Accelerating Development

Matt DelConte, Ph.D. is a Professor in the English/Reading/Communication major. He was recently named Project Director for a SUNY grant which will support community colleges Accelerated Learning Programs.


Onondaga Community College has become a statewide leader in the effort to help students succeed simultaneously in developmental and credit-bearing courses. The College has been awarded a $600,000 grant from SUNY’s Performance Improvement Plan to support 10 community colleges as each either creates or improves its co-requisite model for teaching known as the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP). The Project Director is Matt DelConte, Ph.D. who teaches Developmental Writing at OCC. “We’re going to share our expertise, share our experiences and design a program that will help other schools do the kind of work we’re doing,” he said. “It’s really rewarding.”

Before the creation of the ALP program, students would take a developmental course in one semester followed by a credit-bearing course the next semester. Too many students weren’t making it to the credit-bearing course. Within higher education there was much conversation about work being done at the Community College of Baltimore County where faculty had created the ALP program. OCC decided to take a closer look. “We sent faculty there to learn what they were doing. They brought back ideas and began piloting a program.”

OCC’s ALP program began in the 2013-14 academic year. In the same semester a student takes credit-bearing English 103 (first-term composition) followed by Developmental Writing. The classes are taught back-to-back by the same professor. “Originally we only offered this in a few sections. We saw increasing success rates and good things happening so we built up and scaled up. Now it’s the principal option for students in a developmental writing class.”

Success within the ALP program has been two-fold. “Earning credit in the first semester is such a boon to doing well later in your college career. What’s also valuable is the way students develop a community amongst themselves and their instructors. It creates a valuable touchpoint for students who might not otherwise feel a connection.”

Carrie Daignault

  • Major: Humanities with an Honors minor
  • High School: Onondaga Central, class of 2016

Carrie has Asperger Syndrome, a condition which she has chosen to view as a positive and embrace. “I have high functioning academic skills and low functioning social skills. I can sometimes come off as awkward but I’m actually glad I have it. Some of the greatest minds of our time have had this condition including Einstein, Newton and Edison.”

Carrie was a high achieving high school student who had dreams of starting her college education at a four-year school. “My parents told me I would save money coming to OCC. I wasn’t thrilled to come here but I love it now. My opinion changed once I realized this was a serious academic institution and there were faculty members with Ph.D.’s who are experts in their field. It grew on me because I realized how small and friendly it was.”

Her happy place on campus is on the second floor of Coulter Hall where the office of honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) is located. “I’ve probably made more friends in PTK than I have anywhere else on campus. I know the students here are passionately academic people.” Carrie is a leader within PTK. She’s vice president of the college’s chapter and is also a regional officer in the organization.

In class, Carrie has been inspired by professors Arnauld Lambert and Daniel Warne. “They are really fun and really passionate about what they do. They’ve helped guide me, given me a lot of resources and tips for down the road.” She credits Lambert with introducing her to SUNY Geneseo where she plans to transfer to and major in Anthropology with a Linguistics focus. Carrie says Warne has explained to her how she can be successful in anthropology and motivated her. “He’s very good at pushing me to work my hardest and expand my knowledge.”

Carrie came to OCC with so many AP and college credits she will earn her degree in just three semesters. “I’m glad I came here. Looking back on who I was two years ago has caused me to a lot of self-reflection. I had that typical mindset of a teenager. I wanted to get out of here, I was restless, I wanted to live on my own. Now I know I wasn’t ready to live on my own. I got the college experience but I didn’t have to move 100 miles away from home. It’s been a nice halfway point between high school and a full university setting.”

She also has a message for those who like herself have Asperger’s. “Don’t let what people say hold you back. If you are passionate you will have no problem being successful. Society’s perception may inhibit you but you will make it intellectually.”


Loving Life in the Honors Pod

These three students have become best friends since living together in the “Honors Pod.” The are (left to right) Abbie Moskov, Beckii Sessions and Flo Downing.

They know what each other is thinking, finish each other’s sentences and love living and working together. “We help each other with class, life, everything. We literally rely on each other 24/7,” said Flo Downing. “We instantly clicked,” added Beckii Sessions. “This is our second year rooming together and it’s had a big impact on our life.”

Downing, Sessions and Abbie Moskov live in one of Onondaga Community College’s Living Learning Communities, or LLC’s as they are more commonly referred to. An LLC provides students who share common educational, social or extracurricular interests the opportunity to live together. Programs are designed around specific majors or content areas. Students become heavily connected with faculty and staff and take advantage of opportunities to explore career paths and build their resumes through activities both on and off campus.

Downing, Sessions and Moskov are all high-achieving students. They are members of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and are in the Honors program. Their LLC is referred to as the Honors Pod. “It’s helpful to have something in common with your roommates. It gives you that instant connection.”

The three students didn’t know each other prior to meeting at OCC. Moskov is a 2016 graduate of Auburn High School majoring in Mathematics & Science. Sessions is a 2016 graduate of the Town of Webb High School in Old Forge majoring in Business Administration. Downing is a 2015 graduate of Carthage High School majoring in Criminal Justice. “It’s been the three of us since we came here. It’s like having sisters,” said Moskov. “We always say how fortunate we are because we get along so well,” added Downing.

As the three students have excelled academically, living in an LLC has also made a big difference in their personal development. “I’m a very introverted person. If I hadn’t been put with my roommates I probably wouldn’t have had as many friends as I did,” said Sessions. “They helped me get out of my shell. It’s really important to be able to make those strong connections immediately. They really pushed me. They’d say, ‘We’re going to this. We’re going to lunch. We’re going to dinner.’” “This is a support network you really need,” added Moskov.

Downing, Sessions and Moskov can’t imagine what life will be like a year from now when they are all attending different colleges and won’t have each other close by to lean on. As they enjoy their last academic year together they are working on a program to help those who come after them. They are in the process of creating an advisory board which will represent student residents and meet regularly with Residence Life administration.

OCC’s Test Kitchen

A practical for the American Culinary Federation brought several of the region’s top chefs to OCC’s outstanding Hospitality Management facilities.


Usually the kitchens in Onondaga Community College’s Hospitality Management major are filled with students, listening to and learning from the College’s outstanding faculty members. The scene was much different on Saturday, October 21. Many of the region’s top chefs had come to the kitchen to judge the work of a fellow chef who was here from Pennsylvania to do his practical. Successfully preparing a meal under the watchful eye of fellow chefs would mean a higher level of certification in the American Culinary Federation. “It’s very intense, very nerve wracking to go through,” said Chef Deb Schneider of OCC’s Hospitality management program. She went through a similar process in the spring of 2016 when she became a Certified Executive Pastry Chef.

The chef being tested on this day was attempting to achieve the level of Executive Chef. He was given a market basket and required to make a meal for four. The meal would include a salad course, a fish course and a main course utilizing chicken in two ways. Each time the chef completed a course, the food was put on plates and delivered to an area in the kitchen where the judges could take a closer look. They used their cell phones to take pictures of the food, examined it visually and tasted it. Chefs in attendance were from all over the region including the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, Colgate University, Morrisville State College, a private country club in Geneseo, Rochester, Buffalo, Mississippi and a Master Chef from Long Island.

Chef Deb Schneider

When the cooking and plating were complete, the chefs went into a room and discussed what they had seen and tasted. They were judging the chef not only on his cooking skills but also on his sanitation and organization. When they completed their grading process they called the chef in, shared his evaluation with him and told him whether he passed or failed. “When I had my evaluation it was the hardest thing to sit through,” said Schneider. “Going through the process of cooking or baking in front of others who are judging you is stressful enough.”

OCC’s outstanding facilities have made it a regular site for American Culinary Federation practicals but having the event here is always thrilling. “To meet and talk with these other chefs gives me goose bumps,” said Schneider. “We’re honored to host practicals and believe it says a lot about the facilities our students learn and work in every day.”

Learn more about the OCC hospitality management program!

2017 Alumni Faces Honoree Ed Riley

Ed Riley pauses during the renovation of the old Hotel Syracuse. On the wall behind him is a famous mural which was uncovered during the restoration process.

Onondaga Community College annually recognizes distinguished graduates by naming them “Alumni Faces” for their accomplishments and contributions to the community. The 2017 class will be honored during a ceremony November 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall which is located in the Academic II building. One of the graduates we will honor that night is Ed Riley.

The man behind the rebirth of the landmark Hotel Syracuse is a former Onondaga Community College student. Edward “Ed” Riley might not be where he is today had a serious sports injury not led him to rethink how to turn his lifelong passion for historic architecture into a career.

Riley grew up on the west side of Syracuse and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy. He attended Syracuse University on scholarship to play lacrosse. A knee injury his freshman year forced him to reevaluate everything. “Since I couldn’t play lacrosse anymore I took another look at architecture. People were suggesting OCC as a good, affordable place to start.”

Riley enrolled at OCC and immediately felt at home in the Architectural Technology program. “It was top notch. It was run in a true office setting. The professor was the principal and the student was the apprentice. When we graduated we were able to transition to the workforce with ease.” Ultimately Riley would earn a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and pursue his professional career.

Riley working with a contractor in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Syracuse
Riley working with a contractor in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Syracuse

Riley started his own practice and chose to fill vacancies with people with OCC backgrounds whenever possible. “I valued the product and knew OCC interns and employees could come right in and be profitable.” Riley would eventually sell his practice and focus on learning how to refurbish historical buildings. His quest for knowledge took him across several states, including Hawaii, before eventually coming back to Syracuse where he was considering a specific project. “The Hotel Syracuse had been on my mind for quite some time but it wasn’t until recently I felt the timing was right and I had the knowledge to do it right.”

Riley took on the challenge of renovating and restoring one of America’s classic buildings. The old Hotel Syracuse reopened in 2016 as the Marriot Syracuse Downtown. “The new name gave her the fresh start she needed. For the people of Syracuse she will always be the Hotel Syracuse, but for visitors the new name provided the assurances Marriot brings.”

Riley is now working on a similar project in Niagara Falls. His latest challenge is to restore a shuttered hotel once known as “The Niagara.” As he continues to turn old landmarks into new community showpieces Riley carries a deep appreciation for the learning environment he found at OCC. “The faculty at OCC instilled good habits and I carry these practices with me every day. The solid foundation I built at OCC has allowed me to treat all projects with the upmost respect.”


“Lost Boy” Comes Home

John Dau, ’05 posed for a photo with OCC students. His book, “God Grew Tired of Us,” is the subject of this year’s common read.

Sixteen years after arriving in the United States as a refugee John Dau experienced one of the great thrills of his life when his life story, “God Grew Tired of Us,” was chosen to be OCC’s common read for the 2017-18 academic year. “This is the first place I ever went to school in America,” Dau said. “To have my book be selected for people to read means so much to me. It makes me emotional because this is where I started. Coming back home I feel honored and blessed.”

Dau was known as a “Lost Boy,” one of tens of thousands of refugees displaced or orphaned by war in the Sudan. He came to the United States in 2001 and began taking classes at OCC along with approximately 80 refugees. He would earn a degree in 2005 and today is president of the John Dau Foundation which provides healthcare and nutrition programs to the citizens of South Sudan. He is one of OCC’s distinguished Alumni Faces honorees and in 2014 he received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the American Association of Community Colleges.

Dau participated in a refugee panel discussion on campus.

Dau returned to the OCC campus in mid-October to participate in a series of events which gave students and community members the opportunity to speak with him. Events included Dinka Storytelling, a lecture in Storer Auditorium and a refugee panel discussion in which he was joined by six OCC students who were also refugees. They discussed their transition to life in the United States and the challenges associated with living so far from home. They answered many questions from those in attendance including if the United States felt like home yet, what they missed most about where they came from and what one thing they would like to take from America to their home country. Answers ran the gamut from pizza to open mindedness to the way people here want to help those in need.

Dau’s opportunity to return to campus and spend time with students was everything he hoped it would be and strengthened his bond with OCC. “This school isn’t only a place to learn. It’s a place where lost pride is redeemed and passion is grown. OCC incubated me without me knowing where I was going. OCC had the faith to allow me to come to school here and grow and now look at me coming back!”

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Sam Stetson

Sam Stetson
  • Major at OCC: Business Technology with a minor in Communications
  • High School: Central Square, class of 2016

Sam is President of the Student Association and she likes to get things done. “I’ve always been involved. I take after my mother. We have the same kind of personality. I feel like if nobody is stepping up to do something I may as well be the one.”

During her senior year at Central Square High School Sam was Co-President of Student Government and President of DECA, an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service. “In the state competition I competed against 90 other people and took 10th place. It was a great experience.”

Samantha volunteered at Onondaga’s Day of Service October 13.

Sam credits the Business teachers at Central Square with helping her figure out her strengths. “I’m not good at math and science and I didn’t want to go to college originally. They helped me become interested in business. I had such a good experience with DECA I decided to choose a business major.”

DECA also prepared Sam for going through the job interview process. It worked so well she has part time jobs at both Panera in Fairmount and Fish FINatics in East Syracuse. She’s also a full time student and a member of OCC’s Business Club. “Professor Kristen Costello has been amazing. She’s the advisor for the Business Administration program and the Business Club. She has always helped me with my schedule and other things. She’s helped me more than she’s needed to.”

As President of the Student Association, Sam plans to work on creating motorcycle parking for students and smoking huts for people who want to smoke on campus. She will earn her degree next May. Sam’s goal is to work in the court system.

Serving the Community

Members of the OCC community who participated in the Day of Service.

OCC students and employees spent a day giving back to the community as part of the annual Onondaga Day of Service. More than 70 students chose to volunteer off campus by assisting at Salvation Army, Rescue Mission, Samaritan Center, Van Duyn Center and Jubilee Homes Southwest Community Learning Farm. There was also an opportunity for students to volunteer time on campus by making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Samaritan Center, Thanksgiving Cards for Meals on Wheels recipients, Thank You cards for Veterans and by making dog toys. Onondaga’s 2017 Day of Service enjoyed record participation. A total of 178 students, faculty and staff volunteers chose to donate their time to the community. While much of their work off campus couldn’t be quantified, on campus outputs included:

  • 184 Thank You cards for veterans
  • 283 Thanksgiving cards for Meals on Wheels recipients
  • 60 dog toys for Helping Hounds dog rescue
  • 160 PB&J sandwiches to be distributed by the Samaritan Center.

A committee of College employees organized the event including Meghan Peryea, La’Kesa Allen, Mike Borsz, Liz Goldschein and Maria Malagisi, Assistant Director of Service-Learning. “We are so proud of everyone who was willing to come together and make a difference as a collective unit,” said Malagisi. “The word ‘community’ is our middle name. We are always willing to do what we can for our neighbors.”

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The Right Turn Program on The Podcast

Derrick Zalewski (left) and Chris White (right) discuss the Right Turn Program in this month’s edition of “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.”

In this month’s edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College” we’re talking about the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative, more commonly known as the Right Turn Program. It helps students who have been involved in the juvenile justice system by assisting them with self-exploration, career exploration and career planning.

On the podcast you will meet Derrick Zalewski who is Assistant Director for the Right Turn program. We’ll also introduce you to student Chris White. He came to OCC after spending more than a decade in prison, utilized services provided by the Right Turn Program and is now an honor student who will earn his degree next summer.

The Right Turn Program is located in the Community Care Hub on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center in room 134.

Enjoy the podcast!

2017 Alumni Faces Honoree Dr. Deirdre Hunter, ’02

Dr. Deidre Hunter (center right) with some OCC CSTEP students and Program Director, Drake Harrison (back right)

Onondaga Community College annually recognizes distinguished graduates by naming them “Alumni Faces” for their accomplishments and contributions to the community. The 2017 class will be honored during a ceremony November 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall which is located in the Academic II building. One of the graduates we will honor that night is Dr. Deirdre Hunter.

Dr. Deirdre Hunter’s interest in STEM-related fields began at an early age. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Hunter loved to follow her father around while he worked as a mechanic, tuning-up engines in his garage. “I was always fascinated by the work my father did. He had to understand the importance and delicate nature of each part to have the engine run properly.” Her interests put her on a unique path. “For me it was all about gaining knowledge. It never crossed my mind to not take courses in certain fields based on my gender because it all came so naturally to me.”

Dr. Hunter with Professor Eugene Camerota

Dr. Hunter with Professor Eugene Camerota

Hunter came to Onondaga Community College and enrolled in Engineering Science. “After the first class I knew I had made the right choice. The class sizes were small and students were all very dedicated. We were all financing our educations and had a vested interest in succeeding.” One of Hunter’s professors, Eugene Camerota, encouraged her to continue her education beyond OCC. “He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. He helped me fill out an application for Syracuse University and mailed it. I am forever grateful for his encouragement.”

Hunter earned a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse and in 2015 added a doctorate in engineering education from Virginia Tech. Today she is a Lecturer of Engineering Design at Rice University in Houston. She credits OCC with helping build the foundation for her success. “If I would have attended a four-year university right out of high school I do not think I would have excelled academically to the extent that I have. For me OCC was not an only choice, it was my choice.”