Our NASA Team

OCC's NASA Team is (standing left to right): Doug Weaver, Brian Richardson, Natalia Montilla, Nathan Johnson, Neil Minet and Allan O'Mara. Seated is Dr. Fred Jaquin, Faculty Mentor.
OCC’s NASA Team is (standing left to right): Doug Weaver, Brian Richardson, Natalia Montilla, Allan O’Mara, Neil Minet and Nathan Johnson. Seated is Dr. Fred Jaquin, Faculty Mentor.

NASA needed ideas. The organization sent out a nationwide request asking college students to submit designs for tools or devices which astronauts would use during exploration. Proposals were due by November 1. NASA reviewed the ideas and selected more than two dozen colleges and universities to participate in the project.

The list included prestigious four-year schools like Cornell University, Columbia University and Rochester Institute of Technology. There were also three two-year schools chosen including Onondaga Community College. “We’re all pretty proud of this,” said OCC team co-leader Brian Richardson. “Sometimes there can be a stigma towards community colleges. This shows that stigma has no validity.”

Richardson played a key role in the selection process. In the spring 2016 semester he was one of five OCC students chosen to participate in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. Richardson took part in special courses and traveled to a NASA facility where he worked side-by-side with engineers.

During the fall semester he was contacted about another opportunity. “I received an email from NASA about this project asking if we’d like to try it out.” Richardson asked Chemistry and Physical Science Chair Dr. Fred Jaquin if he would be the faculty mentor. “I agreed to do it. Brian said he would work on putting a team of students together and creating a proposal,” said Jaquin.

NASA’s project was called Micro-g NExT. The term “Micro-g” represented a very low gravity environment. “NExT” stood for Neutral buoyancy Experiment design Teams. NASA needed student teams to submit designs for one of three things:

  • An anchoring device that would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon.
  • A surface sampling tool astronauts would use to scoop up surface soil samples from the aforementioned bodies.
  • A sub-surface sampling device that would maintain the stratigraphy of the cored sample.

Richardson assembled a team of six students. They submitted a proposal for an anchoring device which would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon. “It will be a manually operated auger-like device which comes with very specific design requirements,” said Jaquin. For example, the device must fit in a 10-inch by 10-inch by 18-inch box. It cannot have any sharp edges protruding which could damage an astronaut’s suit. It also must be neutrally buoyant so if the astronaut lets go of it underwater it won’t sink or float to the top.

The proposal also required a community outreach plan and a budget which would cover manufacturing costs. In early December OCC’s team got the news it was hoping for. Its proposal had been selected. “It was very exciting,” said Jaquin.

Being selected means OCC’s team will be traveling to Texas in May. Students will spend four days at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston where they will see astronauts use what they have designed. Team members will stand side-by-side with NASA Engineers and students from colleges across the country. Between now and then students will be working on designing and testing their device. NASA has given all of the participating colleges and universities a strict timeline to follow throughout the process.

Natalia Montilla is also the OCC team’s co-leader. She’s ready for the challenge that lies ahead. “This is a great opportunity for us to show what we can do coming from a community college in upstate New York. We see all of the top universities taking part in it. We’re excited to meet new people, meet NASA Engineers and learn what they do. We’re excited to go out there and use our minds.”

Below is a slideshow with each of the team members photos. Beneath that is a list of the colleges and universities selected to participate in NASA’s Micro-g NExT program.

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  • Alabama
  • Alaska-Anchorage
  • Arizona State
  • Art Institute of Seattle
  • University of Buffalo
  • UCLA
  • UC-Riverside
  • Coastal Bend College
  • Columbia
  • Cornell
  • Embry-Riddle
  • Grand Valley State
  • Illinois
  • Kapiolano CC
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio State
  • Old Dominion
  • Onondaga Community College
  • Purdue
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Salt Lake CC
  • Texas A&M
  • Univ of Texas at Dallas
  • Univ of Texas at El Paso
  • Univ of Texas at Rio Grande Valley
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology

Top Tutors Honored

Helene Brophy tutors math at the Learning Center.
Helene Brophy tutors math at the Learning Center.

The Learning Center is a popular place in the days and weeks leading up to final exams. It’s where students go for help with their coursework. During that busy period students voted Helene Brophy and Greg Maslyn “Tutors of the Month.”

Brophy has been tutoring students in math since the 2009-2010 academic year when she was also a student here. “I was taking classes on electricity. Many students could do the electricity part of the lab but had a hard time with math. I ended up helping them and said to myself, ‘I can be a tutor!’”

Brophy earned an associate degree in Computer Science in 2010 and recently completed work on a bachelor’s in Math from a college in her native France. As she was taking classes she continued to help other students. “I love math and I love helping people. I want to encourage anyone who is afraid of math to come here and get tutoring. Anyone who thinks they are not good in math should give it a try. Don’t let math prevent you from getting your degree.”

Greg Maslyn
Greg Maslyn tutors students in Ecology, French and Statistics.

Greg Maslyn is currently a student at OCC. The 2010 graduate of Central Square High School is majoring in Humanities & Social Sciences and is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Maslyn tutors students in three diverse subjects: Ecology, French and Statistics. “I’ve grown to love teaching Ecology the most because it’s the one I do the most. I have a solid understanding of the course material and it makes the sessions fun. I think everyone I had this semester was a non-science major and the students did a really good job. It was fun to watch them progress.”

Maslyn is also a talented musician who gives private lessons in guitar, drums, piano and vocals. After he earns his degree in 2017 he plans to take pursue his first love. “I’ve always back-seated a career in music but if I’m going to try something in it I need to do it now. I’ll probably relocate to a larger city and give my music a shot. If all else fails I love the prospect of teaching whether it’s music or something different. The things I love most are helping, learning and playing music.”

Congratulations to Helene Brophy and Greg Maslyn, the Learning Center’s latest Tutors of the Month! If you’re interested in becoming a tutor or being tutored at the Learning Center call (315) 498-2103 and speak with a staff member.

Second Chance Career: Greg Minix, ’15

Minix with his collection of designed covers for the Syracuse New Times
Minix with his collection of designed covers for the Syracuse New Times

Greg Minix turned a negative into a positive and wound up with a second career. The Marathon, New York native was working at New Process Gear (NPG) when the plant closed in August 2012. Minix’s severance package gave him the opportunity to go back to school at NPG’s expense and he took advantage, choosing to attend OCC. “It was kind of my second chance at life. I was able to study graphic design, something I had loved since I was a kid.”

Minix has one of his first original pieces of art from OCC on display in his office.
Minix has one of his first original pieces of art from OCC on display in his office.

The computer software used by Graphic Design students was new to Minix. He was concerned he wouldn’t be able to learn everything in two years but the Art department faculty and staff gave him the support he needed and encouraged him to never settle for anything less than the best. “They were phenomenal. They’re real artists and they treated the classroom much like a professional environment. The relationship was more like employer to employee rather than teacher to student.” Minix credited Professors Bruce Osborn, Steven Ryan, Jill Doscher, Donalee Wesley and department secretary Kathy Tracy with being instrumental in his success both in the classroom and beyond.

Minix earned his degree in December 2015 and was hired a short time later as a graphic artist with the Syracuse New Times where tens of thousands of people see his work in the weekly newspaper. When he’s creating a cover design or advertisement he finds himself thinking back to assignments at OCC and words his instructors often shared with him. “Regardless of your program, OCC has all the tools you need to make your time there successful. All you have to do is use them, expand upon them and run with it like I did!”

Diyoni Stith

Diyoni Stith
Diyoni Stith
  • High School: Clara Barton in Brooklyn, Class of 2015
  • Major @ OCC: Business Administration

An internet search during Diyoni Stith’s junior year of high school helped him figure out his career goal. “I was looking online for top paying jobs related to math. The first one I came to was ‘actuary science.’ I read about it, found it to be very interesting and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do and I can make a lot of money at it so why not?’” An actuary is a business professional who analyzes the financial consequence of risk. Actuaries use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance and pension programs.

Stith working with students at McKinley-Brighton Elementary.
Stith working with students at McKinley-Brighton Elementary.

Stith’s dream was to attend SUNY Albany but his grades weren’t good enough. OCC was his plan “B.” During his year-and-a-half on campus he’s worked hard inside and outside class and developed into an outstanding student. “I’m more focused now. I know what I have to do. I’m better with time management and organization.”

During the fall 2016 semester Stith became an officer in the Student Association, serving as its Vice President of Clubs & Organizations. “I was looking for ways to get involved in campus and being in the Student Association has been my biggest accomplishment this semester. It gave me so many opportunities to get involved. I’ve been a part of helping students at McKinley-Brighton School and have been on a panel speaking to incoming college students. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Stith will earn his degree in May 2017. He plans to transfer and continue to pursue his career goal of becoming an actuary.

The Joy of Giving

Zakrey, a student in OCC’s College for Living program

It’s better to give than to receive during the holiday season. The actions of a kind-hearted student are proof of that.

Earlier this month OCC’s chapter of the American Association of Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC) collected cold-weather items for those at the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter in Syracuse. The generosity of the entire campus community resulted in a carload of warm pajamas, hats, mittens, socks and blankets for shelter residents.

The spirit of giving was exemplified by Zakrey, a student in OCC’s College for Living program which serves adult students with developmental disabilities. Part of the students’ program includes earning funds and then taking trips to area stores to help grow their independence, learn practical skills and interact with others in the community.

College for Living students prepared for a trip to shopping mall Destiny USA to buy gifts for their families and to possibly get something special for themselves. The effort included researching the stores in advance, picking out what they wanted to buy, and figuring out how much money they would have to spend on each item and at each store.

Upon returning from their shopping trip the students proudly displayed their purchases.  Zakrey gave his bag to Amy Mech, the Director of College for Living.  When Amy looked inside, she saw that the bag was stuffed with mittens, winter hats and warm socks.  Zakrey said to Amy, “For the ladies.” Zakrey had noticed a flyer on a bulletin board for the Salvation Army drive. Instead of using the money he had earned for himself, he bought gifts for the women at the shelter.

Thank you to Zakery for reminding us all of the true meaning of the holidays!

Women Fighting Fires

Fire Protection Technology majors MacKenzie Nicol (left) and Kaitlyn Eighmie (right) at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department where they participate in the bunk-in program.
Fire Protection Technology majors MacKenzie Nicol (left) and Kaitlyn Eighmie (right) at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department where they participate in the bunk-in program.

Six months ago MacKenzie Nicol and Kaitlyn Eighmie didn’t know each other. Today they are inseparable. Both are OCC Fire Protection Technology majors learning and excelling in a field dominated by men. They trace the foundation for their success back to Phoenix Firecamp which they both attended in the summer of 2016. It’s a week-long residential camp for women interested in career and volunteer fire service. “The camp provided us great hands-on experience and training with other women,” said Eighmie. “It really sparked my mind as I entered college.”

Nicol and Eighmie grew up about two hours apart from each other. Nicol graduated from upstate Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School in 2015, Eighmie from downstate Stamford High School in 2016. Each was active in her hometown fire department before coming to OCC. Nicol joined the Sylvan Beach Fire Department two years ago while Eighmie had been part of the Stamford Fire Department since 2014.

Phoenix Firecamp
Phoenix Firecamp

In July they met for the first time in Utica, spending a week together at Phoenix Firecamp. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about firefighting in an all-female environment. “Women can do the job of firefighting, they may just need to do it a little differently,” said Rochelle Jones who is President of the Fire Service Women of New York State and a retired Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief. “We hear all the time that young women who do belong to a fire department do not always get the same opportunities as the young men during training exercises, or they are conscientious of trying something for the first time while being the only female in attendance.  We offer both experience and support to overcome these issues.”

Nicol and Eighmie found the Phoenix Firecamp experience to be invaluable. “I knew I could do anything guys do but I might not do it the same way. My hands are smaller so I can’t grip around things the same way. They were able to show us ways they do it and how we can do it as females,” said Nicol. “It was a great bonding experience working together for the whole week. We became sisters and we all still stay in touch. If I could go back and do it again I would,” said Eighmie. OCC sophomore and Fire Protection Technology major Kiersten Spears also attended the Phoenix Firecamp.

Nicol and Eighmie are both participating in the bunk-in program. They live at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department free of charge in exchange for responding to emergency calls. It provides area residents with enhanced fire protection, presents students the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals while receiving valuable hands-on training 24 hours a day and saves students a significant amount of money.

Eighmie is also saving money thanks to the John F. Downes Memorial Scholarship which is distributed through the OCC Foundation. Downes passed away at age 40 from Graves’ Disease. His sister, Kathy McCabe-Crouse and her husband Jeff Crouse created the scholarship in his memory. She decided the beneficiary should be a student in the Fire Protection Technology major in honor of her father, Mike Downes who was a retired Chief in the Syracuse Fire Department.  McCabe-Crouse is an alumna of OCC’s Nursing and Human Services programs and a former member of the OCC Alumni Association.

The $1,200 scholarship is helping Eighmie cover the cost of tuition and fees. When she learned she would receive it she was overjoyed. “I looked at my financial aid, called my mom and said, ‘Mom I got a scholarship!’ It was amazing. It’s great to know someone is helping you achieve what you want to achieve.”

Eighmie and Nicol are planning to earn their degrees in May 2018. Eighmie is interested in pursuing a career as a fire investigator, inspector or code enforcer. Nicol plans to become a career firefighter.

Students on Patrol

Student Patrol members (left to right) Zack Smith, Robert Moore and Garrett Sikora.
Student Patrol members (left to right) Zack Smith, Robert Moore and Garrett Sikora.

Monday, November 7 seemed like a routine night for members of OCC’s Student Patrol. Robert Moore, Garrett Sikora and Zachary Smith were going door-to-door across campus, checking buildings and locking doors. Shortly before 10 p.m. they stepped inside the Gordon Student Center and smelled trouble in the air. “I walked in and realized, ‘It doesn’t smell like normal in here,’” said Moore. “We called in to base and let them know we smelled a strong scent of gas,” said Smith.

A short time later Ron Lewandowski who works in Maintenance at OCC showed up with a gas detection unit. “The cafeteria was filled with gas,” said Moore. “On the meter the levels were off the charts.” It was a dangerous situation which could have been far worse without the actions of Student Patrol. “Gas levels the next morning would have been lethal,” said Sikora. “It would have only taken a small spark for something bad to happen.”

Dave Wall
Dave Wall

The fast work of Moore, Sikora and Smith was recognized at November’s OCC Board of Trustees meeting. “They literally saved a building and potentially lives,” said Dave Wall, Director of Campus Safety and Security. “You could imagine what might have happened had this situation gone undetected for another eight hours.”

Moore, Sikora and Smith are three of the 15 members of OCC’s Student Patrol. They perform valuable services across campus on a daily basis. “They are our eyes and ears similar to a neighborhood watch,” said Wall. “They are in the residence halls, they are checking buildings. In a community policing approach they are very much a part of the team.”

Being a member of Student Patrol can provide a path for those interested in a career in criminal justice. Moore, Sikora and Smith are all on track to earn their degrees in May 2017. Sikora (Liverpool High School, class of 2015) is a Humanities major still considering options but both Moore and Smith are interested in a career in law enforcement. Moore (Lafayette High School, class of 2013) is a dual major in both Criminal Justice and Mathematics & Science. His goal is to become a forensic technician. Smith’s inspiration for a career in law enforcement came from his uncle who is a member of the New York City Police Department. Smith will take civil service exams in the spring for future police openings.

“We are so fortunate to have outstanding students here who make up our Student Patrol,” said Wall. “It’s a great way for us to connect with students and the entire campus community. I appreciate their dedication.”

Leadership Games

Malaki Davis, 5th grade student at McKinley-Brighton and "People Bingo" champion.
Malaki Davis, 5th grade student at McKinley-Brighton and “People Bingo” champion.

“Do you have a brother or sister?”

“Do you like to play sports?”

“Is your favorite color blue?

Those questions were flying fast and furious inside a 5th grade classroom at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School in Syracuse. Students were engaged in a hotly contested game of “People Bingo.” Each student was holding a sheet of paper with a bingo grid on it. Inside each square was a characteristic or trait. The goal was to find a person in the room who matched the description in a box, then write his or her name next to it.

Onondaga Community College’s Sarah Collins was in charge of the game. Collins is the Director of Student Leadership and Development and she brought four Student Association officers with her along with Katharine Rumrill-Teece who is OCC’s Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences. People Bingo was a game with a purpose. “It’s designed to encourage open communication in preparation for next semester when we work with these students on forming a student council at McKinley-Brighton,” said Collins.

Before the game started Collins introduced herself to the class. She explained how the officers in the Student Association worked hard both individually and as a unit. “Sometimes you have your own work to do in school, sometimes you work with each other as a group. These Student Officers have a lot of projects they have to do together, but at the same time each of them has roles and responsibilities within that project. It’s important because they need to lean on each other and know that when one of them has an assignment the other one’s going to have an assignment and everyone will get their part done.”

Collins invited the four Student Association officers to come up and speak about themselves. The 5th graders heard brief introductions from Sandy Klinzman, Diyoni Stith, Mike Phelps and Liz Angle, then the game began. McKinley-Brighton students quickly criss-crossed the room, asking fellow students, teachers, OCC students and administrators questions to see who could get bingo first. The winner was Malaki Davis.

The activities were part of an ongoing partnership between McKinley-Brighton and OCC aimed at helping students think about career opportunities and higher education. The pilot program was kicked off during a celebration at McKinley-Brighton in September. More than 200 students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades attended the event.

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Ryan Case

Ryan Case
Ryan Case
  • High School: Dolgeville, Class of 2015
  • Major at OCC: Music with a specialization in Piano

Music was always Ryan Case’s destiny. From the moment his parents met at music camp the sounds of music would forever fill their lives. His father, Mark played the trombone. His mother, Carol played the bassoon. They married and raised three sons. Music was a constant in the household. “My parents wanted us to have music in our lives,” Case said. “We each picked out an instrument for ourselves.”

Case chose the piano and began taking lessons in 2nd grade. By the time he reached 9th grade he was helping teach fellow classmates music parts in various ensembles. Case plays other instruments (trombone and euphonium) and sings (he’s a bass). He’s grateful for the numerous opportunities he received in high school. Two years later his piano teacher, Linda Carpenter told him she had gone as far as she could with him. He needed to find someone else to take lessons from.

During Case’s junior year at Dolgeville High School he attended a master class at Herkimer High School with other students from the Mohawk Valley. OCC Music Professors Rob Bridge and David Rudari were there and Case struck up a conversation with them. “I told them I was interested in attending OCC and needed a piano teacher. They told me about Dr. Kevin Moore at OCC and gave me his contact information.”

A short time later Case found himself driving to OCC for lessons with Dr. Moore. “The first lesson I had with him I was like, ‘Wow! He’s good!’” Case would make the trip every other week. With each lesson and the time he was putting in between lessons he was blossoming as a pianist.

In the fall of 2015 Case enrolled at OCC. He began taking classes tuition-free thanks to the Frederick Marvin Scholarship. Marvin is a world renowned concert pianist who gave the OCC Foundation $25,000 with the request that the money be used for scholarships for Music majors specializing in piano. Case had the opportunity to meet Marvin during his first semester on campus.

During his time at OCC Case has been an outstanding student, earning membership in international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He’s grateful for OCC’s Music department and the impact faculty has had on his growth. “The professors here are wonderful. They’ve helped me so much with everything. I’m so impressed with the entire department and how much they care about students.”

Case will earn his degree in May 2017. He plans to transfer to either SUNY Potsdam or Roberts Wesleyan and major in music education. Case will follow his father’s footsteps into the world of teaching. Mark Case is a music teacher in the Dolgeville School District.

Case would like to thank the Dolgeville School District for helping him build a strong foundation. He’s especially grateful to Choir Director Bethany Colenzo who gave him opportunities to teach choir classes, parts and accompany the choir on piano. He also wants to thanks his father who was his Band Director and allowed him to direct the band. Case is also grateful to elementary Choir Director Leslie Kubica and elementary Band Director Katlin Wolford who gave him opportunities to work with children. “All of these teachers gave me experiences in music education. I thank them and the Dolgeville Central School Administration and Staff for supporting me!”

From Christine to Chris: A Story of Gender Fluidity



Chris looks back on photos of herself from ten years ago and sees a stranger. When Chris Kukenberger first came to OCC in 2005, she tried to identify as female. Now, almost 10 years later, Chris identifies as transgender and androgynous. Her journey in the world of gender fluidity has changed OCC for the better.

Chris grew up in Cazenovia always knowing her body wasn’t quite right. When she was 3 years old, she cut off her long girlish hair. At age 8, she decided to start saving enough money to have a gender reassignment surgery. She figured if she didn’t have enough money for the operation by age sixteen she would use the money to run away. Or leave it for her funeral.

As Chris got older, she came out to her parents as gay and went on with her life. She studied Italian Renaissance Art History at SUNY Purchase and fell in love with Florence on a study abroad program at Syracuse University. Chris went on to work at Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia and finally ended up getting a teaching job here at OCC.

One day, amidst all the hustle and bustle of everyday life as a professor, Chris stopped to see a speaker during college hour. Terri Cook, the mother of a transgender son, only spoke for an hour but her words changed Chris’s life. When Terry was describing the experience of losing a daughter but gaining a son, the light bulb flashed. Suddenly, it seemed, Chris knew what she sensed all her life. She was not a woman. Though, she wasn’t quite a man either.

Chris came to realize she identifies as transgender. She was caught in the world of gender fluidity. It’s a world so many people experience but few understand. The biggest struggle for Chris is to decide the pronoun she identifies with. “She” doesn’t work but Chris is essentially stuck with it. As she puts it, “Had I been able to transition when I was 8 or 12, I would have felt comfortable identifying as a man. But since I didn’t, I’ve been conditioned my whole life a girl, so the language of she/her is more familiar, though not entirely right.”

Slowly, Chris came out to her family and friends. As she came out, she began to advocate for transgender students wherever and whenever possible. Today, Chris takes her story on the road, talking about the transgender community to anyone who wants to listen. Each time Chris gets involved or speaks to someone she makes OCC and the world a better place.

When asked why she has stayed at OCC for over ten years, Chris responded, “It gives you an opportunity to help people through a transition phase in their life. If I can help one person, then it was all worth it.”

Chris Kukenberger is the Chairperson of the Art & Photography Department at Onondaga Community College. In her spare time, Chris loves to bike and travel. Chris leads a group of Onondaga Community College students to Florence every year. She also serves on the Women and Gender Studies Committee, the Diversity Council and the LGBTQ Committee.