Two OCC students will be honored for their academic excellence and community service at a statewide event in Albany. The USA Today Phi Theta Kappa All-New York Academic Team Recognition Ceremony will take place Monday, March 9 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the New York State Museum. All SUNY Community College Presidents will be in attendance along with elected officials. Speakers will include SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and Dr. Rod A. Risley, Executive Director of Phi Theta Kappa.
OCC’s student honorees are Alena Cerro and Greg Freitag.
Cerro is an Electronic Media Communications major, is vice president of public relations for the College’s Alpha Sigma Zeta chapter and serves as an Honors Program Student Ambassador and Honors Program Committee Student Representative. She has earned President’s List status each semester on campus, received numerous scholarships and awards and participated in service learning projects. Cerro is an intern in OCC’s External Relations and Marketing & New Media departments. She is a 2013 graduate of Liverpool High School.
Freitag is a Hospitality Management major. He has maintained a 4.0 GPA while volunteering for campus events, working several jobs and raising seven children. He works full time on the overnight shift as a Plant Utilities Engineer at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Freitag also works in the hospitality industry at the Courtyard by Marriott in Armory Square where he has been named employee of the month. In 2014 he medaled in the Empire State Games Track & Field competition. This summer Freitag will be one of 12,000 participants in the National Senior Games in Minneapolis. He is a 1977 graduate of Olympia High School in Greece.
“We are so proud of Alena and Greg and all they have accomplished,” said OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill. “Their stories are a wonderful example of the opportunities available here at OCC and on community college campuses across the nation through Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. A student who graduated from high school two years ago and a seasoned adult student making a career change are both succeeding at high levels and preparing themselves for outstanding careers. We salute both of them and look forward to honoring their achievements during this ceremony.”
Johnathan O’Kelley’s internship is doing exactly what he hoped it would. “It’s really rounding out my education. I’m working on a lot of things I’m not exposed to in the classroom. It’s been a great experience.”
O’Kelley is an Art major with a specialization in Multimedia Design at OCC interning with the Syracuse Poster Project. It’s an effort which brings together local poets and Syracuse University artists to create an annual series of posters for the city’s sidewalk kisoks.
The project is the brainchild of Jim Emmons. He created it in 2001 in an effort to enliven the city and build a sense of community. Every April the Project releases a new set of 16 posters which feature an illustrated poem about downtown, the city or the nearby countryside. The illustrations can be purchased as posters, note cards, postcards or haiku booklets.
The Syracuse Poster Project is headquartered in the Warehouse at 350 West Fayette Street in downtown Syracuse. That’s where O’Kelley spends nine hours a week focusing on supplemental design work necessary for marketing and promoting the posters.
“Johnathan is extraordinarily dependable,” said Emmons. “He follows through on tasks. When he starts something he finishes it. He’s very good at diving into new software, figuring out how it works and making it do what we need it to do. He’s great at paying attention to details.”
O’Kelley is on a much different career path than what he had planned for himself. Five years ago the Long Island native earned a biology degree from Syracuse University. After working in the industry for a year he decided it wasn’t for him. “I was always interested in graphics. I got interested in looking at concept art for video games. There’s a show on the Syfy channel called ‘Face Off’ where they do makeup for the movie industry. Part of the show focuses on character design and I got interested in that. I started examining what I could do in that field and it led me to the multimedia program at OCC.”
O’Kelley said his transition into a new major at a new college was made much easier thanks to the faculty. “The professors are very encouraging and work with you to make you think of different ways of doing things. Their professional experience creates a level of credibility so you believe what they are teaching you.”
O’Kelley is on track to graduate in May 2015. His goal is to work in the New York City/New Jersey area or in San Francisco.
Shannon Houghton is on the fast track to success thanks to her hard work in high school. When she graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse in 2014 Houghton had earned 36 college credits through a combination of AP and OCC’s College Credit Now program. With one year of college work already complete Shannon chose to start at OCC. “It’s been a good experience here. I like my classes and my teachers.”
Houghton earned a 3.8 grade point average in the fall 2014 semester. She was named to the President’s List and was invited to join honor societies Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Alpha Pi. One year after graduating from CNS, Houghton will earn a degree from OCC in Humanities with an Honors Minor.
Houghton plans to transfer to SUNY Binghamton and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her goal is to earn a master’s and become a psychologist. “OCC was the perfect step for me between high school and a four-year college.”
When Adam Corey was a student at Cortland High School he discovered what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “My junior year I took a course in our video production program and loved it. A student who was a year ahead of me in the program, Mike Kaminski, decided to attend OCC and got me interested in it. I came up to OCC, checked it out and the rest is history!”
In the fall of 1989 Corey enrolled in OCC’s Radio and TV major. “The leaders within Radio and TV; Cathy Hawkins, Vinny Spadafora, Tony Vadala and Nancy Licata created a great environment. It was very professional but felt like a family.” We all hung out together and helped each other with our projects. There was a lot of hands-on learning and it was fun. Everyone was looking out for everyone else.”
One of Corey’s professors, Tony Vadala, hired Corey as a production assistant with SUper Sports which produced telecasts of Syracuse University sports. Corey would do whatever was needed to assist with football and basketball productions. He would get more meaningful opportunities with SU’s olympic sports broadcasts running camera, directing or working on graphics. “I was very fortunate Tony opened up that door for me. We were all working 20 or 30 hours on weekends but it didn’t feel like work. It was fun and exposed me to a lot. It helped me choose the direction I wanted to go in.”
Corey earned his degree from OCC in 1991 and transferred to SUNY Oswego. He kept working weekends with SUper Sports. After graduating from SUNY Oswego he was hired by Syracuse University to work on a monthly TV show and recruiting videos. In 1997 Corey got a video editing job in Boston and also began freelancing regularly with ESPN, running their graphics on college football and MLB telecasts.
Corey would go from Boston to Washington, DC for a job editing network promos and commercials with Team Sound & Vision. He worked his way up to creative director where he was in charge of the graphics division. Corey worked on projects for the History Channel, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel,TLC and Travel Channel. He continued to freelance with ESPN covering the X Games, Women’s Final Four, Tennis, U.S. Open Golf and the British Open.
In 2010 Corey and a colleague whom he worked with at Team Sound & Vision started their own company, “dc collective.” They specialize in live action commercial production, motion graphic design and post-production. Five years later they have offices in Washington, Providence, Rhode Island and Charlotte, North Carolina. Their work is of the highest quality. The entire team has been nominated for every major industry award. “We have a unique philosophy. We don’t have titles for people. We believe in hiring the best people, letting them do their jobs and not micromanaging them. Our goal was to do things different and put the creative process first. We’ve accomplished that.”
Corey loves what he does and regularly works 60 to 70 hours a week. His tireless work ethic which began when he was a student at OCC have paid off. As he reflects on the route of his career path he has advice for today’s students:
Try everything. I thought I would enjoy covering live sports and I did, but I discovered I enjoyed creative directing and editing network promos and commercials. I still enjoy working on sports but in a different capacity.
Let your career evolve and put the time in. There’s going to be a lot of times when you friends are going out for the weekend and you can’t because you need to work. You have to put in your time.
If you’re not passionate about what you are doing find what you are passionate about. It’s such a broad industry now with production on the web.
You have to do things to learn. You will make mistakes. Don’t make excuses for your mistakes, learn from them.
Learn how to work together. 80% of what we do in this business is working with people. The technology part is important but you need to know how to deal with personalities.
Get as much as you can from your time at OCC. My experiences there continue to be key in helping me obtain my career ambitions as they evolve.
Corey maintains regular contact with the people running OCC’s Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major, formerly known as Radio & TV when he was a student. The high school friend who he followed to OCC, Mike Kaminski, is now co-chair of the department. The other co-chair is Tony Vadala who helped Corey get his start with SUper Sports. “OCC is really in a great position with Tony, Mike and (professor) Mark Ballard there. They are great instructors who also continue to work in the industry at a high level and are respected for what they do. They know what it’s like in the real world. It’s great that today’s students are learning from them.”
Criminal Justice major Eric Watson is the 2015 recipient of the New York State Sheriff’s Association’s annual scholarship. Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway presented Watson with a $250 check February 18 in Mawhinney Hall.
Watson is a 34-year-old Syracuse native who attended Fowler High School. He spent 10 years working as an auto mechanic but realized he needed a change. “My heart was never really in it. My grandfather was a firefighter in Solvay for most of his life and I was always interested in some sort of public service,” Watson said.
Since arriving at OCC he has thrived in the Criminal Justice major. “Coming here has reaffirmed I made the right decision and makes me want this career even more,” said Watson. “Eric is a great student. He has a great GPA and we are very happy and excited for him,” said Criminal Justice Professor Jessica Field who oversees the scholarship program.
The need-based scholarship is awarded to the student who writes the best essay explaining why he or she needs the money and what they would do with it. Watson is putting a portion of the money toward paying the registration fee for an upcoming police exam. The age cut off for the exam is 35. It’s his one and only chance to pass it. Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway views Watson’s age as a strength. “Sometimes the officers who start later wind up being among the best officers because of the level of maturity they bring to the job,” said Conway.
Watson is on track to graduate in December 2015. He’s hoping to do an internship with a law enforcement agency this summer. His career goal is to become a probation officer. “I want to help people who are transitioning back into society,” he said.
OCC’s Music Department held its third annual Percussion Suite Reunion Sunday, February 15 in the Recital Hall of the Academic II Building. Current students, family and friends attended the performance, which was organized by Music Professor Dr. Robert Bridge, instructor Jen Vacanti and Ashley Trudell, ’09. “To stand next to someone you used to play with years ago and remember the feelings of joy and stress, of preparation and the commitment it took is special,” said Trudell.
The reunion included a reception for alumni performers and current students. It was a great opportunity for past and present students to network and talk shop. “The alumni that return are all really excelling in areas of interest to our current crew,” said Bridge. “It’s great for them to have access to these performers to hear what they need to do following graduation.”
Basketball used to be Joe Olsen’s life. When he realized it would never be his livelihood he used his playing ability to get an education and build a career as a high school teacher.
Olsen graduated from Central Square’s Paul V.Moore High School in 2001. He was the all-time leading scorer and more interested in basketball than school work. Olsen went to SUNY Potsdam and lasted less than a month. He returned to Central New York and stayed busy doing odd jobs.
In between working and playing pickup basketball games Olsen ran into a friend who recommended he contact OCC Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Pasiak about playing there. Olsen took his advice, met with Pasiak and learned he would need to take and pass four courses during the summer to become eligible. Olsen decided to go for it. “I wasn’t the most disciplined student but coach stayed on me about it and it made a difference.”
Olsen spent two years at OCC, became the College’s all-time leading scorer and matured as a student. “I credit basketball with shining a light on the importance of school work. It began with the need to stay eligible and developed to the point where I was starting to become a good student. Coach Pasiak was a huge part of my success. He always stressed to be a good person and teammate, focus on academics, work hard and everything would fall into place. He really inspired me to be a good man.”
Olsen earned a degree in Business Administration in 2004 and transferred to Daemen College. He played basketball and continued to grow as a student but was unsure about a career path. “I had a friend who was a teacher in Syracuse who kept telling me how much he enjoyed teaching. He thought I would be a good teacher.” Around the time Olsen graduated from Daemen he made the decision to become a teacher.
Olsen got his master’s in education at SUNY Oswego and went to work teaching business classes. He spent a year at Schenectady High School, then a year at West Genesee High School. Olsen had just been hired to teach at Whitesboro High School when basketball led him back to his alma mater. During a pickup game with a current Central Square teacher Olsen learned about an opening there for a business teacher. Olsen applied, interviewed and got the job.
Five years later Olsen is teaching sports management and video design, two business classes he created at Central Square. “If someone would have told me when I was 18 I was going to be a teacher in Central Square I would have laughed in their face. Now I really see the value in it and enjoy helping young people. My goal is to prepare students for what they are going to do after high school. It’s really important.”
Olsen is continuing his education at SUNY Cortland where he is pursuing a certificate of advanced study in educational leadership. When he completes his work he’ll be ready to pursue his goal of becoming an administrator.
Olsen enjoys the opportunities to come back to OCC for alumni games and golf tournaments. “It’s great to catch up with old teammates, reflect on our time together and hear what everyone is doing now.”
Pasiak has high praise for his former player. When Olsen was inducted into the College’s Athletic Hall of Fame he referred to him as, “Not only the most outstanding player we’ve had at Onondaga but also the hardest worker and a great leader as well. He is a shining example of using the game to further himself as a person.”
“Being the all-time leading scorer here used to mean more to me than it does now,” said Olsen. “I don’t identify myself as ’Joe Olsen the basketball player’ any more. I’m proud of it but I’m more concerned with ‘Joe Olsen the teacher.’”
With his playing days behind him Olsen has become the College’s biggest cheerleader, constantly talking about the opportunities here. “I’m always promoting OCC. I had a great experience here. I can’t say enough good things about it to my students.”
Pam (Guarino) Heilmann is experiencing what she calls the opportunity of a lifetime. She’s a Distiller and Vice President of Production at Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky where she’s overseeing a distillery being built from the ground up. “We started from scratch. I’m involved in the design and build of the facility and ultimately the entire operation which will start sometime this summer.”
Heilmann has come a long way from her Central New York roots. She graduated from Solvay High School in 1973 and went to work. Money was tight at home and college wasn’t an option for Heilmann or her three sisters. In 1984 while working full-time at Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment in Liverpool she decided to take a night class at OCC, “Just to see if I could do it.” For three years she took one course at a time.
In 1988 she took a job as a clerk at Crucible Specialty Metals in Solvay. She wanted to become a supervisor but was told she needed a college degree. “That’s when I started taking more classes while working full-time. I realized it was something I really wanted to do.”
Heilmann was working 50 hours a week and going to class at night. She was exhausted but growing as a person. “I had a literature professor who really opened my mind up to other experiences in the world. Having grown up in Solvay and never having left the area my world was very limited.”
Heilmann earned her degree in Business Administration in 1991 but not before receiving an incredible lesson in compassion from her professors. “During my last semester I had a sister who passed away from leukemia. I needed to go to a hospital in Buffalo for a bone marrow transplant. I was going to miss one or two of my finals. Those teachers made arrangements for me to get my finals so I could take them and earn my degree. To me it was amazing they worked with students like that.”
Heilmann kept going to school at night and earned her four-year degree. While she was working at Crucible she met and began dating the man who would eventually become her husband, Marty Heilmann. In 1995 Crucible offered both of them management positions at its magnetics plant near Louisville, Kentucky and they jumped at the opportunity.
The Heilmann’s loved life in Kentucky but eventually decided it would be better for their financial futures if one of them worked somewhere else. Pam heard bourbon maker Jim Beam was looking for supervisors, applied and was hired. She was a relief supervisor filling in on shifts 24 hours a day, six days a week. “I took a step back. I was more than 40 years old and it was difficult on me working all of those different shifts, but it was the most interesting work I’d ever had to that point. It was definitely the right move. I met people who were excellent in the business, learned a lot from them and worked my way up to Distillery Manager.”
Heilmann’s growth and development at Jim Beam led to her opportunity at Michter’s where she came on board in December 2013 and is now overseeing the building of a distillery. It’s been quite a journey from Solvay to a management position in what used to be a male-dominated business. “The industry used to be a good-old-boy network. When I got into it women in the distilling industry were very few. It was very challenging to say the least. It’s much better now.”
Heilmann’s career path has led her to some conclusions which apply to anyone in any business or industry:
*Keep your mind open for opportunities.
*Don’t be afraid to take a step back to take a step forward.
*Success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication.
Decades later Heilmann remains grateful for what she found at OCC when she decided to take a chance on going to college. “I thought OCC was a wonderful option back then and I still do. Community colleges are wonderful. The opportunities they present people with are invaluable.”
Shannon LoBello is an adult learner who is constantly on the go. In between raising her 12-year-old daughter and working as a Medical Practice Manager in North Syracuse, she’s also majoring in Human Services and Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling at OCC. “As an adult learner and someone who works in a professional setting, I focus more and know what my responsibilities are. I want to prove it to myself I can do this. I’ve learned to make it all work between my job, my school work and raising my daughter.”
LoBello started taking classes at OCC in the spring 2012 semester. Two years later her hard work earned her induction into the College’s student honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “I owe much of my success here to Professor Kristen Brumfield (English/Reading/Communication). She has guided and shaped me as an adult student by taking the time to work with me and give me advice. As adult learners we can be set in our ways and sometimes it is hard for us to change or learn the proper way of writing.”
Her career goal is to own a counseling practice for mental health and addiction therapy. Her work will cover many aspects of care including mental health counseling, marriage family therapy, addiction medicine and social work. “We need people to advocate for this population. There aren’t enough treatment centers in the area for them. I want to change the face of how people view those with addictions. They’re not less than anyone else. They have a disease. I want to help people and give them a place to go. I also want to do pro bono work and give people the means to get treatment who can’t afford it.”
Rick Shirtz has climbed to the top of his profession. He’s a Regional President at NBT Bank overseeing commercial banking for 20 branches in Oswego, Onondaga and Madison counties. NBT, an $8 billion dollar institution, is headquartered in Norwich and has branches in six states. “I’m very fortunate to be where I am. I’ve had opportunities to go elsewhere but am very happy here,” said Shirtz.
Shirtz was the youngest of six children. He graduated from Bishop Ludden high school in 1975 and enrolled in OCC’s Criminal Justice major with dreams of becoming a New York State Trooper. As he examined career options he made the decision to change majors. “The education at OCC was very good and extremely flexible. I transitioned to Business Administration but was still able to graduate in two years.”
Shirtz transferred to Le Moyne College and pursued his four-year degree. In between going to class and studying he worked part-time as a loan adjustor at Key Bank. After graduating he went into Key Bank’s management training program and went to Syracuse University part time. Six years later he earned his master’s in business.
In the late 1980s Shirtz taught a couple of general banking courses at OCC, enjoyed the experience and hopes he can do it again some day. “I’d love the opportunity to return to OCC, teach again and do some career counseling when things slow down and I retire.”
Throughout Shirtz’s lengthy career he’s worked for all different types of managers and come up with own style. “I believe in leading by example. People need to see I’m working hard and getting things done on time.” He also favors an open door policy. “You have to be accessible to employees. If you aren’t you won’t be successful.”
Shirtz has advice for anyone considering a career in finance, and its transferrable to practically any career:
• Maintain flexibility
• Maintain contacts
• Be well rounded
Nearly 40 years after graduating from OCC, Shirtz remains a big believer in all of the opportunities at the College and offers a story from his own family as proof. “My oldest daughter transferred into OCC mid-year after her first semester at an out-of-town school that wasn’t a great “fit”. A year-and-a-half later she graduated, transferred to (SUNY) Cortland, got her master’s and is now a teacher in the Westhill School District. Everything she needed to start her college education was right here. She just had to go away to figure it out.”
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.