Tara Owens was sworn-in as a member of Onondaga Community College’s Board of Trustees during its monthly meeting May 9. She is Director of Risk management and Compliance at Empower Federal Credit Union where she has worked since 2003. Owens has also worked at FiServ, Inc., and Chase Manhattan Bank. She earned a bachelor’s in Business Management from Ithaca College.
Owens was appointed by Onondaga County Executive Joanne M. Mahoney. She replaces Dr. Gary R. Livent who served 18 years on the board. He was granted Trustee Emeritus Status last November.
They’ve been inseparable for 15 years. Now Yajha and Deyquan Bowens have earned their college degrees together. They met in church, became high school sweethearts, married and started a family. On May 13, 2017 they received their college degrees during OCC’s 54th commencement ceremony. “I consider this associate degree to be like a master’s. This is what I set out to do and I’m finishing what I started,” said Dayquan. “I know some people think, ’it’s just an associate degree.’ I’m treating it like it’s top notch. It was a struggle for both of us,” said Yajha.
Religion brought Yajha and Deyquan together. They met at Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on Oakwood Avenue and began dating in 2002. They continued dating through high school despite attending different schools. Yajha graduated from Nottingham in 2006, Deyquan from Corcoran the same year. That fall both began taking classes at OCC.
When it was time to choose a major Deyquan struggled with conflicting advice from his parents. “My dad encouraged me to do what I wanted to do but my mom wanted me to, ‘do something that made money.’” Deyquan took his mother’s advice and chose Computer Engineering. “It wasn’t my passion and I couldn’t stay focused.” He flunked out, then tried what his father suggested. Deyquan had played music his entire life. He followed his heart into OCC’s Music major with a specialization in Piano. He loved it but by that time had lost financial aid and needed to take classes part-time.
Yajha faced similar struggles. She too lost financial aid and had to become a part-time student while making ends meet. She would eventually earn an Early Childhood certificate in 2009, then decided to pursue a degree in Human Services. “The major would allow me to do what I like and work with children. With marriage and children and life I wound up being in school longer than expected.”
As they continued pursuing degrees Deyquan and Yajha married in 2012. One year later they started their family. Today Deyquan Jr. is 4 and Ahjay is 1. As Deyquan and Yajha have worked toward their degrees they have also established themselves in the community. Deyquan owns his own business, Kue Music and Entertainment and also teaches Gospel Choir at SUNY Cortland. Yajha is in her third year teaching a class titled “Building Women” to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Lincoln Middle School.
Deyquan and Yajha have an appreciation for what they’ve accomplished together and the people they have become. “I’m much more mature now than when I started. I took financial aid and life for granted. Now I’m more focused than I’ve ever been. For us it was good to go to college as long as we did and later in life,” said Deyquan. “It’s important we finish to show our kids although you have stumbling blocks you can still be successful,” said Yajha. “You shouldn’t let anything stop you. Persevere!”
Major: Human Services – Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling
Robert Lane remembers the lowest moments of his life and doesn’t mind sharing the details. Understanding where he has come from helps you appreciate where he is today. Lane was a homeless drug addict who was ready to die. Prison saved him. This Saturday he’ll earn his college degree. “When I walk across that stage and receive my diploma with honors I’ll probably cry,” he said.
Lane grew up in the western New York community of Jamestown. “I came from a fairly affluent family and rebelled against everything they wanted me to do.” That included not going to college and instead joining the U.S. Army at age 18. He spent four years in the service, was discharged and began his long descent. “After my parents died I squandered my inheritance. I developed a substance abuse problem. I was an avid drug user for 30 years. I wound up homeless and living under a bridge in Houston, Texas.”
Two moments in particular standout to Lane as the lowest of his lows. He remembers when one of his daughters, who was 12 or 13 at the time, figured out what he was doing with his life. “She said to me, ‘Dad you are a drug addict!’ That hurt me. Up until then I didn’t think she knew. My daughter had identified me for what I was.”
Lane also recalls a Sunday morning when he was standing on a corner in Houston. “I had this song in my head by Johnny Cash, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’ I was wondering how I got there and I was powerless to do anything about it. I really just wanted to die.”
A short time later Lane got busted and went to prison. He was sentenced to 15 years and would serve half of that. “When I got arrested it was a blessing. What happened to me there was nothing short of remarkable. I met a mentor, I discovered meditation, I made a commitment to change who I was, I got clean and I started taking college classes.”
During his first five years in prison his two daughters didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Lane wanted to work on his relationship with them and decided to do so with his pen. “I wrote them the biography of my life starting from the earliest time I could remember. Every week I wrote a new chapter and eventually wrote about my entire life. I never got letters back but kept doing it.” His writing made an impact. During his last two years in prison his daughters visited him.
When Lane finished serving his time in Texas he was brought to New York where he also had time to serve from a previous sentence. When he completed paying his debt to society, Lane was released in the southern tier. During an appointment at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse he met a woman whom he would begin dating and ultimately move in with.
Lane’s relationship and relocation to Central New York brought him to OCC where he enrolled in time for the spring 2016 semester. He excelled in class and in March 2017 was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “To be an honor student is unbelievable to me. I didn’t think I could do it after what I had been through in my life. When I heard my name called it was a very very powerful moment.”
His next powerful moment will come this Saturday at commencement. His daughters are now in their 20s. One lives in Houston, the other is in Jacksonville, Florida. Both will be in attendance to see there father receive his college degree.
Lane’s plan is to become a licensed mental health counselor. He believes his life experience has prepared him for the next phase of his life. “With the current opiate crisis and drug crisis in general for people to see that someone like me can get clean, go to school and be successful can give people hope. I’ve been preparing to become a counselor my whole life. I’m uniquely qualified for it. I believe because I was able to do this anyone can do this. I did it and I had resigned myself to death.”
Natalie Mosby and Osamah Abyadh meet once a week and discuss everything. The topics range from how to navigate around campus to coursework to how to register for classes to our seemingly endless winters. They are strangers from different sides of the world brought together by the Scholar to Scholar Mentor program. “It’s helped me a lot to do this,” said Abyadh. “I will do it again if I have the chance.”
Abyadh is a native of Iraq who came to the United States just in time to start taking classes in the spring 2016 semester. His dream is to become a civil engineer. Mosby is from the hamlet of Memphis, located just inside the western edge of Onondaga County. She’s a Mathematics & Science major with a focus on Chemistry.
Mosby and Abyadh were brought together by the new Scholar to Scholar Mentor program. It pairs up a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa with a student in Reading 087. It’s up to the students to make the most of the opportunity.
“We enjoy meeting every week,” said Mosby. “I feel like I’ve learned more from him than he’s learned from me. I ask him a lot of questions about the different cultures he’s been a part of.” “She helps me with many things,” Abyadh added. “Whenever I have problems she helps.”
The Scholar to Scholar Mentor program is the creation of Christopher Son, a Phi Theta Kappa member who earned his degree from OCC in December 2016. Son came to OCC with his GED and started by taking developmental classes. Through hard work and determination he became an outstanding student.
The top ranked and undefeated Lazers will play Nassau Community College Saturday, May 13 at 1 p.m. The other semifinal game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. It will feature second seeded and defending national champion Genesee Community College against Howard (MD) Community College. The championship game will be played Sunday, May 14 at 1 p.m.
OCC clinched the number one seed in the tournament April 29 when the Lazers defeated Tompkins Cortland Community College 33-5 to win the Region III championship.
OCC’s Men’s Lacrosse has won nine national championships.
The national semifinals and finals will happen the same weekend as commencement which is scheduled for Saturday, May 13 at 10am in the SRC Arena.
Henry Humiston will be the student speaker at commencement. He is a 46-year-old dual major who will receive degrees in Nuclear Technology and Electrical Engineering Technology.
Humiston grew up in Liverpool and was diagnosed with ADHD at age 12. He earned his GED and became a professional drywall finisher. A back injury led him to rethink his career options. At his mother’s urging, he enrolled in OCC. During the summer of 2012 he began taking classes at OCC @ Liverpool before eventually coming to the main campus.
During the 2016-17 academic year Humiston served the campus community as an officer in the Student Association. In April, he was named the top student in the College’s Nuclear Technology major. He has accepted a job offer from Exelon and will begin working at Nine Mile Point in June. “Excited and blown away don’t even begin to describe how I feel about being selected,” said Humiston. “OCC has been the best second chance a person could ask for.”
OCC’s Commencement will be held Saturday, May 13 at 10 a.m. in the SRC Arena.
Nick Phillips has always been fascinated by water and the environment. That’s why the Environmental Technology major decided to travel to San Salvador two years in a row to study the impact of trash drifting onto the windward side of the Bahamian Island. Phillips presented his research April 1 at the Syracuse University Earth Science Symposium. He was the only student from a community college participating in the event which was dominated by graduate-level students. “It was a great experience to show professors from other colleges what I had done and what I had learned from the research. I also enjoyed hearing what other students were working on.”
What Phillips learned during his research was both disturbing and remarkable. He traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas in both 2016 and 2017 as part of his attendance in the Geology and Marine Ecology of the Bahamas class (GEO290) and as an internship (ENV201). Both times he went to the windward side of the island and both times it was covered with trash. “Between four of us, we picked up 200 to 300 items and sorted them by what they were made of. By the time we’d stopped picking things up we looked back and you couldn’t even tell we’d made a difference in the amount of trash there. It was really sad to see.”
The following year Phillips didn’t see any large items. Instead he found fragments of objects from seemingly everywhere. “I found part of a weather buoy from Canada along with things from Ireland, Morocco, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.” He shared lessons learned from both research trips during his presentation at S.U.
Phillips has always had an interest in water and the environment. Before graduating from Central Square High School in 2015 he did research in local waterways. He would catch fish and bring them to Syracuse University where they would be examined for the amount of mercury they contained. He also participated in the Genius Olympiad at SUNY Oswego. “Both of those activities got me interested in these kind of things.”
Despite his strong performance in this area, Environmental Technology is actually his “plan B.” Phillips career goal is to become a State Trooper. “I’ve wanted to go into law enforcement since I was 5-years-old and they asked us in Kindergarten to draw what we wanted to be. My father is a State Trooper.” He will take the State Police exam in October but plans to remain active in Environmental Technology so he has something to do later in life.
Phillips was planning to transfer to SUNY Cobleskill in the fall but has postponed his acceptance for one year. Next January he will participate in the “Semester at Sea” program through Colorado State University. He’ll board a ship in San Diego, then head to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Burma, India, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and end up in Germany next April. The schedule will allow students the time to sightsee in between working and learning. “I’m going to get to travel the world while getting a semester full of classes on the ship. I’m looking forward to it!”
As Phillips received his degree in May he reflected on his experiences on campus. “I loved it here. It was great to be able to sit down and talk with your professors and have them understand your needs. It was nice having small classes. I have friends at other colleges who have classes with 130 students in them and they don’t know their professors name and the professor knows one or two people in the class. I really liked it here.”
Maynard Bland is about to do something which for most of his life seemed impossible. He’ll walk across the stage inside SRC Arena and receive his Mechanical Technology degree. “It’s all pretty amazing. It’s been a long road and I made it a long road.”
Bland grew up in a home with an alcoholic mother, quit school in 9th grade and spent much of his adult life in and out of jail. “I was out of control. I ran the streets for days at a time. I did drugs for the fun of it but eventually it wasn’t fun anymore. I had to lose everything to get straight.”
His sobriety began April 2, 2013. Bland took classes while incarcerated in the Jamesville Penitentiary and earned his GED through the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES. Then he came to OCC where every time he encountered failure, he started over and worked harder. He failed English twice, then passed it the third time. He failed Pre-Calculus twice, then passed it the third time.
“Maynard Bland works harder than any student I know,” said his adviser, Steve White. “I have the utmost respect for Maynard and what he has overcome to get to this point. Through his example Maynard inspires me and anyone he comes in contact with.”
On May 13 at the age of 47 Maynard will finally receive his college degree. “I never let what I did to myself stop me. I did what I had to do. I’m approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s right here!”
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