recipients is Brine Rice, a freshman from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory near Montreal, Quebec in Canada. Rice is a student-athlete who is majoring in general studies and is a member of the national champion men’s lacrosse team. The assistance he’s receiving from NAEF is helping cover the costs of his tuition and books. “It’s great to have so much support,” Rice said. “I am very proud to be a recipient. Many Native American’s need the help and really appreciate it.”

Like Rice other OCC scholarship recipients are extremely grateful for the support:

  • “Thank you to the Native American Education Foundation. This scholarship has allowed me to pay my expenses without taking out loans which is great! The scholarship allows me to focus more on my studies and provides me with funds to purchase my school books. I hope to avoid taking out loans until I transfer to a four-year school and pursue a degree in science.” –Jurnee J.


  • “I am very grateful for this scholarship! It helped me buy books and other essentials needed for my classes. I am planning on joining the men’s lacrosse program next fall. I am also planning on taking a botany course and study different plants and how they can be used as natural medicines. This scholarship keep me motivated to further my education by removing the stress of paying for college. Thank You!” –Kent L.


  •  “This scholarship has helped me a great deal. After I graduate from OCC I will transfer to SUNY ESF and pursue a degree in biology.” -Cosmo W.


  • “I want to express my gratitude for receiving the Native American Education Foundation scholarship. The money helps me pay for my education here at OCC. I’m very grateful I was considered for this scholarship. I plan to continue to stay focused on my academics and take a Native American History class. Thank you! “ –Jamie G.

Marlia Douglas

Marlia Douglas is a free spirit who has unexpectedly found herself following in her parents footsteps. “As I get older I’ve learned how similar I am to my parents who used to be missionaries to China. They are all about helping people.”

After graduating from Sayre High School in Sayre, Pennsylvania in 2011, Douglas’ urge to help others took her to India where she spent five months doing missionary work. “It was a great experience. It taught me the value of learning and made me a much better student.”

Today Douglas is a liberal arts major and performing well enough to be a member of OCC’s student honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, for which she is its vice president for scholarship. “I really love learning and that is why I am succeeding as a student. My time here has opened my eyes.”

Douglas plans to cycle across Europe in the summer of 2015 and continue to pursue her goal of living on the road. “I want to do freelance work. I want to be a professional traveler, be a journalist and write about my travels. I want to live minimalistically. That’s my dream.”

Men’s Basketball Alumni Game

Former Onondaga Community College Men’s Basketball players returned to campus January 24 for the 6th annual alumni game at the SRC Arena & Events Center. More than 30 players representing the classes of 1990 through 2014 laced up their sneakers and hit the hardwood.

Men’s basketball coach Dave Pasiak enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with past players. “From my perspective, Alumni Day, and the Alumni Game, is one of the best if not the best day of the year.  Our program has always been about more than just basketball. It’s very special to catch up with so many of our former players from my era and before and see how they have become successful with their families, careers, and lives.”

Lazer Basketball Alumni Andrew Lucio (left) and Zach Loura (right) block  Joel Hughes' path to the basket.
Lazer Basketball Alumni Andrew Lucio (left) and Zach Loura (right) block Joel Hughes’ path to the basket.

Returning players echoed Pasiak’s sentiments. Jordan Barzee graduated in 2008 with a degree in Business and now works as a finance manager. “When I was here I really enjoyed it. I had a good relationship with a lot of the guys. Coach Pasiak is a class act and is a big part of the reason we came here as students and keep coming back.”

As for the game it was tightly contested throughout with the Blue Team hitting a 3-point shot at the buzzer to defeat the White Team 92-89.

Regardless of the outcome Barzee is happy to be part of the OCC basketball family. “The alumni game is great and to see all these guys you’ve hung out with over the years is great. It’s friendship for life!”

Corporate Support

CROPPED BoT check presentationPartnerships with area businesses have provided a significant investment in new scholarships for students at Onondaga.  Thank you for your dedication and commitment to the College, our students, and the community.

“The students in our community have a diverse range of skills and Onondaga continues to play an increasingly important role in helping them develop those skills and reach career goals. Scholarships will help support talented, budding undergraduates from our community to pursue their career interests,” said Allen J. Naples, M&T Bank Regional President and Senior Vice President of the Central New York region.